Twenty-nine years ago, a legend was born. “Hocus Pocus” hit theaters, the Sanderson Sisters made their debut, and a generation found its defining character traits for the six weeks between mid-September and the end of October.
Legend has it, if you say “amok” into a mirror three times, a group of elder millennials will appear out of thin air and demand you sign their Change.org petition for a “Hocus Pocus” sequel. Well, those obsessed fans have finally cast their spells on the right higher up at Disney, as the long-awaited “Hocus Pocus 2” arrives on Disney+ just in time to kick off the Halloween season.
The original “Hocus Pocus” predates me, however I certainly grew up familiar with the spooky season staple. But despite watching it throughout my childhood, that’s where the film stayed – it never transformed into an obsession that carried on into adulthood, like it did for so many others amongst its cult following. So, while others celebrated the announcement of a sequel, the news was met with indifference for me, which makes it even more surprising just how much I enjoyed “Hocus Pocus 2.”
“Hocus Pocus 2” builds on the original in all the right places, coming back with a smarter, more modern script, but the same fun and whimsy. The core trio doesn’t miss a beat slipping back into these cherished roles, and the new cast members fit right in and really elevate the humor, making this a major step up from the original.
Just like the real world, it’s been 29 years since the events of “Hocus Pocus” that resurrected the 17th-century witches, the Sanderson Sisters. Now, the Black Flame Candle has been lit once more, leaving it up to three high-school students to stop the ravenous witches from wreaking a new kind of havoc on Salem before dawn on All Hallow’s Eve. This time the witches aren’t just after a few children’s souls – they’re after the whole town.
In the current era of reboots, sequels, spinoffs and more, it’d be easy to write off “Hocus Pocus 2” as just another cash grab meant to capitalize on nostalgia. Well, it most certainly is – this is a business after all – however, it also feels intentionally made and crafted with care, rather than just 100-minutes of fan service. It would seem that after the events of the last film, no one in their right mind would ever go near a Black Flame Candle again, but “Hocus Pocus 2” justifies its existence with a fun, creative plot that blends humor, heart, haunts and a handful of musical numbers.
But where “Hocus Pocus 2” feels the most made with love is very clearly in its core trio. It’s very evident just how much Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker cherish the roles of Winifred, Mary and Sarah, respectively. Nearly three decades may have passed, but the actresses perfectly assume the characters and tap right back into their babbling witchcraft and banter. Midler is still the leader of the pack, but Najimy and Parker have much more balanced roles this time around.
Joining the Sanderson sisters are two new trios: the teenage protagonists Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), and the star-powered adults Sam Richardson as Gilbert, Tony Hale as Mayor Traske, and Hannah Waddingham in a brief appearance as The Witch.
The teenage acting is far more compelling this time around (sorry ’90s kids), led by Peak and Escobedo. Not only are Becca and Izzy trying to stop witches from destroying their home, but they’re also on a mission to reconnect with one of their best friends, Cassie. The underlying subplot of friends drifting apart in high school carries much more nuance and emotional weight than Max Dennison’s horny exploits in the original – I don’t make the rules.
While I’m certainly partial to Waddingham, who slays in her brief appearance, it’s Richardson’s Gilbert, the nerdy magic shop owner, and Hale’s easily excitable Mayor Traske who carry the film as newcomers. The two deliver the film’s funniest moments, while also serving key roles in the plot outside of just comedic relief.
Disney could have had the Sanderson Sisters sit in silence for an hour and a half and fans of the original still would have been delighted with this sequel, but luckily, “Hocus Pocus 2” is far more than that. It’s a fun, campy return that feels true to its predecessor, while transforming the series to fit 2022.
New fans may be disappointed returning to the simplicity of the original if this “Hocus Pocus 2” is how they first encounter the Sanderson Sisters, but that just means this sequel is a major step up from the classic.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.