In “Hocus Pocus 2,” the Sanderson sisters, a trio of 17th century witches, return to modern day Salem Massachusetts to haunt a new crop of teens.
It opens with an elaborate flashback, in which Winifred, Mary and Sarah Sanderson, the characters played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, are embodied by children.
This portion actually works, though only time will tell if any of the young actresses will get the kind of career boost Mayim Bialik once received playing a young Midler in “Beaches” (1988).
Although the sequel captures the madcap tone of the original, offers a more diverse ensemble and always looks good, it still can’t explain how witches from the 1600s know the lyrics to lite FM rock tunes.
The high schoolers who take on the witches this time are of the “Charmed” ilk and there’s also Tony Hale shamelessly hamming it up as the film’s sorta-villain. Hale’s pushing-too-hard performance suggests he was afraid of getting out-acted by Midler.
The cult following for “Hocus Pocus” is genuine and impressive.
For those who can’t remember the summer of 1993, the first movie was a famous disaster. Originally set for a Halloween release (obviously), disastrous test screenings (kids were traumatized, adults thought it was too corny) made the studio lose faith and instead dumped it in July.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” got the October slot and became an instant classic, while Midler got ribbed in the press for turning down “Sister Act” but agreeing to play a witch.
Decades later, the fandom of “Hocus Pocus” grew, as Halloween enthusiasts would watch it annually every October. Considering how the film was originally received, its return to the zeitgeist as a holiday essential isn’t just unlikely but triumphant.
The film itself is much closer to the spotty “Casper” than the brilliant heights of “Beetlejuice,” but I respect the devotion to “Hocus Pocus.”
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“Hocus Pocus 2” isn’t bad, but it’s a cookie cutter sequel, consisting of the Disney+ formula of family friendly content, no expenses spared and hardly a thing about it worth remembering.
The original offered some unsettling imagery and more bite than you’d expect from a Disney comedy- no surprise, since it was written by “Child’s Play” creator David Kirschner and horror filmmaker Mick Garris.
The second helping of the Sandersons is, unfortunately, awfully safe and a product instead of a work with any passion. The original deserves its long accumulating cult following, but the sequel will likely be regarded as an afterthought.
Midler gives it her all, though this is a performance more fitting of a cabaret or a stage show. Midler was robbed of an Oscar for her all-stops out work in “For the Boys” (1991) and is capable of far more than she’s given here.
I guess what I’m saying is that I’m a big fan, and Winifred Sanderson is to Midler’s film career what “Labyrinth” was to David Bowie’s: a way to connect to a younger generation but hardly a creative peak.
By the way, why hasn’t someone made “Beaches II,” especially since there’s already a novel in place (it was published in 1991) and Midler could still pull it off?
Jessica Parker and Najimy hit the exact same notes they did in the original and mostly fade into the background. None of the new characters connect, though the final scenes shamelessly try to ignite another sequel.
The cult of “Hocus Pocus” ought to thrive on, but it deserves a worthier third chapter.
I missed Binx the talking cat, which was a startling special effect in the original (though nowhere near as impressive as it once was). It’s cool that they not only brought back Billy Butcherson, the reanimated corpse character, but also the man who played him, Doug Jones.
Yet, except for some grisly updates to the corpse’s tendency to lose body parts, it doesn’t add much.
Because it’s a sequel, there are bigger CGI effects and set pieces. Unlike the first movie, which had one forced and painfully silly music number, this one has three musical numbers and they’re all groaners.
“The Wind Beneath My Wings” is in no danger of being surpassed by “The Witch is Back” or anything else off the “Hocus Pocus 2” soundtrack. Then again, the first movie was a massive underachiever in its day, so who knows?