After 29 years, the Sanderson Sisters are back. Hocus Pocus 2, which releases on Disney+ September 30, sees the return of Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, and Doug Jones to the franchise, along with some new faces including Whitney Peak and Tony Hale, as well as Anne Fletcher taking on directing duties.
I have to preface this review because it seems like Hocus Pocus is universally accepted as a beloved classic everyone under the age of 30 grew up watching and loving, but that’s not the case for me. I watched it for the first time last year and — for the most part — could take or leave it. So while it’s hard for me to make any bold claims as to whether this movie will please fans of the original, I’m going to guess that it probably will because it’s basically more of the same.
Similarly to the first movie, a teenage virgin (thankfully, the sequel doesn’t have an awkward fixation on the second characteristic that felt uncomfortably out of place for a kids’ movie in the 1993 film) lights a special candle which brings about the return of the Sanderson Sisters, three witches set to take revenge on the town of Salem after being banished from the community a few centuries prior. Once again, the kids have to save the day and their town from the wrath of the notorious trio, who are just as bombastic as they were 29 years ago.
The highlight is, of course, seeing Midler, Parker, and Najimy back together. While the main focus, including in a flashback to the witches’ youth at the beginning of the film, is on Midler’s Winifred, Nijimy’s Mary has a lot of the best moments and gets more chances to shine than she did in the first. Sadly, Parker’s Sarah, who was arguably the stand-out of the original, doesn’t get as much to do in this one. Bits of her famous song, “Come Little Children”, can be heard in the background every once and a while, but she doesn’t get a real “moment” this time around.
Speaking of which, one element of Hocus Pocus 2 that definitely pales in comparison to its predecessor is the music. There are two songs, an original and a cover of a classic rock number from the late 70’s. Both are sung by the witches but don’t capture the magic like “I Put a Spell on You” and the aforementioned “Come Little Children” did back in 1993 (though one is clearly meant to be the modern equivalent of the former). Seeing as those two songs were the best moments of Hocus Pocus, the void is definitely felt here.
As for the newcomers, they’re all serviceable in their roles. The strongest of the lot are Sam Richardson as shopkeeper Gilbert and Tony Hale as Salem’s mayor and father to one of the three teenage girls working to take down the Sandersons. Both characters bring a freshness to the franchise; since adults beyond the Sandersons themselves weren’t much of a presence in the original, it’s nice to see how they respond to the stories of magic happening in the town, and later interact with the witches themselves. The story is set 29 years after the first, so seeing how Salem has changed over time and how the kids of 1993 have now grown up is fun to witness.
Having three teen girls go up against the magical trio creates a nice parallel between good and evil in this movie and creates a different dynamic on the hero side from the original band of a teenage boy working alongside his younger sister and love interest. Perhaps Disney is trying to set up a spin-off or legacy sequel with these three heroines as the focal point, though seeing as they are totally eclipsed by the Midler/Parker/Najimy trio here, it might not be worth pursuing further.
This film is sure to be a hit on Disney+, but it’s somewhat puzzling as to why Disney didn’t opt for a theatrical run for Hocus Pocus 2. While it is true that the first Hocus Pocus did not do well theatrically back in 1993, it has since grown in popularity and is now considered a Halloween classic. (There’s also the fact that it debuted in July rather than autumn to keep in mind.) While I don’t personally have a lot of nostalgia attached to the original, reactions from a lot of people who do indicate that this sequel does a much better job at scratching that itch than, say, most of Disney’s recent live-action remakes, many of which have seen success on the big screen.
If you like the original, you’ll like Hocus Pocus 2. As someone who had a run-of-the-mill experience with the first (apart from the two musical sequences), I wasn’t overly elated or disappointed with this one. The Sanderson Sisters are great once again, but the movie surrounding them isn’t anything special. It will most likely please kids looking for some spooky vibes as the Halloween season arrives (and I would say this one is a bit less scary for young ones than the first might have been) which is probably what Disney was hoping for.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 6 equates to “Decent.” It fails to reach its full potential and is a run-of-the-mill experience.