Roald Dahl’s The Witches has fascinated and terrified kids for decades now. After a widely loved film adaptation in 1990, some fans (myself included) were skeptical about the announcement of a remake dropping this year.
Having watched the new The Witches on HBO Max, I can now offer you a quick breakdown of the most significant changes the 2020 movie makes to the 1990 version. Here’s what The Witches 2020 changed for the better – and for the worse.
(Obviously, this article contains spoilers for both versions of the film!)
Best – The Parents
In both the 1990 and 2020 films, Luke’s parents die in an accident early in the story, leading him to live with his grandmother. The more recent version of The Witches does a much better job of dedicating some time to this grief. The inciting tragedy doesn’t take over the film, but it’s also not too quickly brushed aside as in the first movie.
Worst – Grandmother’s Witch Story
Both movies feature Grandmother telling a story about her childhood encounter with a witch. In the 1990 film, Grandmother’s childhood friend was locked away inside a painting, where she slowly aged to her death under her family’s helpless watch. In the new Witches, Grandmother’s friend gets turned into a chicken. Not only is that way less poignant and scary, it makes it seem like all witches do is turn kids into animals.
Best – The Grand High Witch’s Powers
Anne Hathaway’s Grand High Witch seems to have a lot more special powers than Anjelica Huston’s. Hathaway’s witch doesn’t just turn kids into mice. She also has superhuman strength, creepy stretchy limbs, and the ability to fly. The changes make her seem much more powerful and intimidating.
Worst – Bruno’s Family
Bruno, like Luke, ends up getting mouse-ified. In both movies, Grandmother tries to re-introduce Mouse Bruno to his parents and explain the situation. Both initial conversations go poorly (Bruno’s mother is afraid of mice). However, in the 1990 film Bruno’s parents later accept him back into their lives, with a sort of conviction to become a better, more tight-knit family in spite of his transformation. In the new movie, Bruno’s parents never come around. He finds a new home with Luke and Grandmother, so it’s not a bad ending for him exactly. But it feels less hopeful than the alternative.
Best – The Ending
The 1990 film adaptation seemed to find Dahl’s book ending too bleak. Instead, the movie wrote in an awkward “happy” resolution in which the Grand High Witch’s assistant randomly turns up and changes Luke back into a boy. It comes out of nowhere, and the 2020 film rightfully does away with this change.
Worst – The Beginning
The new movie uses a strange narrative framing device to open the story that the original didn’t. It has a voiceover from a grown-up Luke explaining witches to a crowd of children. The 1990 version started with Grandmother telling Luke about witches. That opening worked a lot better – it added more to the “scary story coming to life” feel.
Best – The Final Showdown
Possibly the best change the 2020 movie made was having the Grand High Witch avoid the soup. When she doesn’t immediately turn into a mouse alongside all the other witches, it forces Grandmother and the mice to go head-to-head with her. The change makes the Grand High Witch feel like a more formidable villain. Plus, it makes her eventual defeat feel more climactic.
Worst – The Grand High Witch’s Look
Unfortunately, while the 2020 film improves the Grand High Witch’s final moments, the 1990 version of the witch simply looked scarier. Sure, Hathaway’s witch flaunts sharp teeth and a Joker-esque smile. But the velociraptor claw hands are distracting. And frankly, nothing will ever compare to watching Anjelica Huston peel her face off to reveal the horror underneath.
So, did you check out the new adaptation of The Witches? Let us know what you think. You can read our review here.