Time can do a funny thing to our entertainment.
Movies once ignored can become beloved (see It’s a Wonderful Life). TV shows once adored can be looked at through a more critical light (see the homophobia and fatphobia on Friends). Our popular culture is constantly evolving and challenging viewers to reframe and/or reconsider their thinking.
When Hocus Pocus was first released in 1993, the film—which starred Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler and Kathy Najimy as a trio of 17th century witches resurrected on Halloween night—was a critical and commercial failure. (The movie still has a 43 Metacritic score and is certified Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes). But over the last 29 (!!) years, the movie has become a Halloween tradition thanks to its frequent airings on basic cable. Viewers came to adore and embrace the movie’s inherent campiness. So it’s no surprise that Disney+ is premiering Hocus Pocus 2 just in time for Halloween. With projects including The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Turner & Hooch, the streaming platform has made nostalgia its dominant brand.
The good news is if you liked Hocus Pocus, you will definitely like Hocus Pocus 2...because it’s basically the exact same movie except with cell phones, better special effects and a cameo from Hannah Waddingham. Imitation remains the sincerest form of flattery. The bad news is…it’s the exact same movie. There were tropes in the ‘80s and early ‘90s that seem truly bizarre now, yet Hocus Pocus 2 can’t escape them, because they’re central to the plot. One was an obsession with virgins. As in the original, if a virgin lights the black flame candle on Halloween, the Sanderson sisters—Winifred (Midler), Sarah (Parker) and Mary (Najimy)—rise from the dead to terrorize the town of Salem, Massachusetts (although this time around the movie was filmed in Rhode Island). When local magic shop owner Gilbert (Sam Richardson), whose store is in the location of the Sanderson sisters’ home, regales the children with the tale of the Sanderson sisters, one child asks “What’s a virgin?” “That is a person who has never lit a candle,” Gilbert stammers.
Replacing the original movie’s older brother and annoying younger sister dynamic are high school students Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham). Each year, Becca celebrates her birthday with a ritual the friends have been doing since they were five: A scary movie marathon, lots of snacks and a little witchcraft. This year is different though, because Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) has a new boyfriend Mike (Froy Gutierrez as the movie’s requisite dumb jock) who has pulled Cassie away from her friends. Cassie’s family has been in Salem since the infamous witch trials and now her father Jefry Trask (Tony Hale) is mayor. When Gilbert (Sam Richardson) gives Becca a special candle for her birthday, she unwittingly awakens the Sanderson sisters who vow to “take revenge on all of Salem.”
These gals want to kill and eat children. If they don’t suck the life out of at least one child, they will turn to dust when the sun rises. “This time no trickery!” Winifred exclaims. “This time we see a teenager, we will kill it.” Adorable, right?
Hocus Pocus 2 gets a jolt of energy when the Sanderson sisters finally arrive about a half-hour into the film. Midler, Parker and Najimy are clearly having so much fun it’s hard to not go along with their hijinks a little bit. All the beats of the first movie are there, including a big Halloween party where the sisters perform. “I bet you’re looking for the stage,” one resident asks. “Always,” replies Winifred. Parker is hilarious as the daft younger sister. “I delighted in luring,” she laments. “‘Twas my only job.” (And suffice to say by default, this is a much better sequel than Parker’s And Just Like That…)
Doug Jones also returns as zombie Billy Butcherson, the boyfriend Winifred punished for cheating on her—and this time Billy sets the record straight. There are a lot of enjoyable Easter eggs (or should I say Halloween treats?) in the movie which I won’t spoil here. Hocus Pocus 2 also has a lot of fun with the sisters’ reactions to modern technology (most notably with what Mary uses for a broom), fun takes on modern vernacular (“resting witch face”) and gentle genre fun-poking. “And like most legends, I’m assuming that’s based in some sort of patriarchal fear of female aging,” Becca says when told most witches get their powers when they turn 16.
Walgreens gets a surprising amount of product placement, especially considering that everyone in New England knows CVS is our pharmacy of choice. (But hey, it’s better than the product placement Walgreens got in Hulu’s The Dropout earlier this year). The movie also provides more of a backstory for the Sanderson sisters’ origins, with some A+ casting of the kid versions of the sisters—with a special shout out to Taylor Henderson as the young Midler. If they ever do a sequel to Beaches, she’s your gal.
The ending packs a bit of an emotional punch while trying to awkwardly wrap up the B-plot of saving Becca, Izzy and Cassie’s friendship. At an hour and 43 minutes, Hocus Pocus 2 is definitely too long. But still I can’t be that mad that the witches are back; they still cast quite the spell.
Director: Anne Fletcher
Writer: Jen D’Angelo
Starring: Bettle Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Sam Richardson, Doug Jones, Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo, Lilia Buckingham, Froy Gutierrez, Tony Hale, Hannah Waddingham
Release Date: September 30, 2022 (Disney+)
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).