Directed by: Anne Fletcher
Like many millennials, watching Hocus Pocus this time of year is as much of a Halloween tradition as carving pumpkins. The 1993 film is a memorable, atmospheric, fun product of its time. So when it was announced that a sequel was being produced for DisneyPlus, my expectations were low, but I knew I still had to check it out.
In Hocus Pocus 2, two teenagers (Whitney Peak as Becca and Belissa Escobedo as Izzy) inadvertently summon the infamous Sanderson Sisters (Bette Middler as Winifred, Kathy Najimy as Mary, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah) during a birthday ritual. With the help of their former friend turned popular girl Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), the girls must find a way to stop the witches from becoming powerful enough to wreak havoc on Salem.
While it’s not a perfect movie, I was pleasantly surprised by this sequel. I expected a glossy, sanitized reboot that condescended to its audience, but Hocus Pocus 2 has a decent script with real stakes, genuinely funny bits, and mostly well-written characters. I especially like how realistically the teenagers are written; the friendships feel natural, the personal conflicts feel believable, and the high school cliques don’t feel stereotypical or one-dimensional. That said, some of the character writing is a little sloppy; magic shopkeeper Gilbert’s (Sam Richardson) connection to the first movie feels unnecessarily shoehorned in, and his motivation could have easily been established without it, and the last-minute attempt at redemption for the witches feels like a lazy attempt at a happy ending for everyone, even the literal child-eating monsters.
Plot-wise, the writing doesn’t shy away from adult themes (while still being tongue-in-cheek enough to keep things mostly family-friendly) and the witches pose an actual threat to the characters. I do feel like they tried a little to hard to recreate some of the more iconic moments from the original (compared to “I Put a Spell on You,” the “One Way or Another” musical number falls pretty flat), but overall it didn’t pander too much to fans of the first movie.
Unsurprisingly, the film’s greatest strength is its cast. Having the three main powerhouses back is incredibly fun, and while the attempt to give the witches some depth made me roll my eyes a little, I do appreciate that it gave Bette Middler a chance to show off some nuance in her performance. The Sanderson Sisters aren’t the only returning characters that I enjoyed seeing; horror actor and human chameleon Doug Jones is back as “good zombie” Billy Butcherson and has a lot more screen time and is pretty funny.
As far as the new cast is concerned, I really enjoyed the young cast’s performances; the three girls have excellent chemistry and all feel very natural and likable. Hannah Waddingham has a small role as a witch in the beginning and Sam Richardson‘s Gilbert has some good funny moments, but of the new characters, Tony Hale stands out in the dual roles of Reverend Traske in flashbacks and Mayor Traske (and Cassie’s dad) in the present. He plays both the despicable and self-righteous reverend and the clueless but kind mayor and father so well.
While Hocus Pocus 2 won’t achieve the classic status as its predecessor, it’s still an enjoyable watch, and if you’re a fan of the original, it’s worth checking out at least once.
Have you seen HOCUS POCUS 2? Well, what did you think?