Hocus Pocus 2 Review : You’ll have a fine time with it, which is just okay. How “Hocus Pocus 2” ties Disney history into the Sanderson Sisters’ new costumes.
This week, there has been a lot of heated online chatter about the questionable cultural legacies of two very different movies. This is one of those strange coincidences that makes me think of witchcraft, or maybe just the dark magic of social media.
One of them is “Avatar,” a 3-D masterpiece from 2009 by James Cameron. It returned to theatres as a warm-up for “Avatar: The Way of Water.” That soon-to-come-out sequel will test some of the most common criticisms of the first “Avatar,” such as that it was a rare box office juggernaut that didn’t have much of an impact on pop culture. It was a big movie that everyone saw, but few liked, the argument goes.
The other movie is the supernatural comedy “Hocus Pocus,” which came out in 1993 and, like “Avatar,” now has a long-awaited sequel.
But unlike “Avatar,” “Hocus Pocus” didn’t break any box office records when it came out. It also didn’t break any technological ground, and most reviews were either neutral or negative.
The 10-year-old me who saw it in theatres countless times on VHS would have given one of the more enthusiastic reviews. I was won over by its wanly funny-scary vibes, its now-creaky visual effects, and the shrieky chemistry between Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker as the Sanderson Sisters, a trio of 17th-century New England witches who like young children and old-fashioned second-person-sing
Mini-me would have been excited about a sequel but would have been sad to hear that it would take almost 30 years to start. This shows how long and strange the first “Hocus Pocus” has been.
It started as a campy flop but has become a Halloween staple and (oc)cult classic over the years. It led to fan guides, TV unique rides at theme parks, and wildly popular anniversary screenings, some of which the original cast and crew came to. Parker even started her spin-off comedy show called “Hex and the City.” Well, I just made that up.
Even with all of this, many people still can’t figure out what makes “Hocus Pocus” so appealing, and its retro popularity continues to baffle them. This week, “Hocus Pocus 2” is coming to Disney+, but it probably won’t clear anything up. But it won’t make anyone very sad, either.
The movie, which was written by Jen D’Angelo and directed by Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal,” “27 Dresses”), is a thin but painless retread that wraps its story in a familiar way to make fans happy. It begins in 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts, with young Winifred Sanderson (an outstanding Taylor Henderson) and her sisters Mary (Nina Kitchen) and Sarah running away into the woods (Juju Journey Brener). There, they meet “Ted Lasso’s” Hannah Waddingham, an older witch, who gives them a magic spellbook that will let them use their dark powers.
Fast forward to the present day, exactly 29 years after the events of the first “Hocus Pocus.” In that movie, a young high school student made a wrong decision by bringing back the Sanderson Sisters for one night of soul-sucking chaos on Halloween.
In “Hocus Pocus 2,” this happens again. Still, this time it’s a more imaginative teen named Becca (Whitney Peak) and a very stupid Salem historian named Gilbert (Sam Richardson), along with some confusing story logic that brings the evil sisters back to life.
As Winifred licks her lips and says spells, Midler eats up the scenery and sometimes throws lightning bolts at it. Najimy and Parker are also back as Mary and Sarah, who are both stupid and live to find kids and lure them to their deaths.
The Sandersons’ act, part sub-Three Stooges slapstick and part “Saturday Night Live” parody of “The Crucible,” isn’t any more intelligent or funnier than it was in the first movie. However, Midler, Najimy, and Parker are still game actors, so good at vampy antics and scary face contortions. You won’t care.
They’re amusing in a scene where Becca and her friend Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) try to stop the witches from killing children by taking them shopping at Walgreens, where the advanced magic of beauty products and automatic sliding doors blows their minds.
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The only new thing about the story is that the town’s mayor, Tony Hale, is obsessed with Halloween and causes some trouble. Fans of “Hocus Pocus” won’t be surprised when Winifred’s dead boyfriend Billy Butcherson shows up again (Doug Jones, lean, green, and un-mean as he was in the first movie).
And after their version of “I Put a Spell on You” in 1993, the witches have to bring back their Vegas-style lounge act. This time, they do it while crashing (what else?) a Sanderson Sisters-themed costume contest, which is a nod to how popular “Hocus Pocus” has become.
It’s also become softer and more emotional than it was in the first movie, at least in this sequel, that’s entertaining enough. Instead of sucking the souls out of Salem’s children, the witches decide to strengthen their power with the most powerful spell of all.
They go on an “Into the Woods”-style hunt to find the ingredients. The best song on the soundtrack is a Blondie classic, but the whole thing builds up to a moving, even Sondheim-like warning to be careful about what you wish for. It’s different from the first movie because it’s sadder, and nobody turns into a cat this time. We’ll always have “Avatar” for that.