Debuting on Disney + just in time for the spooky season comes the long-gestating/long-awaited follow-up to the unlikely Halloween favorite Hocus Pocus. Disney squarely aimed the extremely goofy and childish original film at the preteen crowd at the time. Regardless of the studio’s aims, it amassed a massive cult-like following in the near 30 years since the studio introduced in to audiences, with the Sanderson Sisters somehow becoming Halloween icons in the process.
29 years after the events of Hocus Pocus, Salem is gearing up for its Halloween Night festivities, which include a carnival coordinated by Mayor Traske (Tony Hale). Traske is the descendant of the Reverend who originally wronged the Sanderson Sisters as we see in a flashback cold open. Young would-be witches Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) are tricked into lighting a black flame candle and thus summoning the Sanderson Sisters (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy all reprising their roles) back to Salem. After retrieving ‘book’ from local occult show owner Gilbert (Sam Richardson), the trio discovers Traske’s identity and the hijinks quickly change from wanting eternal life to exacting revenge.
Hocus Pocus 2 quickly establishes our returning characters. Even Doug Jones returns as put upon zombie Billy Butcherson, determined to clear his name. And while it’s fun to see the trio of veteran actresses clearly relishing their time together back in these roles, they have been strong vocal supporters of a sequel for years now, it’s really up to the newer characters to try and land this film. Smartly the film avoids casting younger children altogether, as the original film clearly felt like it was toned down on behalf of a very young Thora Birch. This allows for a little more late teen/adult slant on the film, which is smart considering that this film is more targeted at existing fans who have grown up with the film as opposed to new fans. But the filmmakers do lose the opportunity to target more of the humor directly at those adults as they opt for a more broad approach that has hit-and-miss results.
It was fun to see Kathy Najimy flouncing around again as Mary as she hasn’t done much outside of voice work for the last few years, and this role always seemed tailor-made for her. Midler and Parker are also both having fun here too, but the script makes a decision towards the end to try and redeem the trio which doesn’t really work and feels a little like a cop-out, to be honest. Just let the Sandersons be bad, that’s what endeared them to audiences before. This sequel doesn’t need to make them out as victims.
And as fun as revisiting the original trio was, I very much enjoyed the flashback sequence with young Taylor Henderson, Nina Kitchen, and Juju Journey Brener playing the sisters who started on their journey thanks to Hannah Waddingham as the Witch Mother. If there is to be another film in the series I think a prequel with these 3 playing the Sanderson at the start of their journey might be the better option.
In the end, Hocus Pocus 2 is pure fan service and the enjoyment of the film will likely come down to your investment in the original film. And while attempting a different plot point instead of a straight rehash is admirable, the film’s steadfast dedication to staying as broad and unfocused in the humor holds this back from being anything more than passable. But that said, it’s infinitely more rewatchable than the first film as far as I’m concerned.
- Rated: PG
- Genre: Comedy, Halloween, Kids
- Release Date: 9/30/2022
- Directed by: Anne Fletcher
- Starring: Belissa Escobedo, Bette Midler, Doug Jones, Froy Gutierrez, Hannah Waddingham, Juju Journey Brener, Kathy Najimy, Lilia Buckingham, Nina Kitchen, Sam Richardson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Taylor Henderson, Tony Hale, Whitney Peak
- Produced by: Aldric La'auli Porter, Bonnie Hlinomaz, David Scharf, Lynn Harris, Steven Haft
- Written by: Blake Harris, David Kirschner, Jen D'Angelo, Mick Garris
- Studio: Disney, Walt Disney Pictures