I suppose some people can watch a movie without comparing it to the book it was based on or the movie version of said book that was made 30 years prior. I, however, am not that person. From the opening scene in The Witches, I started a mental catalog of the differences strictly for the purposes of writing this post. Here are all of the changes I found between the book and the 1990 and 2020 versions of the film. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead!
Differences Between The Book And Film Versions Of “The Witches”
The book and the 2020 film are narrated by an unnamed boy. The 1990 film version begins with a narration by the grandmother and the boy is named Luke.
Both the book and 1990 version of The Witches begin in Norway and moves to England. The 2020 version of The Witches is set in 1968 Alabama, with a very brief introductory scene in Chicago.
In the book and the 2020 version of the film, the boy was in the car with his parents when the accident occurred and he survived because he was wearing his seatbelt. In the 1990 film, the boy was home with his grandmother when the car crash happened.
The boy is told stories of witches by his grandmother before his parents’ deaths in the 1990 film. In the book, witch stories are told as a way to bond after the car accident. In the 2020 film, they bond by dancing to records and the grandmother only speaks of witches after one is first spotted by the boy.
The grandmother tells her grandson a story about a friend who was tricked by a witch in both movies. In the 1990 film, the friend was captured inside of an oil painting. In the 2020 version, the friend was turned into a chicken. Both things happened in the book, along with several other tales of how children disappeared.
The book and 1990 film version feature a grandmother who was a witch hunter or “witchophile”. The 2020 version of the grandmother was a healer.
The grandmother smoked cigars in the book and in the 1990 movie, but the cigars were not present in the 2020 film.
The boy encounters his first witch while in the grocery store in the 2020 film. His original witch encounter took place while he was in his treehouse in the book and 1990 film.
In the book, witches hid their lack of toes by wearing stylish, pointy shoes that were painful. In the 1990 version, witches never wore pointed or pretty shoes. In 2020, the pretty, pointed shoes were back.
Three different illnesses affect the grandmother between the book and film versions. She coughs when a witch is near in the 2020 film. In the book she has pneumonia. In the 1990 film, the grandmother has diabetes.
Witches in the book had pupils that would change color, appearing as fire and ice. Witches had a purple tinge to their eyes in the 1990 film. Eyes aren’t mentioned as a way to spot a witch in the 2020 movie, but they are given an elongated mouth that is hidden with pancake makeup.
The boy has pet mice in every iteration of the story. In the book and 1990 version, the grandmother gives him two mice he names William and Mary. In the 2020 film, he is given one mouse he names Daisy. While William and Mary are never more than pet mice, Daisy turns out to be a little girl who was changed into a mouse by a witch.
The boy trains his mice in the hotel ballroom behind a folding screen in the book and 1990 film version. The screen is missing in the 2020 movie so he hides under the stage riser.
The Grand High Witch is in room 666 in the 2020 film version, but is in room 454 in the book and room 208 in the 1990 film. In each iteration the grandmother and boy are in the room directly above the witch. The 2020 film mentions the hotel builder’s interest in numerology when talking about the room numbers.
In every version, the boy is lowered in a partially knitted sock to visit the Grand High Witch’s room to steal a bottle of Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse Maker. He makes his escape in the sock in the 2020 film, but he has to run out the door and find his way back to his grandmother in the book and 1990 movie.
The witches eat pea soup in the book and 2020 movie. The soup is watercress in the 1990 film.
Bruno Jenkins, a little boy turned into a mouse in all versions, is returned to his family in the book and the 1990 film. In the 2020 film, he goes to live with the boy and his grandmother since his own mom hates mice and won’t accept him.
The endings of the book and both films are all quite different. In the book, the grandmother and boy return to Norway and the boy remains a mouse. They find out the Grand High Witch lived in a castle in Norway and devise a plan to kill all of the remaining witches. The boy learns that he will probably only live another nine years, but is ok with that because he doesn’t want to live without his grandmother.
The boy sneaks an address tag onto the trunk belonging to the Grand High Witch before they leave the hotel in the 1990 film. The trunk is delivered to their home and contains money and an address book with the location of every witch in the world. This will allow them to travel the world hunting witches. The film also included a character named Miss Irvine, an ill-treated assistant to the Grand High Witch. She travels to the grandmother and boy’s home and turns him back into a human.
Finally, the 2020 version shows the grandmother, the boy, Bruno, and Daisy all living together in Alabama. They show a series of images that follow their adventures over the next few years, including one that features witch-hunting. The film ends with the boy, now a much older mouse, training children in how to kill witches.
Ready to see how all three versions compare? The Witches (2020) is streaming now on HBOMax, while The Witches (1990) is streaming on Netflix. You can pick up the book at your local library or wherever books or sold.