DIRECTOR: NICHOLAS ROEG
COUNTRY: USA 1989
CINEMATOGRAPHY: HARVEY HARRISON
MUSIC: STANLEY MYERS
CAST: Angelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Bill Paterson, Rowan Atkinson, Jasen Fisher
SUPER FEATURES: The animation, and the effects are fun.
This is a child's story, if not an adult's story.....errrr, silly adults, that is.
THE WITCHES is about a group of women that take advantage of young children primarily boys it seems), and turns them into mice, so
they can eat them. or destroy them.
But this time, the witches have come across a boy that is a little smarter than others, and is capable of taking some action. And with
grandmama's help, they turn the thing around, and turn the witches into mush. So much for depth in film. Well, I did say it was a child's story.
The best parts of this film, is the illusions it creates about witches as really ugly and downright bad. The most intricate parts, are those when the mice have to perform stunts amidst the much larger, and taller opponents, people. And the nice part in this film, is the cleverness with which all this is done, which in the hands of Nicholas Roeg, a stickler for detail anyway, makes this a better, and more interesting film, without it ever becoming a cartoon, or a film where the mix of reality and unreality is visible. In this film, it is not, but the sides are clearly drawn out, and quite well defined. There is good, in grandma and the two boys, and there is bad, out there, amidst those women.
In between is an array of hilarious bits of entertainment for anyone, including Rowan Atkinson, as a hotel manager, who happens to be in love, or flirting, in the spare time, with one of the maids. Of course, the miscues only add to the mix, and makes this film a lot of fun.
The surprise in this film, is JIm Henson and his Muppets, in a role that is subdued. He co-produced the film, but stayed in the background, and his vision of witches is very well done, and designed. His work with the mice, in all situations, is incredible and very neat, even plausible, which is hard to do with so many of these ideas and thoughts balancing so tight that at any time the film could turn stupid, which is never does.
The fine balance probably rests in the hands and vision of Nicholas Roeg, who seems to have helped design a film that clearly is set in motion, in such a way as to never interfere with the adult vision, and also maintain the child's point of view. It is clear that the children see the walking
feet with their nylons, and the camera walks their for at least half of the film. And then the animation of the mice is excellent, with the camera right behind them, so we can feel all the dangers along the way.
While this is not one of those films for all children, it is a story for them, and a design for them. It is done with children in mind, at least if the camera's point of view has any say in it. And it is not surprising to see this in a Nicholas Roeg film, whose style could be said to be "subjective" to the main character in the film. And this forces us to think of the other side as the opponent, and often the bad person. In this film it works very well.
With some excellent work by Mai Zetterling as the grandmother that helps the boys, and Angelica Huston as the grand witch, this film is actually a lot of fun to watch, even if much of it is understated and not totally visible. It is set up so that children can see it and enjoy it, not to scare them away with the grotesqueness of the witches for example, in their looks.
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