Witches, The (1990)

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Short takes

Not suitable under 8; parental guidance to 10 (Scary scenes, themes and images)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Witches, The (1990)
  • a review of Witches, The (1990) completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 2 April 2020.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 8 Not suitable due to scary scenes, themes and images.
Children aged 8-10 Parental guidance recommended due to scary scenes, themes and images.
Children over the age of 10 Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Witches, The (1990)
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild Horror
Length: 91 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Based on the book by Roald Dahl, The Witches tells the story of Luke (Jasen Fisher), a young boy who goes on a holiday with his parents to visit his Norwegian Grandma (Mai Zetterling). Grandma loves to tell Luke bedtime stories about witches who, she says, spend their time plotting to kill children. Luke wakes one morning to find his parents' bed empty and learns the sad news that they've been killed in an accident.

Grandma decides to take Luke to England to spend some time in a seaside resort. There, Luke stumbles upon a convention of witches, led by the Grand High Witch herself (Angelica Houston). The Grand High Witch has developed a formula that will turn all the children of England into mice and she demonstrates this on a poor, hapless boy, Bruno (Charlie Potter). Luke also becomes a victim, and as a mouse, has to devise a way to defeat the witches.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Fantasy; witchcraft; mild horror; death of parents.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • A witch in the audience is struck by a beam of light sent from Eva's hand. She disintegrates into a pile of charcoal.
  • The witches cause chaos as they chase after Luke, through the hotel kitchen and out onto the beach. Luke sees a woman pushing a baby in a pram- Eva grabs hold of the pram and pushes it down the hill. The baby is seen shaking up and down in the pram, looking scared.
  • The witches find Luke in his room, grab him and force him onto a table. They give him 500 doses of formula. He starts to shake violently, green smoke comes out of his ears and nose and he is turned into a mouse. The witches try to step on him and kill him but he manages to escape.
  • Luke and Bruno, as mice, are chased by a cat which tries to attack them with its paws.
  • As a mouse, Luke is in constant danger such as: being trod on; things falling on him; he narrowly avoids a potato scrubbing machine; he nearly goes into the fryer.
  • Luke gets some of his tail chopped off in the hotel kitchen. It is seen bleeding.
  • The cook starts to turn into a mouse. She spins, green smoke comes out of her ears and then she's a mouse. Eva stamps on the mouse.
  • The hotel manager hits Eva, as a mouse, with a large knife.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • The witches are quite scary creatures when they remove their wigs and human face masks. They're bony, with scaled skin, pointy noses, bald, purple eyes and very ugly.
  • Many scenes have ominous music and feel quite threatening.
  • Children and others are changed into mice.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Grandma's stories are very frightening. She tells Luke that she lost a finger which was cut off by a witch. Her best friend Erica was taken by a witch and never seen again. Strangely, she was seen in a painting of her father's in which she kept moving about until six years prior when she disappeared for good.
  • Grandma tells Luke that witches have no toes, square feet, stalk children, are very cruel and have a keen sense of smell to help sniff out children anywhere.
  • The police arrive at Grandma's house with the grim news that Luke's parents have died. Grandma and Luke cry and hug each other.
  • Luke is up in a treehouse when a witch appears trying to tempt him with a snake. She has purple eyes. Luke screams for his Grandma but she doesn't hear. The woman then tempts Luke with a chocolate bar and the snake vanishes. Grandma then arrives in time.
  • Grandma collapses after eating cake - she is diagnosed with diabetes.
  • A maid comes screaming to the hotel manager because she's seen a mouse.
  • At the witches' convention the high witch, Eva Ernst, shouts commands from the platform. She questions why there are so many children in England and that they all need to be rubbed out and destroyed.
  • A witch in the audience questions how they will manage to do this and is heard by Eva. She calls her out and says, “A stupid witch who answers back must burn until her bones are black”.
  • Bruno is seen starting to shake and shrink. He has green smoke coming out of his mouth and he grows fur, large ears and a tail. He is then transformed into a mouse. All of the witches think this is hilarious.
  • Luke is hiding at the convention behind the stairs and is in danger of being caught.
  • The hotel maid dabs her ears with formula, which she thinks is perfume, and she starts going mouldy.
  • At the convention dinner, all of the witches eat the soup. They start shaking, breathing out green smoke and all turn into mice.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Some children in this age group could be scared by the above mentioned scenes.

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • The hotel maid kisses the manager. It's implied that they're having an affair.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • Luke is seen briefly from behind, running naked through the house.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Grandma smokes cigars.
  • Drinking of wine at the convention and celebrating with whiskey and champagne.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • Some name calling such as: “Brainless bumpkin” and “Blithering idiot”.
  • Good Lord
  • Crikey
  • Oh my God
  • Oh Lord
  • Bloody.

In a nutshell

The Witches is a dark comedy based on the children's book of the same name. While the movie may be funny for older children, younger children could be terrified by this movie because the images and the stories are very scary. Therefore, The Witches is not suitable for children under 8 and parental guidance is recommended to 10.

The main message from this movie is that good triumphs over evil.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Bravery and courage.
  • Care and concern for others.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • that this is just a story meant to entertain and that none of it is real.