Did we need a remake of The Witches? No. Did we need to see Anne Hathaway's wildly campy, wonderfully deranged interpretation of the Grand High Witch? Yes. Absolutely yes.
To be clear, HBO Max's adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl novel—which was first brought to Hollywood in 1990 with a movie starring Angelica Huston—is only so-so. There are reasons to watch it, though. Octavia Spencer is cunning and hilarious as the grandmother of Charlie, the young male protagonist who's turned into a mouse by the Grand High Witch. Stanley Tucci is brilliant, as always, playing Mr. Stringer, the manager of the hotel where the witches concoct their scheme to turn all the children in the world into rodents. But the main reason to watch is Hathaway, who delivers a kitchen-sink performance that will go down in camp history. And I mean that in the best way possible.
This was Hathaway's intention, I think. “The Grand High Witch was a total collaboration between costumes, hair and makeup, the writers, my dialect coach, the effects department, stunts, [director] Bob Zemeckis and myself,” she told People in early October. “She is such a weirdo—so silly and over-the-top—and everyone had to work together to be on the same page so it felt big and entertaining but never too much.”
That's a difficult balance to strike, but Hathaway and Co. succeeded—with the exception of a few scenes in which the Grand High Witch's cup runneth over. Every time that happens, though, it's madly fun to watch. Hathaway's Grand High Witch is either screaming at the top of her lungs, snarling, literally floating around, or grandly gesturing with her arms. In most cases, she's doing several of those things at once. With a German accent, no less!
When Huston tells her witch followers to “remove their wigs” for their secret meeting in the 1990 film, she does it quickly, quietly, and sternly. But Hathaway relishes every syllable, her voice practically vibrating when she says the word remove. When she exclaims “wigs!” she knocks her head back in ecstasy, letting out the biggest cartoonish evil smile. It makes Faye Dunaway's performance in Mommie Dearest look subtle. (Which, again, is a high compliment from a 27-year-old gay man who says, “No wire hangers!” at least once a week.)
To reiterate, I don't think any of this is an accident. Hathaway is a skilled actor, and we've seen her go small before. Her hushed, heartbreaking rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” in Les Misérables earned her an Oscar in 2013! But The Witches is a children's movie, painted in broad strokes with plenty of CGI. (So. Much. CGI.) This is the opportunity to go big. The opportunity to go bold. The opportunity to wear a blond wig that looks like a beehive, storm up to Octavia Spencer, and growl the word pigtails like you're speaking parseltongue in Harry Potter. It's all so much that you just have to sit back in awe and enjoy.
Huston's performance of the Grand High Witch is so beloved that anything Hathaway did would've been criticized. But there really is no comparing the performances, in my opinion. Huston is a true antagonist in The Witches: grandiose and flamboyant, yes, but still genuinely frightening. Hathaway is going for laughs with her interpretation, which, frankly, is a smart move. I have no doubt she could've done sinister—remember when she played Catwoman?—but scenery chewing is a far better way of ensuring her performance is separate from Huston's. I enjoy both takes on the character in equal measure for different reasons. I suspect others will too.
If you're still on the fence about watching, I leave you with this final image: Hathaway with a Joker-like smile screaming about “repulsive" children, ripping a podium from the ground, and throwing it across the room as if she were the Incredible Hulk. Yeah, that happens 39 minutes into the movie. And then she levitates! Enjoy. I promise you this barely scratches the surface of what you're in for.
The Witches is now streaming on HBO Max.
Christopher Rosa is the staff entertainment writer at Glamour. Follow him on Twitter @chrisrosa92.
Originally Appeared on Glamour