It is not easy to spot a witch. They dress just like other women, but, if you know what to look for, you may be able to recognize a witch in disguise. They wear wigs that are terribly uncomfortable and lead to a nasty case of scalp itch. Witches do not have any toes, so they wear sensible shoes with square ends, never pointed-toe shoes. The easiest ways to tell if a woman is a witch, though, is she has purple eyes and will pinch her nose at the sight of kids because she hates the scent of children. The cleaner the child, the worse the smell is. If a child is dirty, then the witch smells dirt. If a child is clean, then all she smells is the child. To a witch, a child smells like fresh dog droppings.
The Witches is based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name. In case you do not recognize the name, he is the same author who dreamed up the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
In The Witches, Luke (Jasen Fisher) is spending his vacation with his family visiting his grandmother (Mai Zetterling) in Norway when his parents (Vincent Marzello and Darcy Flynn) are killed in a car accident. Luke moves in with his aging grandmother who becomes sick from not treating her Diabetes. The doctor orders a sugar-free diet and a holiday near the beach for Grandmother. Unfortunately for Luke and his grandmother, they have booked their seaside holiday at the same hotel that the “Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children” has scheduled their annual meeting. The RSPCC is really just a cover for the witches of England, who happen to hate children and want to eradicate them from the earth. The Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston) reveals her Formula 86 and plan for the witches to buy all the sweet shops in England and lace their candy with Formula 86 which will transform the children into mice precisely two hours after ingesting it. This way it cannot be linked to the shops.
Luckily, Luke’s grandmother has had dealings with witches and has taught Luke how to spot them. While listening to their fiendish plot, Luke is captured by the witches and force fed a super dose of Formula 86. With the help of his grandmother, Luke is able to take down the witches and save the day, even though he has been turned into a mouse. As his grandmother says in a sing-song voice, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are as long as somebody loves you.”
Luke’s parents die suddenly and he is turned into a mouse. He seems to take that all in stride, though. In fact, he is not really shown mourning them except for the evening he finds out that they are dead. He does not really mind being a mouse, either. His grandmother has constructed a series of tubes and tunnels from assorted materials and toys that he can use to travel throughout the house. The coolest part of being a mouse is the fact that he can ride around in a Lego Space monorail train and gets to sleep in a toy version of The Real Ghostbusters’ Firehouse. As long as Luke has his grandmother, he seems fine with whatever life throws at him.
Rowan Atkinson delivers a great performance as the snobby, spineless hotel manager, Mr. Stringer. He contorts his rubber face into expressions that would make Jim Carrey jealous. Anjelica Huston is a delightful addition to the cast. Her performance is so entertaining it rivals her rendition of Morticia Addams. I would watch this movie over and over just for Huston and Atkinson.
The grandmother is probably one of the coolest grandmothers of all time. She believes in Luke and trusts him. She never doubts his ability to face and destroy the witches. It not like his battle against the witches wasn't dangerous, either. He went up against the entire knife and meat cleaver wielding kitchen staff of the hotel while he tight rope walked on the handle of ladle across a boiling pot of soup.
Despite being released 23 years ago, this is a movie whose special effects do not seem incredibly dated and cheesy. This is the last film that Jim Henson personally oversaw, acting as producer on the film. His puppetry techniques and animatronics were used heavily as the effects themselves are practical, relying on camera tricks, makeup, and sleight of hand instead of CGI. The makeup is phenomenal. Some of the same folks who were behind the makeup in Aliens transform the majestic Anjelica Huston into a giant buzzard-looking witch.
No family-friendly movie is complete without a happy ending. The film makers decided to go against the book this time and restore Luke back to his human form before the credits roll. Just as Luke and his grandmother are calling it a night after planning to take on the witches of the good ol’ USA, the Grand High Witch’s assistant, Miss Irvine (Jane Horrocks) — the only witch NOT to be turned into a mouse — stands outside of Grandmother’s house. Don’t worry, though. We know she's a good witch because she is wearing all white. She points at the house and zap! Luke is back in human form. As a kid, it makes you feel nice, safe, and secure that good is once again victorious over evil and all the loose ends are tied up, but I think we could have toughed it out if Luke stayed a mouse.
Dust off the VHS player or pop in the DVD. Visit this family favorite and enjoy see how many 80s toys you can spot in the background!
When Jessica Sowards is not fighting crime, she can be found watching almost any movie that comes her way whether it be good or bad. She is obsessed with The Muppets and knows a little too much trivia from sitcoms of the 1980s.