This is one of the rare cases when I know the movie far, far better than I know the book. This movie and I have a close, intimate history--decades of movie enjoyment. Decades of me saying, "You are in for a treat
!" and "She caaaan't hear you
" in creepy witch voices. I've probably seen this movie at least thirty times so when I went to reread the book today (and it is the first book I've checked off my 110+ Books To Read Next Challenge
!), I found that I could just take margin notes on every page of the differences without referencing the film. Don't worry though, I watched the movie twice today to be sure. When Catie recently compared the movie and book versions of Holes
, she found there to be basically no differences. That's not the case here--there are a bunch of huge changes and also various minor changes that had me wondering what the point of the changes were. (changing the room number of the Grand High Witch at the hotel from 454 in the book to 208 in the movie. Why? WHY?)
This was a recurring nightmare of mine for YEARS.
I suppose I was expecting the movie to just follow the book verbatim because you can't get source material better than Roald Dahl
. (amiright or amiright?) However, even the basic setup of the movie is different. In the book, the narrative is in first person so we never learn the boy's name; fair enough that the movie named him Luke. (And his grandmother Helga, and the Grand High Witch as Eva Ernst. ) The book finds the narrator in Norway with parents visiting his grandmother. While there, he is in a car accident with his parents and he is the sole survivor. Upon the execution of his parents' will, his grandmamma (just grandma in the film) takes him to England. She falls ill with pneumonia so they can't go on a trip to Norway so they go to the English seaside. In the movie, for who knows what purposes, suddenly the boy has an American accent, his father is American, they live in America, the grandmother has diabetes (this storyline runs throughout the movie), and the parents pass away without him in the car. The boy and his grandmother go to England because Luke's parents wanted him to attend school there. Considering Dahl isn't American, almost all the actors aren't American, and the film was made in England and Norway, I don't understand the changes here unless it is just to appease Hollywood and the US audience.
Child Stars--Where is Luke now?
Bruno's Parents: Hoity-toity Jerks
Anjelica Huston is perfect.
It took me ages to find a picture where this kid wasn't being obnoxious or eating.
Total badass granny.
Doesn't Exist in the Book.
The casting of the film, while it deviates somewhat from the written descriptions, absolutely celebrates the tone Dahl intended. Anjelica Huston
is the perfect Grand High Witch, even though Dahl describes her character as, "[T]iny, probably no more than four and a half feet tall. She looked quite young, I guessed about twenty-five or six, and she was very pretty." (65) The same may be said for the boy's feisty cigar-smoking grandmother, played by Mai Zetterling
. "My grandmother was tremendously old and wrinkled, with a massive wide body which was smothered in grey lace. She sat there majestic in her armchair, filling every inch of it. Not even a mouse could have squeezed in to sit beside her." (15) Zetterling is younger and trimmer than the description, but the movie kept her spirit. She tells Luke only a portion of the stories she shares with him in the book. One of the biggest differences between the two formats is that the book describes the spit of witches to be blue, so blue they could use it as ink. (31) What a visual! The teeth of the witches are disgusting (though no false teeth are alluded to) so maybe they edited the reasoning out of the film? The film also creates interactions between Bruno and Luke before they are mice, has the witches wearing sensible shoes instead of the written pointy shoes, and changes the color of the witches' eyes.
The white Hotel Magnificent becomes this red brick Hotel Excelsior in the film.
The ballroom is perfect. The book even mentions the gold-rimmed, red chairs.
A relationship invented for the film.
I always thought as a child that some of the most frightening parts of the movie were when the maid's neck started to grow mouse hair after she used the Grand High Witch's Formula 86 on her neck as perfume, when Huston pushes a baby buggy down a hill and the mother has to watch her child nearly die, when the witches are chasing Luke around the hotel grounds, and when Luke is a mouse being chased by the cat--would he get caught? Guess what? None of this is in the book. There is no romance between these two characters, the entire chase scene is fabricated, along with the buggy scene, and there is no cat in Ms. Ernst's room, only some frogs. I wouldn't change these scenes, though, because they frightened me as a child and they are still pretty heartracing in adulthood. I wish the filmmakers would've included elements from the book like the Grand High Witch's song and dance during the annual meeting (can you just imagine Huston doing this?) and the disgusting description of how each with could concoct the mouse-making potion themselves.
The ending of the film, now that I am reminded of the book's ending, made me roll my eyes. The book ends with the boy STILL A MOUSE. He and his grandmother are going to go to the Grand High Witch's castle in Norway to try to find addresses of more witches to get rid of. The gist of the movie ending is the same except the two are off the the US with money and addresses Luke retrieved before they left the hotel. But the imaginary character of the Grand High Witch's secretary changes him back to a human and then stares at her hand, seemingly implying that there are good witches who don't look hideous and don't have to wear gloves and la di da. Um, no. If Roald Dahl wanted there to be good witches, would've he have made mention of them in the book somewhere, don't you think? I do.
The imagining of the Grand High Witch in the film.
Quentin Blake's drawing of the Grand High Witch.
The boy as a mouse in the book runs standing up. He performs all sorts of trapeze art in the kitchen. In the movie, it goes back and forth between an animatronic mouse and a real mouse.
Overall, I absolutely love both versions. There are far more disgusting bits in the book and I wish I could see them realized in a movie. However, so many fantastical elements of the book were included in the film that was made. Each actor/actress stayed true to their book counterpart. Perhaps my only wish would be that the film stuck with the original ending. Oh, and one thing I found majorly entertaining was this: this British children's book is kept exactly the way it is written and not adapted to its US audience. Recently, my co-bloggers and I have had discussions about whether adaptations are necessary or if they take something (sometimes the heart) out of their source. The Witches keeps the 's' in place of the z, talks about conkers, tommyrot and so many other things. Why are we trusting kids more than we trust young adults?
Have you seen this movie or read the book? What'd you think?