The Witches parents guide

The Witches Parent Guide

The digitally enhanced witches are too frightening for the kids who are young enough to enjoy the story.

Overall B-

HBO Max: In this retelling of Roald Dahl's classic children's novel, a young boy falls afoul of a coven of witches who turn children into mice.

Release date October 23, 2020

Violence B-
Sexual Content A-
Profanity A-
Substance Use A-

Why is The Witches rated PG? The MPAA rated The Witches PG for scary images/mmnents, language, and thematic elements

Run Time: 106 minutes

Parent Movie Review

Never take candy from a stranger! And if you were ever tempted to disobey that cautionary advice, the movie Witches is sure to scare you into compliance.

After the death of his parents in a car accident (we see a lifeless limb in the vehicle), the surviving child (played by Jahzir Bruno) goes to live with his maternal grandmother (Octavia Spencer) in Alabama. Using a mix of good humor, home cooking and sage counsel, the kindly woman draws her grandson out of his depression and back into everyday life.

Yet just about the time life seems to be returning to normal, the young boy encounters an odd woman, with a hypnotizing snake, who offers him sweets. When he tells his grandma about the incident, things get strange again. Not only does she believe his story, but she goes on to explain he has met a real witch. She shares her own experiences with these wicked creatures, who hate children and have magic potions to transform them into animals. Then she tries to calm his nerves by revealing she is an expert on the evil-doers and has been concocting her own remedies for their poisons.

All the same, Grandma thinks it would be best to get her grandchild out of harm’s way, so she takes the boy to a place she is sure they will never be found. Unfortunately, the grand hotel of her choice turns out to be the venue where a coven convention is taking place, under the guise of a charitable organization. Presiding over the gathering is the Grand High Witch herself (Anne Hathaway).

It is only a matter of time before the paths of the predator and the prey will cross. Curiously enough, mice and rats, exterminators and even a cat, will play a big part in this hunt.

Based on Roald Dahl’s 1983 book The Witches, this film adaptation spares no expense in bringing this tale to life - and that proves to be one of the production’s biggest problems. With a predictable plot, one-dimensional characters and cliché stereotypes (including a greedy fat kid played by Codie-Lei Eastick), the screenplay is best suited for the youngsters the novel originally attracted. However, the digitally-enhanced portrayal of the witches, who turn from beautiful women into bald, clawed and child-murdering hags, makes this execution too terrifying for that same audience.

Perhaps the only viewers who will be pleased with this movie will be older Dahl fans who already have a feel for the dark humor and malevolent themes that creep into his work (examples of which can be seen in other movies made from his novels like: Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda and Fantastic Mr. Fox).

Still, despite the long-resumés of the cast and director, all parents looking for Halloween entertainment should proceed with just as much caution as accepting candy from a stranger.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Jahzir Bruno. Running time: 106 minutes. Theatrical release October 23, 2020. Updated

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The Witches
Rating & Content Info

Why is The Witches rated PG? The Witches is rated PG by the MPAA for scary images/mmnents, language, and thematic elements

Violence: The dangers of witches are explained, including their desire to kill children. Characters experience fear and are frequently in peril. The aftermath of a car accident shows the limb of a deceased parent. A suspicious character with a mesmerizing pet snake tries to talk a child into taking candy. Characters who unwittingly eat magic potions are turned into animals – one is shown becoming a chicken, others become mice and rats. These transformations are depicted with seizer-like behavior, smoke coming out of nose and ears, and explosions that send the victim flying. Beautiful women turn into ugly witches with bald heads, skin sores, claw hands and toeless feet. Their faces are also disfigured, sporting large nostrils and gapping mouths with fang. A character’s arms stretch out after her prey in an unnatural, contorted way. A character’s hands get injured and black blood is shown. Characters scream when confronted by rodents, as well as chased them with brooms and hammers, set rat traps and leave them to be caught by predators. A brawl breaks out and people are shoved, pushed and hit (one in the groin), and property damage occurs. Characters experience grief because of the loss and abandonment of loved ones. Death is discussed. A child is teased, bullied and faces the displeasure of parents. A character is struck by magical lightening and disintegrates.
Sexual Content: Women are seen in some revealing clothing. A woman removes a flask she has been hiding in her cleavage. A metal bra is shown. A man holds his groin after being hit. A child is seen in the bathtub – no private body parts are shown.
Profanity: Infrequent use of mild profanity, terms of deity and name-calling.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Characters make home health remedies (possibly voodoo magic) and diabolical poisons. Characters eat magical potions, hidden in food, that turn them into animals. Alcohol is infrequently consumed at home and at a hotel.

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The Witches Parents' Guide

What stereotypical cinematic tactics are used to create a sense of fear and suspense? Do they still work even though they are so often employed in the horror genre?

Why is it ironic that the witches belong to a charity called The Prevention for Cruelty to Children? What other dark humor is used? How does the script enhance common fears to make them scarier? What depictions are just outright terrifying?

When grandma talks to her grandson about the loss of his parents, she says, “I feel bad for you, but not sorry for you.” What do you think she means? What sorrows are Grandma also facing? How does she try to make sense of loss and grief? Why does she talk about learning from hard experiences? How does she feel about death?

Roald Dahl originally set his story in England. Why do you think the screenplay writers moved the setting to the American South? Does that context change anything about the themes of the story?

Loved this movie? Try these books…

This film is based on Roald Dahl’s book by the same name, The Witches.

A young girl named Mup tries to rescue her father from the witches who serve their evil queen. Follow her adventures in Celine Kiernan’s The Wild Magic trilogy, which begins with Begone the Raggedy Witches.

For a positive look at witches and wizards in training, you can read the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling. Laurie Calkhoven takes a look at the female characters in Calling All Witches! The Girls Who Left Their Mark on the Wizarding World.

Rescued by a witch, a young baby is accidentally fed moonlight instead of starlight. This makes her powerfully magical and gives her the ability to help her people. You can read her story in Kelly Barnhill’s Newbery Medal-winning book, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Home Video

Related home video titles:

Other Roald Dahl books adapted to the big screen include: Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda and Fantastic Mr. Fox.