HOCUS POCUS 2: 3 STARS. “not nearly as bewitching as the original 1993 film.”
“Lock up your children,” says Winifred in “Hocus Pocus 2.” “Yes Salem. We are back!”
Twenty-nine years ago, the original “Hocus Pocus,” a comedic fantasy about the Sanderson sisters, a trio of witches played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, was a middling hit in theatres, and labelled “dreadful” by Gene Siskel.
But despite critical lashings and a current score of 39 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, over the years, the Sanderson sisters have become Halloween favorites, so much so, that the town of Salem, Massachusetts threw a celebration in honor of the film’s 25th anniversary.
Disney+ gives fans another wave of the wand with “Hocus Pocus 2,” a sequel that gives new life to the Sanderson sisters.
The new film begins with a flashback to hundreds of years ago in Salem. The Sanderson sisters, played as teens by Taylor Paige, Nina Kitchen and Juju Journey Brener, become outcasts, sowing the seeds of the rage that will consume them for hundreds of years.
Cut to present day. Salem teens three teens are Becca (Whitney Peak), Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) are best friends, who hang out at the local magic shop run by Gilbert (Sam Richardson). With the help of a special Black Flame Candle, supplied by Gilbert, the teen trio resurrect the sister witches, just as Max (Omri Katz), Allison (Vinessa Shaw), and Dani (Thora Birch) did decades before in the original film.
But Salem is a much different place since the sisters last visited. In the midst of a Halloween celebration, the sisters don’t inspire fear as much as admiration. So many revelers are dressed as the Sandersons, that the city hosts a look-alike contest.
But it’s not all fun and games. The sisters are looking to gather up some tasty teen life-forces and get vengeance for the mistreatment they suffered years before. It’s up to the high schoolers to stop them.
Part horror comedy, part musical (the sisters don’t understand modern day traditions, but somehow are able to belt out Blonde’s “One Way or Another” at the drop of a witch’s hat) and all nostalgia. The spectre of the 1993 haunts the new film as it pays homage to the original to the point where the new stars—Peak, Buckingham and Escobedo—get lost in the shuffle once the original sisters show up.
As fans of the first movie might expect, Midler, Najimy and Parker chew the scenery, offering up larger-than-life performances, heavy on the whimsy. They are campy—particularly when singing a revamp of Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back,” reworked as “The Witch Is Back”—and often funny in an outrageous but family-friendly way.
“Hocus Pocus 2” is fan service. It expands the Sanderson sister’s story, providing an origin story (probably the best part of the movie) and gives Parker and Najimy more to do than the original. Mix in some modern sensibility about accepting people’s differences and you have an hour and forty minutes of forgettable fun. It’s not nearly as bewitching as the 1993 film, but may cast a spell over longtime fans.