Hocus Pocus 2 (Review): Just A Bunch of Hocus Pocus
Despite some fun action setpieces, Hocus Pocus 2 follows the same premise as the original, but with a “legacyquel” twist.
I’m probably one of the few who doesn’t understand the appeal behind 1993’s Hocus Pocus. It’s safe to say that the 1990s was the weirdest decade for children’s films, as if their sole goal was to terrify children to ensure they would be traumatized for the rest of their lives – The Witches, The Adventures of Pinocchio, The New Adventures of Pinocchio, Jumanji, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and Hocus Pocus. I mean, who in their right mind at Disney would greenlight a film about three witches (played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy) coming back to life 300 years after they were hanged to terrorize the town of Salem, Massachusetts and suck the souls of children?
That doesn’t sound too kid-friendly, and it wasn’t. Hocus Pocus is a legitimately terrifying movie to watch, even as a 23-year-old. I probably would’ve gotten lifelong nightmares if I had seen this as a six-year-old. It’s a series of one unsettling image after another. The zombie consistently losing his head? Nightmare fuel. The Sanderson sisters sucking Emily Binx’s soul? Oh, my lord! And that darn cat Thackery Binx? I would be petrified if my cat started talking and advised me on how to use Book to kill the Sandersons.
And now they made another one. And while it’s slightly less unsettling than the first installment (because it doesn’t contain as much terrifying imagery as most 90s kids’ films did), it still doesn’t work. Fans of the original will likely love the callbacks to the first movie (there are many), but those looking for more will be disappointed. As with most legacy sequels, the movie introduces new characters alongside old ones while re-hashing the same beats as the original to satisfy as many fans as possible.
Our new protagonists are Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo). They are into witchcraft and spend their afternoons hanging out with Gilbert (Sam Richardson), the magic shop owner at the Sanderson Sisters’ home. On Halloween night, Gilbert gives the two friends a candle so they can perform their yearly ritual in the woods. However, the store owner doesn’t tell them that it’s a Black Flame Candle, which causes the Sanderson Sisters to come back if lit by a virgin. Of course, Becca lights the candle and reawakens the Sanderson Sisters, who are now planning to exact revenge on Mayor Jefry Traske (Tony Hale), the descendant of Reverend Traske (also played by Hale) who banned the witches from Salem.
It’s now up to the protagonists to stop them, using Book at their disposal. So, it’s about the same plot as the first one, but with newer characters. But the beats are there—the protagonists pretend to the Sandersons that they’re big fans, and purposefully brought them back (which doesn’t work), there’s the musical number where the Sandersons control half the town, the Zombie (Doug Jones) losing his head multiple times, the black cat, Book having a mind of its own, the Sandersons always falling for teenage traps, and the return of their “unique” brooms. Of course, the jokes are updated to reflect the times we live in, but it’s about the same movie as the first one, but with cheaper visual effects and less funny humor.
Even if you don’t like the first one, there’s a sense of surprise that comes when seeing the movie for the first time. You never know in which situations Max (Omri Katz) and Dani Dennison (Thora Birch) will get into as they attempt to evade the Sandersons. But there are no surprises in Hocus Pocus 2, save from a rather surprisingly emotional scene near its end. Everything is seen a mile away: the scares, the tricks, the jokes, you name it. You can watch both movies simultaneously, without distinguishing their slight differences. Fans will love it, since it’s pure fan service. But as someone who doesn’t like watching sequels to relive the past but rather to expand on what made the first movie so memorable, I found it painfully dull.
That doesn’t mean there are no great legacyquels— the 2018 reboot of Halloween and Top Gun: Maverick are terrific. But they don’t base their entire premise on nostalgia. They give more of what the fans want, while further developing the characters and their relationship with the newer generation. Hocus Pocus 2 solely bases its plot on nostalgia and reminding audiences how great the first movie was (when it wasn’t in the first place) instead of doing something more tangible.
It also doesn’t help that the performances aren’t too great, aside from Bette Midler, who looks to have a ball as Winifred Sanderson. Najimy and Parker are pitifully wasted, reduced to jokes revolving around bodily humor, and can’t match Midler’s sheer expressive power during the entire movie. And when the film starts to get emotional, there’s only Midler who can ideally switch from terrifying to empathetic. And, yeah, I won’t lie: I did feel very profoundly for Winifred by the time the movie was over, but not the other sisters. It is a good thing, however, that the leads were engaging enough—I enjoyed the chemistry Peak and Escobedo had with one another, and it kept me invested in most of the story, even though I found the movie a rather boring retread of the first one.
Some have told me that I should’ve watched Hocus Pocus as a kid, because it’s the only way to have some emotional connection to both the first movie and the second one. One could see how Hocus Pocus 2 will create a whole new generation of fans, but I couldn’t get past the sequel’s plot, which only revolves around reliving the past, instead of putting the Sanderson sisters in a modern, but exciting, new situation. Aside from some fun action sequences and terrific performances from Bette Midler, Whitney Peak, and Belissa Escobedo, there’s not much to clamor for in this sequel, which is essentially just a bunch of Hocus Pocus.
Hocus Pocus 2 will be streaming exclusively on Disney Plus from September 30, 2022.