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Hardly Bewitching, Hansel & Gretel Fails

Hardly Bewitching, <i>Hansel & Gretel</i> Fails

DVD Release Date: June 11, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: January 25, 2013
Rating: R for strong fantasy horror violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language
Genre: Horror
Run Time: 88 min.
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Actors: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Peter Storemare, Thomas Mann, Derek Mears

Remember when new spins on classic fairy tales were the province of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle? Ah, the good old days. More recently, Shrek, Hoodwinked! and other animated fare have taken up twists on beloved fairy tales, giving the tales often witty, sometimes crass spins that weren’t serious enough to qualify for anything more than a PG rating.

Now we have big-budget action star Jeremy Renner (The Avengers) and Gemma Arterton (Prince of Persia) starring as a live-action Hansel and Gretel, and this time it’s not just the fairy tale that gets fractured. No, our fearless brother-and-sister duo learned at a young age that witches don’t die easily (remember the story about how the siblings turned the table on the witch who kidnapped them as children?). They are now full-time witch hunters, and that can mean only one thing: There will be blood. Bones will be broken, blood splattered and innards spilled all over the screen.

If that combination sounds like a silly idea, there’s good reason. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is executive produced by comedian Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, the team that brought you Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and The Other Guys. But whereas McKay was involved in writing for those other films, the script for Hansel & Gretel is from director Tommy Wirkola and Dante Harper, neither of whom has many screenwriting credits.

Their lack of experience as writers shows in Hansel & Gretel, which never settles on a consistent tone for its story, and which substitutes lots of quick-cut action for story and character development.

A prologue reminds us of how the young Hansel and Gretel ended up at a witch’s house in the woods, and how the witch ended up in an oven. In voiceover we hear the grown Hansel (Renner) dole out the two lessons he learned from that experience:

1. Never walk into a house made of candy.
2. If you’re going to kill a witch, burn her.

Years after they absorbed that instruction, the brother and sister team are in the business of killing witches—and business is good. They’re called upon by a town that’s had a rash of missing children, so they enlist Hansel and Gretel to traverse the woods to find out if witches are behind the disappearances. Following along is a young, aspiring witch hunter Ben (Thomas Mann, Fun Size), and, eventually, a gentle troll named Edward.

With not much story to tell after the team sets out, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters relies on extended action scenes to move things along. The approach is tiresome. So little actually happens that the film’s 88-minute running time feels sorely stretched by the time the witches and witch hunters end up at the same home Hansel and Gretel wandered into as youngsters.

The actors look tired, too. Renner, given jokey, sarcastic dialogue early in the film, doesn’t have much to do besides look tough and aim his weapons at various ghouls. Arterton is even given even less to do. Only Famke Janssen (Taken 2) looks like she might be having a little fun as the chief villain, morphing from a deceptively peaceful looking human being into a white-faced witch with seeming superpowers. She’s a formidable foe for the gun-toting, arrow-shooting Hansel and Gretel, but we never doubt who will come out victorious at the end of the film.

Along the way, Hansel and Gretel accept assistance not only from Ben but also from a 'good witch,' Mina (Pihla Viitala). She also provides the film with a completely unnecessary love interest for Hansel, and a completely gratuitous nude scene.

If fractured fairy tales are your thing, stick to Rocky and Bullwinkle or PG-rated family fare like Hoodwinked! Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters isn’t clever, it isn’t fun and it isn’t worth any of your time or money.


  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; the “f”-word; various obscenities
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Hansel asks if there’s anywhere he can get a drink
  • Sex/Nudity: A young man wipes dirt from a woman’s cleavage; a man’s bare chest; a woman’s bare breast and full backside; kissing
  • Violence/Crime: Children left in the woods alone; a witch attacks the children, but they fight back and burn the witch; cut-out figures are shown hanged, burned; pervasive witch-chasing mayhem; guns and gunfire; decapitations; splattering of blood and body parts; Hansel injects himself with insulin; a witch forces a boy to shoot his own mother, and a man to shoot himself; a troll eats a boar; Gretel bites the sheriff’s face; men are squashed by a troll; a hanging and a burning of human flesh
  • Religion: A witch says there’s no use in praying, "God knows better than to come here;" a gate to hell is said to have once been opened; witches have a “dark Sabbath

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Publication date: January 25, 2013