Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis is mixing things up with his adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel The Witches by setting the story in the U.S. South (namely, Alabama) and casting a young black male lead. Dahl's 1983 children's fantasy horror book was previously adapted for the big screen by director Nicolas Roeg in 1990 - although, that film is famous for its creepy practical effects by The Jim Henson Company's Creature Shop and Angelica Huston's freaky performance as the evil Grand High Witch, as much as anything else.
Guillermo del Toro wrote a fresh movie adaptation of The Witches several years ago and planned to direct it for some time, before he eventually moved on to other projects. Zemeckis became officially attached to helm the project for Warner Bros. this past summer, but won't be using del Toro's script draft. Instead, Zemeckis will draw from a screenplay that he cowrote with Kenya Barris, aka. the creator of the popular TV series Black-ish and its spinoff Grown-ish, as well as the cowriter of last year's hit comedy Girls Trip.
According to GWW, Zemeckis and Barris' The Witches script takes place in the American South (again, mostly Alabama) and features an 8-10 year old young black boy as its protagonist (who, unlike in Dahl's novel, may not be named Luke). It's expected that the lead's grandmother - another key character in the story - will be African-American as well, though no one has been cast in either role as of yet. Production will primarily take place at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden in England beginning next April, though the project will also include some on-location filming in Southern states like Georgia and/or Louisiana, most likely.
Changes in setting and the ethnicity of its leads aside, however, Zemeckis' The Witches won't be all that different from Dahl's source material, as you can see from the film's current synopsis:
When his parents are killed, a young boy goes to live with his feisty, loving grandma, who had a terrifying encounter with witches when she was just a girl. When Grandma realizes that the witches have returned, she flees with the Boy to the swankiest resort in the South - only to realize that they’ve wandered right into a nest of witches, headed by the Grand High Witch, who intends to transform the world’s children into mice - starting with the Boy...
Zemeckis' The Witches won't be the first Americanized take on Dahl's literature either; Danny DeVito's 1996 movie adaptation of Dahl's novel Matilda also shifted its source material's setting from England to North America. The change in setting is arguably all the more appropriate with The Witches, given that there's a tried and true tradition of storytelling involving witches in the U.S. (see: movies like Practical Magic or, most recently, Netflix's TV series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina). So long as the execution is up to snuff - and it ought to be, given Zemeckis and Barris' involvement - this new take on Dahl's book could prove to be all the more effective as a spoopy tale of witches and whatnot for it.
The Witches doesn't have an official release date yet. We will let you know when that changes.