'The Witches': Critics give HBO Max remake mixed reviews, from 'high-camp funny' to 'dreadful'

Jenna Ryu, USA TODAY
·2 min read

Get ready for an early Halloween treat with "The Witches"!

The highly anticipated adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic children's novel of the same name premieres Thursday on HBO Max. Starring big names such as Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer and Stanley Tucci, "The Witches" follows a young boy who must save the world's children from turning into mice by defeating a secret group of evil witches.

The remake of the 1990 film starring Anjelica Huston, this time directed by Robert Zemeckis, received mixed reviews from movie critics, with 58% of them giving it a thumbs up Wednesday on Rotten Tomatoes.

Owen Gleiberman of Variety applauded Hathaway for her "high-camp funny but also genuinely threatening" performance as the Grand High Witch, comparing her to Angelina Jolie's Maleficent.

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"You could say that 'The Witches' doesn’t have much in the way of emotional pull ... yet Anne Hathaway’s performance provides the film with a sick-joke center of gravity, and Zemeckis, sticking to Dahl’s elemental storyline, stages it all with a prankish flair that leaves you buzzed," he wrote.

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney also praised "The Witches" for its "sufficient charm and adventure."

"Still, for young audiences encountering the story for the first time, 'The Witches' should cast a spell, while older viewers will enjoy the contrasting comic approaches of Hathaway and Spencer doing what they do best," he wrote.

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CinemaBlend's Eric Eisenberg was less optimistic, giving the movie three out of five stars for its "fine" and "adequate" adaptation.

In his words, " 'The Witches' is a faithful adaptation of the book on which it’s based, and those who appreciate the material will also appreciate Robert Zemeckis’ approach to it."

Other critics, such as David Ehrlich from IndieWire, were harsher on the film, which he called a "dreadful" and "profoundly uninspired" adaptation.

"Zemeckis has made some unsuccessful films over the last 20 years, but 'The Witches' is the most frustrating of them all because it feels like it could’ve been made by somebody else," he wrote.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave the film two out of five stars, calling Hathaway's performance "pretty strained."

"There is something very broad and slightly frantic about the comedy here, in a movie whose plush interiors always look as if they have been created with greenscreen, even if they haven’t," he wrote.

Los Angeles Times' Justin Chang acknowledged that Zemeckis' movie had "a few flashes of novelty," but ultimately felt "pretty thin."

"Zemeckis has trouble getting a handle on the story’s diabolically tricky tone and a tendency to pour on the grotesque visual flourishes in lieu of real vision or meaning," he wrote.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'The Witches': HBO Max's Anne Hathaway remake gets mixed reviews