After a recently orphaned boy (whose name is never heard but who is credited as “Hero Boy”) encounters a witch, his grandmother takes him to a hotel far away from home to hide him away and protect him from her.
As it turns out, Grandma’s had some experience with witches before. And there are three things you should know about them: they’re real; they’re here; and they hate children!
But there’s another big problem: The hotel Grandma chooses also happens to be the location where a coven of witches is holding its annual conference in order to receive orders from their leader, the Grand High Witch. She’s hatched a plan to turn all the children of the world into mice, then to squash them.
Hero overhears their plot, but before he can get help, the witches catch him and transform him into a mouse using a potion. He manages to escape—along with two other children-turned-mice, Bruno and Daisy—and now, it’s up to them to stop the witches from destroying all the children of the world.
After Hero’s parents die early on in the story, he’s sad and a bit depressed. He doesn’t eat, doesn’t talk and doesn’t play. However, slowly but surely, Grandma finds ways to lift his spirits. She comforts him with hugs, food, dancing and a gentle reminder that even though she feels bad that he has to go through something so difficult at such a young age, it’s actually good for him since everyone has to learn at some point that life isn’t always fair.
When Hero becomes a mouse, he realizes that he doesn’t need to sweat the little things anymore (since there are obviously bigger concerns out there); he then becomes more brave, facing off against the witches. He decides to embrace his new life as a mouse, happy because he now has friends and family who love him no matter what.
Bruno worries that his parents will not like him as a mouse since they don’t really seem to like him as a human; Daisy wonders what will happen to her since she is an orphan. However, Grandma offers to take care of both of them and also points out that people should love you for who you are.
A man gives Grandma and Hero a ride from the bus station to Grandma’s house and helps them with their bags. A woman emphasizes “safety first.” When Hero realizes that his grandmother is ill, he makes an effort to be quiet so that she can sleep in, and he orders her breakfast.
Grandma explains to Hero that witches aren’t human but rather demons disguised as women. (At one point, the witches as described as being “succubine,” i.e. having the trait of a succubus, a female demon.) They are bald and toeless and wear gloves to cover up the fact that they have claws instead of hands. They wear a lot of makeup to hide their demonic mouths (which, when fully opened, show off a row of fangs that extend all the way up to their ears). And they also have nostrils that move and flare up several inches past the normal width for a human when they sniff out children (which, notably, smell like dog excrement to them).
The Grand High Witch uses her powers to create a potion that turns people into mice and rats. (The transformation process causes their bodies to violently jerk, shoot into the air and become covered in purple boils before finally landing on the ground as rodents.)
She also levitates, moves objects without touching them, has super strength, shoots lightning from her hands (which reduces a fellow witch to ash) and extends her arms to great lengths. She bleeds black and is also the only witch that does have toes—one in the middle of each foot with a long, curved black nail.
Grandma uses a variety of herbs, elixirs and chants to heal people. She also burns incense, uses crystals to predict the future and believes in numerology (as was the architect of the hotel), and Hero suspects that she might be a voodoo priestess. However, Grandma also believes in God. In addition to attending church on Sundays, she tells Hero that God has a plan for every person and that only He knows when someone’s time on Earth is done.
Though people get turned into mice, they still retain the power of human speech. Several witches offer candy to children that’s laced with potions to turn them into animals. (One girl is transformed into a chicken, and Grandma explains that the chicken laid giant green eggs for the rest of her life.)
The Grand High Witch stays in room 666 of the hotel. Witches put a curse on Grandma to make her cough whenever one of them is nearby. A witch uses her powers to control a snake and disappear into thin air. Another witch magically turns one bar of chocolate into six. A mirror reveals a witch’s decrepit, demon-like face.
Grandma calls someone a “godsend” when they help her. Song lyrics say, “Lord have mercy.” One woman says, “Oh my Lord in heaven” and “Thank the Lord.”
The Grand High Witch often wears tight and revealing clothing. She also hides potions in a metal brassiere (pulling down her dress to reveal the undergarment in one scene).
