Roald Dahl's The Witches

Roald Dahl's The Witches ★★

Garish CGI, superficial kiddie film antics, a dolled-up Lisa Marie lookalike taking center stage, great actors standing around wasting their time, a message about being true to yourself, adapting a vaguely Halloween season appropriate book by a beloved author that's already been turned into a perfectly good movie decades ago - oh Tim Burton, when will you give it a rest already?

Wha--Zemeckis?! Robert Zemeckis made this? I'm not sure if this is worse than the motion capture phase (it is) or the recent boring-adult-movies-based-on-true-stories phase (it isn't), but taking Burton's sloppy seconds definitely counts as another disappointing use of Z's talents. The 1990 Nicolas Roeg version of "The Witches" was everything it needed to be! Creepy, fun, memorable, dark yet whimsical, one of the greater casting coups of all time (Anjelica Huston as the Grand Witch). Why are we doing this again? If it's a Dahl property you're looking for, why not "The Twits"? "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar"? "The Enormous Crocodile"? "The Minpins"? They're all kinda thin but imaginative and most importantly, not movies yet. If it's family-friendly Halloween fare you're trying to mine from literature, there are a million great books out there - start with Bruce Coville, or how about Jane Yolen, Diana Wynne Jones, Dian-Curtis Regan, James Howe, Daniel Pinkwater, Bill Brittain, Todd Strasser, Ellen Leroe, these are just some of the authors whose middle school spooky-adventure books I remembering reading as a kid, that have not yet gotten the Hollywood treatment.

In a nutshell, this new "Witches" is basically cute yet utterly useless. Not sure what the point was of moving the setting to Alabama but sure, representation is nice. Perhaps this doesn't count as a serious criticism, but this is a movie strictly for kids; everything is overemphasized for their undeveloped brains, and the computerized special effects - pretty well rendered for the most part, given it's Zemeckis's primary calling card as a filmmaker - are nonetheless so dominant over every other ingredient - story, excitement, humor - that you can feel the sweat spraying onto you from the collective desperation here to hold the attention of children with visual sorcery. Still, you can tell Zemeckis as a tech guy is overqualified for the demands of elongated monster jaws and rodent activity. I mean, have you seen "Ratatouille"? "Stuart Little"? "Mouse Hunt"? The original damn "Witches"? Skilled mice action has been done before plenty of times, rendering the experience of this movie even more quaint. And sorry to say, but mega-acting Anne Hathaway is no Anjelica Huston, and this is now 0-for-2 for her in using wacky accents while remaking good movies from about 30 years ago ("The Hustle").

One silver lining: a big swashbuckling Alan Silvestri score, the kind that made the likes of "Back to the Future" even greater than it needed to be. Worth leaving the end credits running to listen to in full.

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