Hocus Pocus 2

Love It or Hate It, The Sanderson Sisters Are Back!

The reviews are in, and I think we all knew they’d be divided. Hocus Pocus (1993) is a cult classic that’s been growing its fanbase for almost thirty years, and rumours of a sequel floated around for at least a decade before Disney surprised us all with the announcement that the Sanderson sisters were, indeed, coming back. When filming began in October 2021, super fan groups came alive with excitement, feeling vindicated after so many false promises had been debunked. The game of teasing fans of the original with fake movie posters and studio announcements finally came to an end, and even the critics sat up to watch for the sequel’s release with curious anticipation. Hocus Pocus had become the quintessential family-grade Halloween movie for two generations; would the studio be able to create a follow-up that didn’t kill the magic?

Hocus Pocus 2

Hocus Pocus 2 (2022) was released directly to Disney Plus last month, and I tuned in to watch. I was relatively late to the party with the original, only discovering it in 2014. When it was released in 1993, I was partying my way through university and wasn’t making much time for movies. I loved the Halloween season, but hadn’t evolved into horror entertainment just yet, still somewhat traumatized by my fifth-grade viewing of Poltergeist (1982) at a sleepover party that I’ll never live down. In 2014 I had teenage children of my own who had also never seen the movie, but I’d established a group of friends who loved the paranormal, and they were absolutely shocked that I wasn’t a card-carrying member of the Hocus Pocus fan club. I found a copy in the $5 DVD bin at Walmart and brought it home to initiate myself. I can tell you now that I didn’t just love it, the movie became an escape for me. I was recently divorced after 18 years, had two kids in high school, and for the first time in my adult life, I had the time to figure out who I was and what I liked. It was a tumultuous time, and Hocus Pocus provided just the right recipe for Halloween-themed PG comedy and imagination to help me through some tough nights. 

To say I was excited about the Hocus Pocus 2  release is an understatement. I arranged a watch party with my eleven-year-old niece, and my sister was more than happy to watch with us while we geeked out over the movie premiere together. Neither of them had seen the original, but I’m Crazy Aunt Kate and my niece never misses an opportunity to share a witchy moment with me. 

Hocus Pocus 2

 

Hocus Pocus 2 opens with a flashback to Salem, MA in 1652 where we are introduced to the Sanderson sisters as children. It’s immediate nostalgia for lovers of the original film, whose opening scene was also a flashback to Salem (to show us how Thackery became Binx). Although all three actresses do a great job portraying their adult counterparts, Taylor Henderson as young Winifred is absolutely brilliant. She nails Bette Midler’s distinctive mannerisms and speech patterns, and the false teeth she’s fitted with just clinch the illusion that we’re truly watching young Winifred in action. Her sisters Mary (Nina Kitchen) and Sarah (Juju Brener) are her supportive sidekicks, providing comic nonsense energy while their older sister wreaks havoc with her magic, just like the original.

“Book” makes an early appearance in the film which is another solid point for team Hocus Pocus 2, the spell book having acquired its own devoted following since the original film’s release. The sisters narrowly escape capture by the town witch hunter, Reverend Traske (Tony Hale), and flee to the forest where they meet the Witch Mother (Hannah Waddingham) who presents Winifred with Book. Its iconic animated eye will harken viewers back to the first time they saw Winifred’s book in the original film’s Salem Museum, eliciting squeals of excitement and gratitude for the amount of detail replicated for the sequel. Book has a personality of its own, and every witch on the planet wants one just like it. After knocking it out of the park with nostalgia in the opening scenes, though, the transition to the sequel’s modern chapter quickly spoils the magic. 

