In 1993, family film, Hocus Pocus, magicked its way into cinemas. I know this to be true, because I was there.
Thing is, not a lot of other people were there, and when Hocus Pocus made its debut, the film was not a hit on the big screen. The Halloween-themed movie, which bizarrely opened during the summer of ’93 (rather than the autumn), was not popular with critics, it largely went unseen by audiences, and it flopped at the box office.
Bad timing? Poor marketing? Crazy critics? Quite possibly. Either way, not a great start for the film.
However, while audiences largely abandoned Hocus Pocus on the big screen, thanks to the VHS rental market, they soon discovered its charm. And then from VHS, it was television that widened its fanbase.
DVD soon broadened the audience further, with Blu-ray following close behind. And then finally streaming services, including Disney+, pushed it to a whole new generation.
In fact, over the years, Hocus Pocus has become a huge hit thanks to its second life on home video. Although the film struggled during its early days, it is now regarded as a stone-cold classic, with legions of fans.
In movie terms, Hocus Pocus is to Halloween, what Home Alone is to Christmas. For countless fans, Hocus Pocus is the go-to film of the spooky season, which is adored the world over.
And because of the ever-increasing popularity of Hocus Pocus, Disney has FINALLY given fans a sequel. It has taken almost 30 years (29 to be exact), but I can happily confirm that it is here, and waiting for you to watch!
Directed by Anne Fletcher, Hocus Pocus 2 stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, and Doug Jones. The movie is available to stream on Disney+ from today, and picks up the story of the Sanderson Sisters (Winnie, Sarah, and Mary), as they find themselves resurrected once more.
In the film, two teenagers are tricked into lighting a black flame candle, which in turn revitalises the Sandersons. Upon their return, the witchy trio familiarise themselves with 2022, before attempting to perform a new spell to increase their power set.
All while this is taking place, the Sandersons set out to get revenge on the ancestor of a former enemy. The only ones who stand a chance of stopping them are the teens who brought them to the 21st Century, but can they get the job done?
Can these kids defeat the sisters before they become all powerful or will the Sandersons reign supreme? And more importantly, can this sequel hope to equal or improve on the original, which is now regarded as top tier Halloween entertainment?
Filled with camp tomfoolery, lots of sparkle, and plenty of humour, Hocus Pocus 2 is a spooky romp, that is fun for all ages. As with the original, it is playful in all the right places, has moments of heart, and knows exactly what its audience wants.
What is that? Why, the Sanderson Sisters of course!
Yep, this belated sequel understands the troublesome trio is exactly who audiences want to see and the film is at its best when Winnie and Co. are on screen. From the moment that Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy make their long-awaited return, everything truly comes to life.
The first twenty minutes of the film are a little slow in places, but as soon as the Midler/Parker/Najimy trio arrive, the picture finds its groove. It leans into nostalgia, reignites the magic, and clears the way for the Sanderson’s triumphant return.
To say these actors slot back into their roles perfectly would be doing them a disservice. This was perfect casting back in 1993, and all these years later there is still plenty of electricity surging through this chaotic combo.
All three work together incredibly well, and the chemistry is undeniable. Each actor knows when to take their moment, and when to let their fellow actor shine, and the end result is a symbiotic performance that lights up the screen.
Director Anne Fletcher knows that audiences want more from the sisters and she clearly trusts they will deliver. And of course, they do deliver, again, and again, and again.
Are the performances a bit pantomime and over the top? Yes – but that’s what we got back in ’93, that’s what we’ve celebrated for all these years, and that’s what we get here too.
What we also get are a few call backs to the original movie, including references to what has come before, as well as a new song and dance routine. The stand-out moment from Hocus Pocus was the sequence involving the song, ‘I Put a Spell On You’, and for Hocus Pocus 2 there’s another track to delight audiences.
This new song (which is actually an old song everyone is familiar with), doesn’t quite hit the same heights as its predecessor, but it is still a lot of fun. This movie is all about delivering a bit of froth and that’s exactly what is served up here and throughout the film.
Those hoping to see the return of all the past actors won’t get it, as with the exception of Midler, Parker, Najimy, and Doug Jones (reprising the role of Billy Butcherson), no one else is brought back for this sequel. Sorry, there’s no Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw, or Jason Marsden.
However, there is a new cast of young actors, who are drafted in as the latest teens to revive the witches. These actors – Whitney Peak and Belissa Escobedo – do a fine job with what they are given to do, and play their parts well.
They don’t quite stand out in the same way as their ‘90s counterparts, but there is the general feeling that this is mostly because the movie is more interested in the Sandersons. This whole film feels as if it has been written to flesh out the story of the witches a little more, so this is really where the main focus is.
Now along with the praise, there is a little bit of criticism, and this is largely aimed at the central story which at times feels like it is a rehash of what we’ve previously seen. While there are some new additions to the Hocus Pocus canon, there is also plenty of re-treading too.
At times the film does feel like it is adhering a little too closely to the original, rather than attempting something completely new. Hey, I’m all for us seeing call backs and the like, but a little bit more originality in the story would be nice.
However, the opening sequence involving the young Sandersons does offer a new wrinkle to the mythology, while the final act deserves praise for giving the film a heart-felt and unexpected ending. In fact, this film is at its strongest during its final moments, with Bette Midler getting the opportunity to elevate her performance, with a scene that helps to humanise Winifred Sanderson.
After almost thirty years of waiting, it is not only good to see the Sanderson Sisters back, it is also good for me to say that it is a welcome return. While I don’t believe Hocus Pocus 2 pushes the same buttons as the original, it still offers a great deal of enjoyment.
With the first film being as celebrated as it is, Hocus Pocus 2 has a great deal of weight on its shoulders and it is never going to be able to compete with the nostalgia associated with that initial offering. However, this new picture delivers just the right amount of escapism to make this latest adventure feel worthwhile, and I expect young audiences (especially those who didn’t grow up with Hocus Pocus) will find it appealing.
Based on the sheer amount of interest that seems to be surrounding this sequel, I expect Hocus Pocus 2 will do big numbers for Disney+, and this means a third entry could be on the cards. I would certainly welcome it, especially if it taps into the strength of this film’s final act, I just hope we don’t have to wait another 29 years for it to happen.