The long-awaited sequel to 1993’s cult classic successfully balances nostalgia whilst offering audiences something fresh
Starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Sam Richardson, Doug Jones, Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo, Tony Hale, and Hannah Waddingham
A staggering 29 years since they arrived on screens, cult icons the Sanderson Sisters (once again played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy) return to delight and terrify in equal measure as they once again terrorise Salem, Massachusetts after their apparent demise at the end of 1993’s Hocus Pocus. Also featuring the return of original star Doug Jones as Winnie’s alleged former lover Billy, Hocus Pocus 2 boasts a different creative team, with Anne Fletcher taking over as director and Jen D’Angelo providing the screenplay. However, David Kirschner, who helped provide the story for the original, returns in conceiving the story to this sequel as well.
While receiving a tepid response from critics, from opinions ranging from an inspired reinvigoration to a sacrilegious violation, Hocus Pocus 2 is probably a victim to high levels of anticipation and expectation. It is worth noting that at the time of its own release, Hocus Pocus was estimated to have lost Disney around $16.5 million and was panned by critics, with its subsequent success mainly due to repeat airings on the Disney Channel over the Halloween period, which gained the adoration of fans worldwide. As a result, the success of Hocus Pocus 2 is probably too early to ascertain, and will be largely up to new audiences and viewers to determine, while fans of old doubtless had many of their own ideas of what the sequel should have been which cloud an interpretation of what this sequel actually is.
As somebody who only watched the original Hocus Pocus a year ago (abhorrent, I know), this reviewer finds Hocus Pocus 2 to be surprisingly cohesive with the original in terms of its tone, as well as its aesthetic, which is wonderfully consistent with how the effects looked in the original, despite the developments in technology in the almost-3 decades between projects. It manages to remain faithful to the original without merely being a carbon copy or a recreation of it, striking a similar balance between tongue-in-cheek, comedic and campy without sacrificing the stakes of the story. The consistency of tone is also aided by the return of John Debney as composer, with the soundscape lending the film a similar sense of grandeur as well as a glorious, soaring score that most new releases do not seem to have as much love for.
Hocus Pocus 2 wisely does not try to recreate the witches’ plot of the original, in their quest to absorb just one child’s soul in order to make their resurrection permanent, but instead sees Winnie, Sarah and Mary seek to enact the Magicae Maxima, a spell that even Book himself is terrified of. This spell will make the sisters the most powerful witches in the world, allowing them to exist beyond the burning of the Black Flame Candle and for eternity.
The dynamic between our central protagonists also feels distinctly fresh and unique from the original, principally revolving around Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), whose yearly birthday tradition unwittingly resurrects the Sanderson Sisters and who are finding themselves estranged from their friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) who has recently got a boyfriend and has undergone a minor shift in her social life. It feels like one of the more honest representations of modern teenage friendships, without the film throwing in hackneyed, cringey lines about technology or Generation Z. It feels relatable, even to (cough) millennial viewers as it comes from a highly common friendship difficulty, which is treated with an appropriate amount of respect, without falling foul of mocking the younger generation, which many new films are prone to do.
Hocus Pocus 2 focuses more upon the idea of relationships, giving audiences a conception of how the Sanderson Sisters came to be the most powerful coven in Salem and also does some key work to humanise the trio. This ultimately becomes something that is genuinely touching and is understated enough to feel incredibly genuine and not overwrought. This sisterly relationship is also echoed in the bond between Becca, Izzy and Cassie in what becomes a delightful parallel.
The overall film is delightful to watch, both because of the charming, highly amusing script, but also the wonderful performances. Whitney Peak and Belissa Escobedo are infinitely likeable as Becca and Izzy, who seek to outwit the devious, bumbling trio of witches. Hannah Waddingham is electrifying as The Mother Witch, a highly significant character in the Sanderson Sister’s past who is so captivating that one feels that the film could have been exclusively crafted around her and it would be difficult to complain. Tony Hale is also wonderfully amusing as the bumbling mayor Jefry Traske, whose desperation to snag himself a candied apple becomes a diverting recurring theme.
Sam Richardson is a brilliant addition as Gilbert, the owner of the Olde Salem Magic Shoppe, which used to be the Sanderson Sisters’ home, and provides the narrative tie to the original which makes Winnie, Sarah and Mary’s second resurrection feel believable within the context of the plot. Taylor Paige Henderson is also a hoot as the young Winnie Sanderson, completely nailing Midler’s mannerisms as the chief witch.
Then, of course, there are the central trio themselves. Midler, Najimy and Parker are clearly having a whale of a time reprising these iconic roles, and it is devilishly fun to watch the three interact in new environments and to see how they are once again thwarted in entirely new, unexpected ways. From scoffing face cream in Walgreens, to interacting with automatic doors and even Roombas, the sequel never feels as if it is repeating old jokes, rather finding new, fresh material to mine. By the ending, audiences will almost certainly be sad to see the tale drawing to a close.
Hocus Pocus 2 is available to watch on Disney+ now.