I don’t say this to disparage anyone’s undying love for a cult classic, but we need to be honest with ourselves about “Hocus Pocus.” We often forget how poorly the film did when it was released. Not just critically, either. In the beginning it was an astounding box office failure. One that if Disney truly had their way, would be locked in the vault next to “Song of the South.” It took the better part of a decade before “Hocus Pocus” was rediscovered by audiences and developed a cult following. That cult following slowly turned into a fever pitch of fandom. Turning the long panned, almost forgotten film into a staple of Halloween traditions.
I only bring this up to set the right expectations for “Hocus Pocus 2.” A sequel that has been 30 years in the making and desperately wanted by fans. My first impression is that the film is made specifically for the fans and really no one else. Which, when all things are considered is the right way to make a pretty solid follow up. “Hocus Pocus 2” is as good as the original and whatever that means to you, you’re probably right.
For the fans
Unlike other reboots, sequels, prequels and spiritual reimagining (i.e. “Candyman“) “Hocus Pocus 2” entirely depends on how you relate to its original. It is inextricably tied to its predecessor. If you’re a “fire up Hocus Pocus every single Halloween” or “I attend events and cosplay and perform ‘I Put A Spell You’ for my cats'” then this sequel hits almost all of the right notes. It will be a satisfying inclusion to your yearly Halloween traditions.
If you’re indifferent across the board, then “Hocus Pocus 2” isn’t going to sway you one way or another. If you hated it or a hard time connecting with the original, you can probably avoid this one altogether. I’m not dragging anyone through the mud here, because objectively speaking “Hocus Pocus” isn’t really a good movie. But those who love it love it despite it’s flaws, and there were plenty of flaws.
All that being said, “Hocus Pocus 2” largely delivers on all the things you would want from it. It’s a movie packed with laughs, charm, fun, and nostalgia. It makes a lot of right choices, even managing to inject some legitimate heart into the third act.
Sanderson’s Steal the Show
Directed by Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal,” “27 Dresses“) and written by first time feature film writer Jen D’Angelo, “Hocus Pocus 2” doesn’t try to do any magic tricks with its set up. We get a glimpse of the Sanderson sisters as teenagers living in 16th century Salem. Shedding some light on how they became witches and became united with Book. We are then whisked away to modern day where a 16 year old virgin lights a black flamed candle. Then (surprise, surprise) POOF! THE WITCHES ARE BACK BABY!!! And that’s really about it, narratively speaking.
D’Angelo smartly delivers a pretty taut script, one that focuses on letting the Sanderson Sisters run amok much more while also providing some layered character work onto each of them. The witches are still very much the villains of the story. But, like its predecessor they ooze with charisma and chemistry to where we’re semi rooting for them.
Subplots and a few shift in motivation are added to directly repeat the original. It largely plays out beat for beat like it’s meant to be a sequel to “Hocus Pocus.” Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker are clearly having a blast returning to their icon characters. And, somehow look even better 30 years later. “Hocus Pocus 2” really hedges all its bets on its stars, and has a pretty sizable payoff throughout the film. The film lets them shine with song and dance and chemistry. Midler in particular is granted some time to demonstrate heartfelt emotion in the film’s final moments. It never diminishes their villainy, but adds a layer of complexity to an otherwise paper thin character. It’s actually one of the more meaningful moments in both films, and I was shockingly moved by it.
Could it have been better?
Where “Hocus Pocus 2” misses the balancing act is in its lack of interesting human characters. This a pretty common misstep in overdue sequels. Particularly ones where the intended star doesn’t turn out to be the thing that people gravitate towards. Removing the rose colored glasses again, we often forget that the Sanderson Sisters are NOT the leads of “Hocus Pocus.” Max is the protagonist and the film spends ample amounts of time with him and people he encounters.
The sisters are the villains, sure. But they are largely relegated to second fiddle for most of the film. We only pedestal them because of how charming and memorable their performances are. “Hocus Pocus 2” smartly corrects this to please fans but misses a true balance of human characters amid the amok. They’re there, with Whitney Peak and Belissa Escobedo serving as the young girls who get our story moving. But they are largely underutilized and glossed over for more Sanderson Sisters screen time. It’s not a huge detriment since, if we’re being honest, we’re here for the trio. But it tends to drag when it’s not squarely focused on Midler, Najimy, and Parker.
For any misgivings we may have “Hocus Pocus 2” achieves most of what it sets out to do. It’s fun, charming, funny, heartfelt, and filled with just the right amount of nostalgia to satisfy its rabid fanbase. It’s certainly not for everyone. But, who it is for will have a great time revisiting some of their favorite witches.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
One way or another, “Hocus Pocus 2” is gonna put a spell on you if you want it to. “Hocus Pocus 2” is currently streaming on Disney+. You can watch the trailer below.