While attending a prestigious school for witches, a young girl named Mildred Hubble (Fairuza Balk) simply cannot do anything right. Mildred is quite clumsy and constantly making mistakes, which puts her in the crosshairs of a group of bullies led by a girl named Ethel Hallow (Anna Kipling), who would be best described as your typical perfect student who also happens to come from a very respectable family of witches. Mildred has also found herself on the bad side of Miss Constance Hardbroom (Diana Rigg), a potions teacher who has a low tolerance for screw ups and has absolutely no problem with calling Mildred out for every little mistake she makes. The only people who seem to have Mildred’s back are her best friend, Maud (Danielle Batchelor), and the school’s headmistress, Miss Cackle (Charlotte Rae).
While Mildred is busy struggling with everything from flying on her broom to properly executing magic spells, the school is preparing for a special visit from The Grand Wizard (Tim Curry), which is a VERY big deal for everyone involved. This becomes most obvious during a scene where all the girls are passing around a black and white photo of him during class, with each girl oohing and awing and kissing the photo as if The Grand Wizard were a member of One Direction. All the while, Miss Cackle’s evil twin sister, Agatha Cackle (also played by Charlotte Rae), and a group of devious witches are planning to take over the witch academy and turn all the young, budding witches into young, budding evil witches. What role will Mildred play in all of this? Probably a large one, you know, considering the film is about her and all.
Directed by Robert Young, The Worst Witch is a UK made-for-television film that aired every October on HBO and Disney all the way up until the late ‘90s. Based on a series of books written by English writer Jill Murphy, what might be most obvious to anyone who encounters The Worst Witch are the many similarities it shares with Harry Potter. In fact, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has, on numerous occasions, been accused of ripping off The Worst Witch series. While the similarities are a plenty as well as being completely undeniable, the world of Harry Potter and Mildred are indeed very different, at least based on my experience.
“Things never go right for Mildred Hubble…” proclaims the film’s tagline, which is made obvious during an opening credit sequence that does a nice job of quickly portraying Mildred in all of her clumsiness as well as setting up her rivalry with miss perfect herself, Ethel Hallow. The Worst Witch is mostly focused on Mildred trying to find herself whilst dealing with a series of self-imposed unfortunate events and the ramifications she faces as a result. The film is essentially a classic underdog tale, where one character will go against all odds to prove themselves worthy of respect.
While enjoyable as a children’s made-for-TV film, The Worst Witch is quite hokey at times, though this element adds a certain level of enjoyment to the viewing experience. The rear projection flying effects are charmingly awful, especially in how each actor actually sells the act of flying on a broom. Most of the performances are solid, but a major standout, for better or for worse, comes from Charlotte Rae, specifically in her role as the evil twin sister Agatha Cackle. As opposed to headmaster Cackle, who is a fairly sweet, laid-back character, Agatha gives Rae the opportunity to ham it up, and she does so with ridiculous glee.
The Worst Witch also features a handful of musical numbers. While musicals aren't necessarily my favorite thing in the world (outside of a few exceptions), the musical moments in The Worst Witch are kept to a minimum. More importantly, however, it is indeed a musical number that stands out as the single best moment in the film. In fact, it may be the single greatest moment in any film. Ever.
Throughout the entirety of The Worst Witch, everyone is extremely excited about the special visit from The Grand Wizard, and knowing The Grand Wizard is played by Tim Curry, it’s nearly impossible to not be equally excited as a viewer. With the benefit of hindsight, the prospect of Tim Curry showing up as a “Grand Wizard” in a kitschy kids film with musical elements is quite promising. And let me tell you, people, when The Grand Wizard shows up and lets loose one of the greatest performances to ever hit celluloid, forever will your mind, body and soul be changed. The Grand Wizard’s performance is the equivalent of a cape-wearing unicorn starring in one of those lip-sync music videos that you could make at the mall back in the 80s and early 90s. Please, feel free to indulge for yourself below:
If that doesn't sell you on the film, then nothing will.
If you feel a hankering for watching a kids’ film about girl witches, you can watch The Worst Witch, in its entirety, on YouTube. Which is exactly why YouTube is so awesome.