“Hocus Pocus” has managed to become a huge cult classic since its initially slept on release in 1993. When you release a Halloween movie in the middle of the summer, you kind of expect the movie to flop. But years since its release, movie fans alike have caught on allowing it become an absolute classic. And I for one love “Hocus Pocus.” I loved it since I first saw it on VHS back in 1994. “Hocus Pocus 2” seemed like a far fetched idea until 2022 when there seemed to be potential for a follow up. With “Hocus Pocus 2” you kind of have to meet it halfway. It’s a follow up but it’s different than the original movie. That doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it a different movie and experience altogether.
In 1653 after the young Sanderson Sisters are condemned by their puritan village for practicing witchcraft, they seek revenge on the town reverend once and for all. Years and years later after being executed in 1693, we meet main protagonists Becca and Izzy. They are high school friends, and a former coven, with a penchant for witchcraft who seek to heighten their powers. Using the black candle at their peril they accidentally unleash the Sanderson Sisters once again. Now as the Sanderson Sisters seek to master a forbidden spell which will allow them great power for revenge on Salem’s descendents, Becca and Izzy have to re-unite with their former friend Cassie and stop them once and for all.
While “Hocus Pocus 2” isn’t quite as good as the original, it does bear some very interesting charms to it. There is a lot to enjoy about the sequel, even for stubborn fanatics of the Kenny Ortega feature film. This time director Anne Fletcher directs what is a very female spirited follow up that explores ideas about adolescence, unity, female empowerment, and the bonds we make in our lives. Stars Whitney Peak and Belissa Escobedo do a bang up job playing the only force standing in the way of the Sanderson Sisters, and it’s a refreshing change of pace. Where as the original characters were more kids at the mercy of the Sandersons, Becca and Izzy are prepared and do whatever they can to outwit the trio and fight back.
That allows for some fun and inventive moments, including a scene in a pharmacy involving salt, and the climax. Director Fletcher puts the Sanderson sisters more to the front this time, giving them more screen time than the actual heroes. Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker thankfully reprise their original roles and don’t miss a beat when it comes to getting back in to the characters. The not only provide more nuanced portrayals of the characters, but are still so damn menacing and scary. Sadly, the script does make a big misstep by turning the Sanderson sisters in to tragic villains. In the 1993 original they were monstrous cannibalistic witches from the dead, but here they’re depicted much more in a sad light, less as evil beings, and more as vengeful souls wronged by nasty people.
The script turns the central protagonists in to secondary characters while placing the Sanderson sisters as basically the focus of the movie. The Sanderson sisters worked in “Hocus Pocus” because they were always lurking about while the movie mainly served us an engaging sibling relationship and high stakes always presenting the threat of imminent death. Here, the heroines are somewhat under developed (side character Cassie has nothing to do, despite being the crux of the finale) while the urgency of the situation is mishandled. After everything we learn about the Sanderson sisters in the prologue with them now being depicted as tragic villains, it becomes very hard to root against them.
This becomes apparent especially as the script downplays their whole desire for murder and eating children. While I’m still partial to Kenny Ortega’s 1993 original, “Hocus Pocus 2” is a very good companion sequel, garnering enthusiastic performances all around, an interesting extension of the Sanderson Sister mythology, and the unabashed love for Halloween.
Now if we could only get that “Halloweentown” reboot that I’ve been begging for.