Hero’s rescued from an overturned car by emergency responders. He screams for his parents, and we learn that unlike Hero, they weren’t wearing their seatbelts when the car crashed, and both perished.
The Grand High Witch uses her strength to throw a podium across a room, flip over a stage and smash a bed frame. She kills another witch with her powers, eats a live maggot and threatens to rip a woman’s heart out.
After several people are turned into mice and rats, other humans and witches attempt to kill them using their feet, brooms, purses a mallet and a butcher’s knife. One rat bites a man’s groin. A mouse bites a witch’s finger. The Grand High Witch’s fingers are cut up when she accidentally puts them into a fan, and her toes get caught in a mouse trap. Bruno hurts his tail when it gets caught in a mouse trap.
A witch offers a piece of taffy imprinted with a skull and crossbones (indicating that it is lethal) to a child. Hero says that Grandma wouldn’t hesitate to give him a spanking if he deserved it (though he also notes that she would also give him a hug if he needed it). We see a picture of cartoon rat dead in a mouse trap. A member of the International Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children grabs her child roughly by his ear.
We hear the word “damnable” once. Some people also utter “curses,” instead of an actual profanity. God’s name is misused seven times. We hear the terms “crikey,” “stupid,” “fools,” “idiots,” “crap,” “jeez,” “shut up,” “patootie” and “varmints.”
A woman has a drink at a hotel bar.
Bruno is called fat, stupid and greedy by the Grand High Witch. And although he says that he likes being “portly,” the movie pokes fun at this, and he later takes offense when Hero calls him “chubby.”
When Grandma and Hero check into their hotel, which primarily caters to rich, white people, the hotel staff (made up of primarily poor, black people) is shocked, since Grandma and Hero are also black.
Grandma says how dangerous it is for a child to take candy from a stranger. Hero imagines that he sees frightening imagines in some shadows, and even though Grandma comforts him, he is still scared. People lie, steal and manipulate. The Grand High Witch is repeatedly rude to the manager of the hotel. We learn that a girl ran away from an orphanage. Several witches have a nasty rash on their heads from the wigs they wear, and one pulls a maggot out of her rash.
If you’ve ever wondered how best to handle a “no-good, rotten, low-down, sneaky, sneaky witch,” then the answer is clearly to give them a taste of their own medicine. At least that’s how Hero and his friends handle it in this cinematic retelling of Roald Dahl’s novel, The Witches.
After realizing that there isn’t exactly a cure for being “mouse-afied,” Hero and his friends decide to transform the witches who cursed them into mice as well, thereby preventing them from harming any more children.
For an 8-year-old, that’s a lot to take on. Hero faces a lot of difficult circumstances in a very short time. He loses his parents, gets transformed into a mouse by witches and … well, actually, that’s about it. But when you consider how difficult it is for any child to become an orphan at such a young age, it seems a bit like overkill for that child to also become a mouse with a much, much shorter lifespan.
However, Grandma points out that God must have a reason for everything that happens in Hero’s life, so Hero chooses to make the most of it. Because now, in addition to a family and friends who love him, he also has a purpose: to save all the children of the world by wiping out the witches who seek to destroy them.
But despite those positive messages, we are still dealing directly with witches, witchcraft and specific terminology related to the occult. And this isn’t Oz, where there are good witches and bad witches. This is Alabama, where they’re all bad witches. Really bad, as in, demonic.
Then there’s Grandma’s syncretistic spirituality. At some points, she portrays as a Christian woman who believes in the goodness of God; other times, she’s also clearly involved in something like voodoo, which is obviously not in line with Christian truth.
The witches themselves can be pretty terrifying with their demonic appearances and tendencies. And things can get pretty violent in their penchant for exterminating all children like rodents—literally. And these elements could be a more than a little frightening for young or sensitive children.
Overall, the film’s main message focuses on overcoming whatever challenges life throws at you; and adults may well enjoy the acting talents of Oscar winners Octavia Spencer and Anne Hathaway. Still, The Witches’ twisted blend of pagan spirituality and its creepy premise make this a movie many families may well avoid.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.