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Review: Anne Hathaway delightfully wicked in lively 'The Witches'

The Oscar-winner works her magic in HBO Max adaptation of Roald Dahl tale

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Anne Hathaway casts quite a spell over "The Witches," turning in an oversize, over-the-top performance where she chews up every scene and spits out the remnants like pumpkin seeds. 

How big does Hathaway go here? Jim Carrey would likely take a step back and say, "whoa, that's a lot." But it's exactly what Robert Zemeckis' adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's novel calls for, and she makes this Halloween season treat a crackling good time.  

Anne Hathaway, center, in "The Witches."

Chris Rock narrates this tale of a coven of witches who loathe children so much they feed them potion to turn them into mice. Rock is the grown-up version of Charlie Hansen (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno), a young boy sent to live with his grandmother Agatha (Octavia Spencer) after his parents die in a car crash. 

We first see young Charlie as he's pulled from the wreckage of the car crash, the first indication that Zemeckis, while working in a PG space, isn't shying from pushing the envelope slightly past kiddie territory. Dahl didn't, either, and this is a fitting marriage of source material and director, as Zemeckis both thematically and visually brings Dahl's world to life. 

Once Hathaway arrives as the Grand High Witch, with a thick Eastern European accent that's part Transylvania, part Zsa Zsa Gabor and all hyper-exaggerated for effect, "The Witches" takes off. It's a fun, funny, inventive ride that unfolds in a heightened, childlike version of reality. 

And Hathaway, coming off a subpar run (see 2019's one-two swing-and-miss of "Serenity" and "The Hustle"), is more lively and absurd than she's ever been on screen, and it works in her favor. You've gotta hand it to her: as the biggest, baddest witch in the land, she's positively bewitching. 

'The Witches'

GRADE: B

Rated PG: for scary images/moments, language and thematic elements

Running time: 106 minutes

On HBO Max

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama