The Witches: 9 Differences Between The Anne Hathaway Movie And The Roald Dahl Book

Anne Hathaway in The Witches

Recently, HBO Max released The Witches movie. This is the second full-length feature adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book, which was published in 1983. The original movie version of The Witches premiered in 1990 and starred Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch. 2020’s The Witches had Anne Hathaway stepping into the role.

Hathaway had big shoes to fill in this deliciously devious role and she killed it. The Witches has an all-star cast that also includes Chris Rock, Octavia Spencer, and Stanley Tucci. Like the 1990 version, the recent adaptation of The Witches took many liberties with Roald Dahl’s story. Some parts were transported directly from the book to the screen, but other parts were completely new additions just for the movie. Let’s look at some of the changes that HBO made to The Witches.

Octavia Spencer and Jahzir Kadeem Bruno in The Witches

The Witches Book Is Set In Norway And England

The narrator emphasizes in the book the importance of Norway and Norwegian history to his Grandmother, who is from there. The narrator is from England and when his parents die, he’s forced to move back to England with Grandmother. All of the events of the book The Witches take place between those two countries.

The movie sets the opening events in Chicago, and the main part of the story in Demopolis, Alabama. It’s also set in the 1960s, but the book doesn’t mention any period in time.

Daisy, Bruno, and the Boy as Mice

The Character Of Daisy Doesn’t Exist In The Book

In The Witches movie, the Boy (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) owns a white mouse named Daisy, voiced by Kristin Chenoweth. It’s later learned that Daisy used to be a little girl named Mary who was also a victim of the witches. She ate a chocolate bar four months prior to the events in the movie and became a mouse.

In the book, there is no character named Daisy. The boy does have two white mice who he is training when he stumbles upon the meeting of the witches. They have no human origin. The Boy names his white mice William and Mary, so Daisy’s real name being Mary seems like a nod to that book detail. Additionally, The Witches book implies that Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick) may be the first child they turned into a mouse, though they have turned them into plenty of other creatures.

Octavia Spencer in The Witches

The Movie Shows More Of The Boy And His Grandmother's Mission To Destroy Other Witches

The book ends with Grandmother cleverly tricking a police officer into helping her get the name and location of the Grand High Witch, and the Boy and her discussing traveling to a castle to destroy the Grand High Witch and her friends. They then plan to find a book with all the names of the witches around the world and going after them. They plan to make it their life mission for whatever time they have left on earth.

The movie ends in a similar way but more grandiose. The book has more of a quiet moment of just the Boy and Grandmother discussing their plans, but it’s never revealed if they actually do them. The movie makes it clear that the Boy, Grandmother (Octavia Spencer), Daisy, and Bruno hunt witches. They even recruit more children to do the same.

The Grand High Witch's cat and the mouse version of The Grand High Witch in The Witches

The Cat Doesn’t Kill The Grand High Witch In The Book

Another new character added to the movie that is not in the book is the Grand High Witch’s cat. In the book, she dies along with the other witches by eating the split-pea soup and becoming a mouse. She’s then squashed in the chaos.

In the movie, the Grand High Witch has one final confrontation between Daisy, Bruno, the Boy, and Grandmother. She ends up a mouse and later eaten by her own cat, which she'd previously mistreated. Not a pretty way to die.

Octavia Spencer in The Witches

Grandmother And The Boy Have A Close Bond From The Start Of The Book

In the book, the Boy mentions that he may love his Grandmother more than his own mother, and this is stated before his parents die, so they have a strong bond all or most of his life. In the movie when the Boy’s parents die, he and his Grandmother must find their rhythm and bond.

The book also doesn’t really focus on the Boy mourning his parents. Instead, he’s sad but he loves his Grandmother so much that he’s happy to be in her care.

Anne Hathaway in The Witches

In The Book, The Witches Target All Children, Not Just Poor Ones

The movie The Witches makes social commentary by saying the witches target poor children because no one asks questions when they go missing. This is what happens to Grandmother's friend. However, the movie kind of contradicts itself by them having the witches target Bruno, who clearly comes from a wealthy family.

In the book, the witches’ hate knows no prejudice in terms of gender, race, or class. If you’re a child, they hate you and will likely do whatever it takes to get rid of you.

Morgana Robinson as Mrs. Jenkins in The Witches

Bruno Is Reunited With His Parents In The Book

In the book, Bruno’s parents are pretty awful, and Bruno isn’t that likable himself. His parents are portrayed as pretty stuck-up, unlikable people and Bruno is a brat. The movie takes a more sympathetic portrayal of Bruno and his parents aren’t around enough to dislike them.

In the movie, he stays with Daisy, Grandmother, and the Boy, but in the book, Grandmother gets Bruno’s parents to understand what happened to him, and in the commotion of the witch-to-rat transformation, she forces them to take him. Later, Grandmother and Boy discuss that Bruno probably meets a gruesome fate.

They believe that his parents won’t just accept their new mouse son and speculate that he might be drowned by them eventually. Clearly, leaving Bruno with his mean parents may be a little too dark for a movie aimed at families.

The Kitchen Scene from The Witches on HBO

The Kitchen Scene Is Longer And More Comedic In The Book

The Witches movie made the Boy’s kitchen scene a lot faster than in the book. He gets the Formula 86 Delayed-Action Mouse-Maker into the soup and heads out. However, in the book, he gets caught and chased around. He ends up in one cook’s pants, he also sees the cooks spitting in customers’ food, and gets his tail chopped off.

The movie most likely shortened this scene because it isn’t necessary for the plot, and the film may not want to show the tail chopped off scene, though it did show his tail getting trapped in a mousetrap later in the movie. The kitchen scene is one of the most comedic and fun ones in the book, so I wish they showed a bit more of it in the movie.

Anne Hathaway in The Witches

The Grand High Witch Wears A Mask In The Book

In the book, the witches all wore face masks as part of their detailed disguises. In the movie, instead, they have human-like features, just with an extremely distorted smile and almost animalistic teeth. The rest of their description matches the book and the hideousness of it.

The Witches is not a completely faithful adaptation of the book, but it’s a fun film that keeps the spirit of the book while making its own strange and entertaining creature. I also personally loved Hathaway’s Grand High Witch. That’s the element that I thought felt most faithful to the book version.

Stream The Witches on HBO Max here.

Jerrica Tisdale
Freelance Writer

Spent most of my life in various parts of Illinois, including attending college in Evanston. I have been a life long lover of pop culture, especially television, turned that passion into writing about all things entertainment related. When I'm not writing about pop culture, I can be found channeling Gordon Ramsay by kicking people out the kitchen.