In fairy tales, witches ride on broomsticks and can be easily identified by the pointy black hats and cloaks they wear. But this is not so in real life, Luke’s grandmother warns in The Witches. Real witches, she says, dress in ordinary clothes, live in ordinary houses, and work in ordinary jobs. So they can be spotted only by the knowing, who understand that witches are betrayed by their squared-off feet (they’re toeless) in sensible shoes and by the purple centers of their eyes.

Warned. And not a moment too soon: Luke (played by 7-year-old Jasen Fisher) gets a chance to apply the witch lore he has garnered from his grandmother (Mai Zetterling) when the two of them land at a delightfully seedy Victorian relic of a seaside hotel. Concurrently resident are a gaggle of do-gooders attending a convention of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. But — you guessed it — this noble organization is nothing more than a front for the most dastardly evildoers in England, led by the supremely diabolical Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston).

Luke, who accidentally overhears the coven orchestrating a fiendish plot to turn all the children in the country into small rodents, is discovered and zapped. But even though he is a mouse, with the help of his grandmother he heroically manages to turn the tables.

The Witches is the work of an unlikely brew of talents: Adapted from a novel by Roald Dahl (also author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, among others), it was produced by the late Jim Henson of the Muppets and directed by Nicolas Roeg (The Man Who Fell to Earth). What emerged from the combination of these divergent gifts is utterly magical: a film that appeals to both young and old without condescending to either. The wit is highly sophisticated, but there’s also action, suspense, adventure — to say nothing of the spectacular visual effects produced by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Don’t miss Anjelica Huston’s deliciously vile transformation from beauty to beast. And don’t miss this film. A

The Witches
  • Movie
  • 91 minutes