Released: 30th September
Seen: 30th September
In 1993 the film Hocus Pocus was released to an audience that really didn’t want anything to do with it. At the time it was critically thrashed and the box office wasn’t exactly glowing which is a little understandable when you consider it was released on the same day as the juggernaut that was Free Willy and not too long after Jurassic Park, so audiences were somewhat distracted. Of course, as time went on, thanks to regular screenings around Halloween and the home video market, Hocus Pocus eventually found its audience and became a massive cult hit and has been subsequently reevaluated by many as a pretty damn good family movie with more than enough charm to delight most audiences, along with possibly the best cover version of I Put A Spell On You to ever be recorded.
There have been hopes for a sequel for years, hopes that became a little more concrete around 2014 when word started trickling out that there were conversations happening about it and every few years people would ask and be told it would happen eventually and then ask some more and be told something else, all seemed to be lost until 2019 when it was confirmed that the sequel was greenlit and coming to Disney Plus. Well, now Hocus Pocus 2 is finally here just in time for Halloween where it’s undoubtedly going to join the original in heavy rotation as it’s a pretty great follow-up to the beloved original.
Hocus Pocus 2 picks up 29 years after the events of the original. Becca (Whitney Peak) is just about to turn 16 and decides to celebrate it with her friend Izzy (Belissa Escobedo). Becca happens to be an aspiring witch and so her idea of a celebration is to go with Izzy into the woods to do a little spell, a spell that uses a mysterious candle that they got from their favourite magic shop. Unfortunately, that mysterious candle happens to be the legendary black flame candle and, when the candle is lit, it revives the long-dead Sanderson Sisters. Now Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) are able to once again wreak havoc on the town of Salem and find a way to live beyond the sunrise.
Hocus Pocus 2 lives by the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and since nothing it did the first time was broke, it really makes no sense to change anything up. From start to finish you’ll find all the same beats that you saw the first time, from the weird outsider being the one to light the candle, to the witches being very easily tricked and confused by modern architecture to comical flying sequences on things that aren’t brooms and even a musical number designed to put a spell on an entire town. Every major beat from the first movie is repeated here, and sure enough, it still works pretty damn well because everyone is completely committed to making sure it works.
The only real new ground that Hocus Pocus 2 does is provide a little more backstory for the Sanderson Sisters, showing off the moment in their childhood when they began to learn magic and start developing their powers as a trio. It helps give the sisters somewhat of a sad beginning so that they can use it again later on, and also allows Taylor Henderson to take on the role of young Winifred where she basically steals the opening with a pitch-perfect performance as the Bette Midler character (Seriously, Disney, get those three kids back and do a full series about the misadventures of the Sanderson Sisters!). Once the opening is done, the film wastes no time getting us to what we all came here for… the three witches taking over the town.
Sure there’s a lot about Hocus Pocus 2 that’s genuinely quite brilliant, from its interesting use of flashbacks to the original film to create character moments for the new cast to the upgraded effects that keep the general feel of what the original pulled off while matching modern expectations to just the way they recreated a lot of the original iconography so well. There’s a fair amount of new stuff that really does make this sequel special… but let’s be honest, everyone is here for that main trio of Sanderson sisters and as expected they are a delight. It may have been 29 years but these actresses pick up these characters like it was yesterday, especially Bette Midler who really just kills every single second that she can, even getting an unexpected real emotional beat right at the end.
Look, no one really expected Hocus Pocus 2 to reinvent the wheel. Audiences wanted another 90 minutes with some fun iconic witches and that’s what you’ve got, a lot more fun moments with the Sanderson Sisters just chewing the scenery every single chance they can get. If you enjoyed the first one then this is more of that, it won’t suddenly convert you to enjoying the Sanderson sisters by offering something brand new but if you liked what you saw back in 1993 then you’ll probably have a lot of fun here too. Here’s hoping that if they decide to do another sequel (since we can fairly assume this is going to have a fairly big opening on Disney Plus) that it won’t take them 29 years to do it again.