Hocus Pocus has carved a niche within pop culture unlike any other. A Halloween film released in the midst of the summer of 1993, it was always bound to perform poorly at the box office; however, it was also blasted by critics. Yet, it persisted. Garnering a cult following, the film has become one of the cornerstones of the season and has survived as a headlining rewatch for nearly three decades. Now, 29 years later, Disney has finally released Hocus Pocus 2 helmed by director Anne Fletcher instead of the original’s Kenny Ortega.
Hocus Pocus 2 has a near identical premise to the original. Three teenage girls accidentally bring the Sanderson sisters back to Salem – three witches from the 17th century with a grudge against the town that sentenced them to death. As the sisters galavant through modern-day Salem, cursing and bewitching its residents in their single-minded goal for revenge, the girls must figure out how to stop them. Unfortunately, though, there is no talking cat this time around.
Frankly, the plot of Hocus Pocus 2 is irrelevant to its quality. The arcs that the characters go through are basic staples of the family-friendly genre. Nevertheless, Whitney Peak’s Becca, Belissa Escobedo’s Izzy, and Lilia Buckingham’s Cassie are bright on-screen presences. They’re easy heroes to root for and funny ones at that.
The appeal of Disney’s 1993 cult classic has always been its humor and the wacky energy of the Sanderson sisters. It’s camp and undeniably iconic. As long as an inevitable sequel hit those same notes, it’ll be a success. And Hocus Pocus 2 does.
Hocus Pocus 2 works best when viewed as a “legacy sequel.” If the film came out five years after the original, it’d be trite, and if a third addition comes out within the next five years, it’ll feel pointless. The sequel pays homage to the original while also riffing off it. There is, of course, some inherent humor in the fish-out-of-water plot, but then there’s the extra layer of the fact that this film comes out 29 after the first.
2022 is a world with smartphones and technology that was not around in the early 90s, and so that not only lays the field ripe for jokes about the witches’ misunderstandings but also plays on how memorable bits from the first movie would turn out differently in the present day. There are layers. There are easter eggs. It’s wonderfully meta in the sense that the sequel recognizes the Sanderson sisters as icons. They have fans in Salem similar to how their popularity caught on after the release of the first film. Hocus Pocus 2 is a love letter to its predecessor and pays homage to the admiration people had for the first while giving them more of what they love.
Winifred, Mary, and Sarah Sanderson are back and it’s wickedly wonderful. Bette Midler and Kathy Najimy effortlessly slip back into their idiosyncratic roles, and Sarah Jessica Parker is as good an actress as she’s always been. The relationship between the sisters feels exactly the same and somehow does not feel overdone or tired. Some scenes are near identical reconstructions of the first, but even then they’re still fun because the sisters are bewitching to watch. Even Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones), a long-dead lover caught in a Sandersister love triangle, makes a charming return and has a great subplot paired with a new character.
This Disney+ exclusive risked falling into the trap of too-current humor or a flat-looking film. Thankfully, Hocus Pocus 2 avoids both of these. Anne Fletcher’s direction manages to capture a spooky tone, and while the film is not as visually rich as its original, it isn’t as close to lifelessness as many of its direct-to-streaming peers. As for much of the humor between the new teenage protagonists, it’s distinctly Gen Z, yet in a way that can resonate with audiences of any age. It does not risk aging poorly. If Hocus Pocus 2 has the staying power of the original, only time will tell, but as it stands now, it’s a welcome release for this Halloween season.
For fans of the first Hocus Pocus, this movie was made for you. If you’ve never seen the first, and are interested in the campy premise, the sequel will be a romp – but you should watch the first regardless. It’s a successful legacy sequel to one of Disney’s most resilient cult classics. Hocus Pocus 2 isn’t particularly emotionally evocative plot-wise, it is a blast to watch though. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Nothing will ever be able to truly bottle the electric energy of the original, but this sequel does a pretty good job of reminding us why we love it.