For millennials Hocus Pocus (1993) has become a Halloween holiday staple. When the film was first released millennials were young and impressionable enough for the combination of scares and humor to make a lasting impact. From a child’s perspective Hocus Pocus is as eerie as the animatronic cat is adorable. Of course there’s plenty of bawdy sexual humor in Hocus Pocus aimed at the parents of millennials that, when viewed today, contributes to the continued enjoyment of this feature film. Aside from the three witchy leads it is the writing team of Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert that are responsible for the film’s longevity.
Mick Garris’s name is synonymous with the horror genre. He brought an intense feeling for the macabre to the proceedings that lends the film not just dramatic agency but some genuine chills. The film opens with what could be any number of American folk tales acted out with the kind of sinister camp that audiences associate with Vincent Price. When the film moves to the nineties, Garris keeps the stakes relatively high for a kid’s movie. At one point or another children are threatened with beatings by bullies, tortured by magical lightning beams, strangled by a zombie and ever present on the Sanderson Sister’s menu.
Now, flashing forward twenty-nine years, Disney has released Hocus Pocus 2 due to popular demand. Their first order of business was to remove all the wide ranging genre tropes Garris packed into the original; essentially defanging the Sanderson Sisters in the name of political correctness. Sarah Sanderson (Sarah Jessica Parker) is the sister who suffers the most in the sequel, having been re-imagined as a far less sexual and predatory force. Winnie (Bette Midler) and Mary Sanderson (Kathy Najimy) have simply been reduced to clowns. They are not threatening, they are not interesting, they are simply cute. And cute doesn’t really cut it for a trio of villains.
Hocus Pocus 2 doesn’t treat the battle with the Sanderson Sisters as an allegory for the pains of coming-of-age. The basic story repeats but re-configured to be a sort of positive spin on The Craft (1996). The Walt Disney corporation, out of fear of their fans on social media, have repackaged the original film beat for beat as a reassuring message about friendship with all of the nuance and humanism of an atomic blast. When Midler, Parker, and Najimy are not on screen Hocus Pocus 2 is literally unbearable to watch. Sam Richardson gives as good a turn as he did in Werewolves Within (2021) though he seems to have only been cast in a small role so that Disney could keep up the pretense of being “hip”.
However, the greatest failure of Hocus Pocus 2 is in its visuals. Kenny Ortega, whose career has mostly been in television, managed to make Hocus Pocus look and feel like an ideal New England autumn. Hocus Pocus 2, on the other hand, abandons the storybook whimsy and stylization of the first film for a look that is best described as innocuous.
The sad thing is that one doesn’t expect more from Disney than lazy cash-grabs like Hocus Pocus 2. The movie is exactly what I thought it was going to be which is what made the experience of watching it so much more frustrating. If one hasn’t completely fetishized Hocus Pocus then one is not likely to enjoy its sequel. Even calling it a sequel is misleading because the film operates more as a made for television remake that can’t seem to get over the original.