Hocus Pocus 2

Hocus Pocus 2 is set in the present, and a lot has changed since 1993. Becca (Whitney Peak) is a high school student and a witch. It’s her birthday, so she and her friend Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) visit the Salem Magic Shop to pick up supplies for their annual birthday spell. Shop owner Gilbert (Sam Richardson) is putting on a silly Halloween show inside the store for a group of children, explaining the Sanderson sisters’ history and warning against resurrecting them again.  The scene is filled with jokes aimed at parent viewers, and unfortunately, it comes across as cheesy rather than funny.  Gilbert gives Becca a black flame candle for her birthday ritual, then adds a pouch of angelica leaves to cancel any curses that may befall them, “just in case”. We know something is amiss because he’s just told everyone in the shop that it was a black flame candle lit by a virgin that freed the Sanderson sisters in 1993 and that they should NOT light another one. Becca and Izzy take the candle to the forest to perform their ritual, and set up in the same clearing the young Sanderson sisters stood in to receive Book from the Witch Mother in the opening scene. Izzy pulls out a photo of their friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), lamenting her absence. Cassie has removed herself from their former trio, a detail that forms a large part of the sequel’s plot. Will Cassie return later when the girls need the power of three? They light the candle and recite their incantation, which, of course, brings the Sandersons back. 

Hocus Pocus 2

Some viewers will be thrilled with how the return of Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker was written, but it would have been so much better without the musical number that turned their introduction into a silly overreach. Considering it’s been thirty years since they last played these roles, though, the ladies are on point. They’ve aged, of course, and this is immediately explained: they need to find and eat a child to regain their youth (this was the premise of the first movie, for those who haven’t seen it). Fast thinking Becca and Izzy convince the sisters that they are 40-year-old witches themselves, not children/witch food, and take them to a pharmacy to browse ‘youth elixirs’ in the cosmetics aisle. Typical Sanderson sister silliness ensues, and when they can’t find brooms to fly away on, they make do with modern cleaning appliances, another modern convention that will work for some and feel like a cheap trick to others. 

The film unfolds like an odd dance between partners that are not well-matched. There are beautiful moments that do the original movie justice, and others that feel lazy. The technical details are brilliant, of course; this is a massive-budget Disney production with all the bells and whistles one would expect. The acting is nearly perfect across the board, too. There are great nods to the original film that will satisfy nostalgic needs, but there are some obvious misses that are confusing. A black cat named Cobweb lives in Gilbert’s magic store, but we’re told definitively that it is not Binx. It could have been the beloved cat from the first movie; Thackery was still in cat form at the end of the 1993 film. None of the human characters from the original appear in the sequel, but they could have, too. Doug Jones came back as the loveable zombie Billy Butcherson,  but Dani, Max, and Allison were not written into the sequel. A lot of energy was put into modernizing the story which is fair, but considering the movie was made for fans of the original, more could have been pulled from the first film to round out the sequel. Instead, it feels like important pieces are missing. 

Hocus Pocus 2

Hocus Pocus 2 carries more moralistic messaging than its predecessor did which gives the sequel a very different dynamic. Where Hocus Pocus was created for entertainment, Hocus Pocus 2 tries to teach the viewer to be careful what they wish for, be inclusive, understand the value of relationships with friends and family, and not be power hungry. They are all valid messages, of course, but suddenly giving Winifred the ability to understand that her actions have consequences created a massive miss during a scene that is supposed to be emotionally touching. Her character was so firmly established in both the original movie and the first half of the sequel that the big reveal toward the end of Hocus Pocus 2 doesn’t quite stick the landing.

When the movie was over, I texted my niece to ask what she thought. She loved it and wanted to know when we could watch the original together. I’m curious to hear what she thinks after experiencing them in reverse order and wonder if that will become the better way to enjoy this franchise, now that there is one. I enjoyed so much of the movie that I’m willing to forget the bits that annoyed me, but I don’t know if I’ll add it to my regular Halloween season roster next year. On Rotten Tomatoes, Hocus Pocus 2 rated only 38% with critics (60 ratings), but the audience score is sitting at 72% with more than 250k votes. The IMDb rating is 6.1/10, with 33k ratings. It seems we’re all torn about the long-awaited sequel to Hocus Pocus which proves one of the movie’s points: be careful what you wish for. 

Now streaming on Disney Plus.

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