Welcome, World Travelers! Hocus Pocus 2 is Double Double Toil and Trouble
by James Coulter
I have a confession to make: I never watched the original Hocus Pocus. I was around in 1993 to see it in theaters, but I couldn’t since I grew up in a family that considered anything Halloween-related to be “of the Devil.” Even when I was old enough to watch the movie for myself, despite hearing good things about it, I never got around to actually watching it. I didn’t even see it before watching the sequel for this review.
I write all of this to say that I’m going into this review blind. Even then, I’m familiar enough with the film’s premise and standout moments to understand at least the gist of it. And while this movie isn’t a personal favorite, I do understand it enough to know why other people love it.
Hocus Pocus flopped during its initial theatrical release with low box office sales and poor critical reviews. Regardless, the film gained a cult following, having been a Halloween favorite for many millenials. Disney has since cashed in on its cult following with re-runs on television, character appearances in the park during Halloween, and even a few cameos in video games like Disney Emoji Blitz and Disney Heroes: Battle Mode.
Now Disney seeks to fully exploit the movie’s nostalgia factor by releasing an official sequel nearly three decades after the original movie’s theatrical release. But will they succeed in making lightning strike twice—or rather, lighting the black candle twice? Or will this sequel melt into a puddle once cold reality splashes it? (Sorry, had to work in another witch pun.)
Hocus Pocus 2 starts with a flashback to Salem 1653, when the young Sanderson Sisters were banished. Using a spellbook they acquired from a witch in the woods, they use their new magic powers to take revenge on the reverend who banished them.
Cut to present day. Decades had passed since the events in the original movie. As with the last movie, a new group of teenagers discover a black candle and light it, reviving the Sanderson Sisters once again. However, rather than hunting children for their youth, the witches decide to use the ultimate spell in their book to take their revenge on Salem once and for all. Will they succeed in their witchy scheme? Or will our new teenage protagonists stop them in time?
Credit where it’s due: Hocus Pocus 2 gives viewers the one thing they loved the most about the first Hocus Pocus—well, make that three things! The Sanderson Sisters were undeniably the most popular aspect of the original movie. These three characters are real ham and cheese sandwiches who are constantly chewing the scenery all of the time, and the actresses obviously loved every moment performing their roles. That Disney was able to not only bring back the three original actresses, but that they were able to act with the same lively vitality as they were in their original performance, is nothing short of a Halloween miracle.
Unfortunately, Hocus Pocus 2 suffers from the same problem as other “sequels” like The Force Awakens and Mary Poppins Returns in that, while it is not technically a “remake”, it follows enough of the same beats from the original movie to count as a “soft reboot.” Evidently, Disney loves to milk the nostalgia of its fans through its sequels by constantly reminding them of everything they loved about the original movies. It’s essentially getting rich by serving the audience “member berries.”
Did you love listening to the Sanderson Sisters croon to a classic oldie? Because they do that again in this movie. Did you love watching them fly around on vacuum cleaners like brooms? Because they now fly on dust mops and surf on robot vacuums. Did you love seeing them react to modern conveniences? Because they spend a good ten minutes in a Walgreens doing exactly that—to the point where it comes across as a blatant Walgreens commercial.
Essentially, how much you “love” this movie depends on how much you’re willing to have it serve you the exact same thing as the original. Either you’re going to enjoy seeing Bette Midler and the others reprise their roles as the Sanderson Sisters one more time, or you’re going to consider the entire film egregiously pandering. Your milage may vary, but, essentially, Hocus Pocus 2 is simply giving you the exact same thing as the Hocus Pocus.
Perhaps most perplexing about this movie is the obscene level of meta humor. Early in the film, a group of teenage girls dressed as the Sanderson Sisters ask the real witches for a selfie. Later, the Sandersons enter a costume contest where everyone is dressed as them—and they lose! But perhaps the most confusing meta moment was when one of the witches spied on someone watching the original Hocus Pocus on television.
Obviously, Disney is making inside jokes about Hocus Pocus’ popularity, but in the universe of this movie, the Sanderson Sisters are real and considered an urban legend. So why would anyone be so enthusiastic about their characters in that universe? My only guess is that the events of the original movie inspired a “based on a true story” movie in their world that eventually picked up in popularity. Otherwise, the overabundance of meta seems grossly self-congratulatory.
As with the original Hocus Pocus, the sequel has a side plot with a bunch of kid characters. But, to be perfectly honest, I forgot who they were or what their names were. They seemed overall inconsequential to the story, taking a back seat to the lead stars. This can be expected, as the Sandersons are the main selling point; but, otherwise, the pointless side characters come across as painfully pointless and forgettable.
Overall, if you loved Hocus Pocus and want to see Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker ham it up once again as the famous witch trio, chances are this movie will entertain you. Otherwise, you’re probably better off watching the first movie.