A review of Hocus Pocus 2

A review of Hocus Pocus 2

(left to right): Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson in Hocus Pocus 2.

(left to right): Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson in Hocus Pocus 2.
Photo: Disney+

The best thing that can be said about Hocus Pocus 2 it could have been so much worse.

Playing like a big-budget “Disney Channel Original Movie” for the millennial crowd, but with a more character-driven narrative, this belated sequel to the 29-year-old original offers a surprisingly clever and, at times (blushes) sincere continuation of the haunting ways of the Sanderson Sisters. Here, their final resurrection through the Black Flame Candle forces them to cross paths with three teenage girls who have their own magical connections. Using Hocus Pocus looks more like a modular foundation than a sacrosanct canon, director Anne Fletcher (Netflix’s Pellet‘) and screenwriter Jen D’Angelo find an inventive way to expand the OG movie by delving into the main characters’ pasts and softening the witches’ trio of most sinister edges as they once again wreak havoc on their brand. Single PG. the town of Salem.

While the first Hocus Pocus struggled to maintain narrative momentum thanks to its clunky structure and slightly better sense of humor than Dad Joke, Hocus Pocus 2 (minus a shrug of a musical number) uses the franchise’s sorcery and world-building to seriously explore timely themes of identity and inclusivity, for a follow-up fans can admit to reluctantly is better than the original.

To be fair, it’s not a very difficult bar to cross. Released in the summer of 1993 for some baffling reason, the Halloween-centric, family-friendly movie Hocus Pocus struggled at the box office, but thrived on home video and eventually became a staple for ’90s kids thanks to countless Disney Channel airings. The filmmakers’ affinity for the first film is immediately apparent, as Hocus Pocus 2 opens with a flashback to a formative seventeenth-century moment of the sisters’ adolescence. Taylor Henderson, Juju Journey Brener, and Nina Kitchen — playing the younger versions of sisters Winifred, Sarah, and Mary, respectively — are so accurate in their portrayals of the characters that you might be convinced they’ve aged the original cast. Soon, with the help of Ted LassoHannah Waddingham (in a glorified cameo) as Mother Witch, the younger sisters are cursed to a life tied to the Black Flame Candle.

Hang in there 29 years later and modern-day Salem has capitalized on the Sanderson Sisters mythos with just the right amount of ‘meta’: The Sandersons’ former home is now a magic shop run by the deceitful Gilbert (Sam Richardson). During a magical show-slash-exposure-dump at Gilbert’s shop, the plot really kicks off when he entices local best friends Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) into engaging in All Hallow’s Eve which lead to some Disney- ized trouble. Becca, struggling to come to terms with her own set of magical powers (one that rivals the strength of all three sisters put together), accidentally summons the Sandersons, and only Becca and her pals (including her former best friend, Cassie, played by Lilia Buckingham) can stop them.

But before they do, Hocus Pocus 2 indulges in a delightful “women out of time” detour as the sisters – in the film’s best and funniest scenes – brave the 21st century through a trip to a Walgreens. The movie never quite regains the charm of those moments, as it progresses through a series of sitcom setups and too many jukebox musical interludes (don’t ask how these sisters know the words of the old classics). But that makes up for the lull with some really effective twists involving Gilbert, who gets an animated B-scenario that involves fan-favorite zombie with a removable head (for reasons), Billy Butcherson (the ever-good Doug Jones).

Hocus Pocus 2 | Official trailer | Disney+

Midler, Parker, and Najimy effortlessly reprise their roles, with Midler getting the most screen time and the funniest one-liners. However, her performance sits just below “above the peak” for most of the running time, but Midler and Fletcher seem to revamp her aptly just in time for adult Winifred to deliver the film’s climactic monologue. It’s a very effective, adult scene that encapsulates the film’s thematic message about the importance of brotherhood and family, even among those who can conjure spells and transcend time.

As fun as it is to see these nearly 30-year-old characters get the legacy sequel treatment, the real stars of the film are its new characters, especially Becca. Peak, who instantly exudes movie star charm with her performance, elevates the material while honoring the occasional tonal tightrope she and her teammates have to walk. And all do so in a way that indicates they have “got the mission” here: Goonies– light-hearted, Amblin-adjacent entertainment that takes on the magic of the Disney Channel original movie without smearing or degrading “the brand”. For a very passionate fan base, their efforts have proven to be very successful.

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