The Witches hasn’t really cast the spell that Warner Bros. were hoping for. First of all, the pandemic forced them to cancel its planned theatrical release and drop it on HBO Max last month. Then, it was met with middling reviews and a lack of positive buzz. And finally, it’s come under fire from the disability community for its controversial depiction of the titular witches themselves.
In contrast to their portrayal in Roald Dahl’s original novel and the previous movie version made in 1990, Robert Zemeckis’ film presents the witches as possessing three elongated fingers on each hand, which many believe resembles genuine limb differences. Critics argue, then, that depicting the witches this way perpetuates harmful negative stereotypes about those with similar differences.
Star Anne Hathaway has previously penned a heartfelt apology on her Instagram account, and though people seem to have taken that well, the controversy hasn’t calmed down. Warner Bros. has now released their own response to the matter, though, sharing the following statement to Deadline where they stress that the messages of the movie are at odds with the interpretation that some are taking from it, though they do say that they “regret any offense caused.”
“We the filmmakers and Warner Bros. Pictures are deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in THE WITCHES could upset people with disabilities, and regret any offense caused. In adapting the original story, we worked with designers and artists to come up with a new interpretation of the cat-like claws that are described in the book. It was never the intention for viewers to feel that the fantastical, non-human creatures were meant to represent them. This film is about the power of kindness and friendship. It is our hope that families and children can enjoy the film and embrace this empowering, love-filled theme.”
Hathaway was more direct in her apology, admitting that she should’ve picked up on the connection between her character’s design and limb differences during filming. “I owe you all an apology for the pain caused,” the Oscar-winning actress wrote. “I am sorry. I did not connect limb difference with the [Grand High Witch] when the look of the character was brought to me; if I had, I assure you this never would have happened.”
The Witches currently sits at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an even lower audience score of just 37%. All in all, WB may be wishing they left this one on the shelf.