With Halloween just a few weeks away, if you’re like me, you’re likely on the lookout for a festive, spooky film to snuggle up and watch over a bowl of candy corn. Luckily, this October has been filled with new horror films, from Halloween Ends, the last in the Halloween trilogy, to Prey for the Devil coming out on Oct. 28. However, as someone who enjoys a milder scare, I was beyond ecstatic when I heard Disney+ was releasing a sequel to the 1993 cult classic Hocus Pocus on Sept. 30.
The original Hocus Pocus centers around the accidental resurrection of the three Sanderson sisters, played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, and the hijinks that follow as these witches hunt for children’s souls around modern-day Salem, Massachusetts.
While the original movie features its own share of horror, namely a scene where the witches devour the soul of a young girl to regain their youth, it is more memorably a festive comedy. Focused more on the clash between the Salem of 300 years ago and present-day Salem, the film is hilarious, complete with a talking cat, a cursed ex-boyfriend and costumed confusion.
So, going into Hocus Pocus 2, I was expecting more or less the same deal, which it delivered for the most part. The sequel takes place in Salem about 20 years after the original movie in the age of smartphones and social media. The three protagonists, Becca, Cassie and Izzy, are dealing with their angsty, adolescent problems before Becca and Izzy light a candle and resurrect the Sanderson sisters, yet again.
A major difference between the sequel and the original is the sequel’s diverse casting, which I did enjoy. That being said, I couldn’t help but cringe at the cast’s overacting at the beginning of the movie, most notably when the girls argue dramatically outside the principal’s office about party invitations. If there has to be tension between the protagonists, at least make it more original than that.
Because of scenes like this, the film’s teenage characters felt more like caricatures or stereotypes than actual people. None of the characters had personalities beyond their prescribed, shallow archetypes. Becca’s whole personality centers around her being “not like other girls,“ while Izzy is there for comic relief and Cassie exists to advance the plot and get rescued. Becca and Izzy don’t even have last names, despite them being protagonists.
Along these same lines, Cassie’s boyfriend has no personality outside of the “stupid male jock” stereotype. He has a maximum of five lines throughout the entire film and does absolutely nothing for anybody, showing up at the beginning and end of the movie after the witches have been defeated. While I understand not wanting to perpetuate the idea that male characters have to save female characters in distress, this was taken to the extreme.
The protagonists don’t behave realistically as teenagers. In the original Hocus Pocus, once the protagonists realize they accidentally resurrected three witches that are now trying to kill them, they at least make an effort to get help from their parents and a policeman. In Hocus Pocus 2, the girls decide saving the world is all up to them without attempting to notify responsible adults. While I understand that the plot is not necessarily the most realistic anyway, watching wooden robots act stupidly disconnected me from the story.
Where this movie really shines, however, is when the Sanderson sisters light up the screen. The original cast is amazing, returning to their characters flawlessly. As soon as they were resurrected, I was all in, and the plot holes up until that point were completely forgotten. Midler’s yodeling notes are spot-on, her teeth and hair are iconic and her witty insults are as funny as ever. Najimy even takes up her character’s signature crooked sneer to perfection. Not to mention, the scene at the drug store where the witches look for children’s souls in cosmetic products is comedy gold. The actresses play off of each other delightfully, so much so that the scene almost feels unscripted.
The ending, I’ll admit, was disappointing. Given the rest of the cast’s flat performances, I was ready for the Sanderson sisters to take over the world and eat all the children. At least we would have had more time with them and less time with the other characters, for whom I did not feel the slightest bit of emotional attachment. Instead, we were given a dramatic, drawn-out goodbye that felt more like a send-off for the star actors than closure for any of the characters.
Despite the holes in the story and characters, I would definitely recommend giving this movie a try if you’re a fan of the original Hocus Pocus. As long as you don’t expect too much, it’s a really fun, festive and nostalgic watch.