Hocus Pocus is undeniably a cult classic. Not only did it rise above its abysmal box office revenue and harsh consensus from film critics, but it’s also now become a staple of the Halloween season. The movie is a cornerstone event for annual Halloween lineups on cable TV with hoards tuning in every year to enjoy the hijinks of the Sanderson sisters, witches hung at gallows in the 1600s and transported to 1993.
A Bewitching Legacy Sequel
So there were some big shoes to fill and a standard to meet when creating Hocus Pocus 2, and this was directly addressed in a recent press conference for the film. The creative team behind the latest Disney+ original streaming release shared what it was like coming back for the sequel, both paying homage as fans and creating something new. Actress Kathy Najimy, who plays Mary Sanderson, theorizes that “there was something in this film [that is] Wizard of Oz-ish, where the generation shows it to their kids who shows it to their kids who shows it to their kids.”
Director Anne Fletcher agrees, calling the film “generational” and “perennial”, citing its strength as a family event. In many homes, Hocus Pocus is almost a family heirloom and it resonates with viewers of all ages. The movie is campy and fun but isn’t afraid to dip its toes into horror. The Sandersons are a joy to watch, yet are still wicked and merciless, and the film strikes the perfect tone between them. Hocus Pocus 2 is more family-friendly and sanitized than the original, though manages to capture the spirit of the first nonetheless.
Fletcher describes her mission for the sequel as “honoring the first movie and making sure that I’m honoring these characters for the fans and bringing it into a new generation.” To do this, she had to consider several of the most iconic scenes of the original and how they could be referenced in the new entry.
Honoring the Original
Perhaps the most iconic scene in Hocus Pocus is Bette Middler’s Winifred Sanderson bewitching an entire audience through a rendition of “I Put a Spell on You”. The original song was written in 1956 by Jalacy “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins which has since been covered by a variety of artists over the years ranging from Nina Simone to Marilyn Manson. The version found in Hocus Pocus was arranged by Marc Shaiman and Bette Middler, giving it a distinctive upbeat flare, complete with lyric changes perfect for the film. In regards to out-doing that scene, Fletcher admits, “Can’t compete with that. So I didn’t try.”
However, it wouldn’t be a true Hocus Pocus movie without a musical scene. Or in this case, two. Fletcher describes how “The musical numbers are there for story.” The first time, the sisters sing as they celebrate their return with a jazzy Elton John cover. The second time, in a scene that resembles “I Put a Spell on You” when the Sanderson sisters find themselves on stage again, ready to bewitch another crowd to do their bidding. This time, they sing a rendition of Blondie’s “One Way or Another”, a song that aligns with their goals. The specifics of the scene are different, but the result is wonderfully similar.
The actors making their return, Bette Middler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Doug Jones, slipped into their old personas with uncanny ease, especially considering the breadth of time between the original movie and its sequel. Jones, who plays the undead Billy Butcherson, describes the role as exhausting, stating that “I was 32 when I played him the first time. I was 61 playing him the second time… my first scene in the movie was stumbling up a staircase into a doorway. I’m like, [GASPS], ‘I don’t remember it being this tiring before.’” And yet, as he fully began to realize himself in the role and looked in the mirror to see the face of the past staring back at him, he shares how, “[Billy] came back right away, voice and everything. I don’t know how that happened, but it was kind of magical.”
For newcomers, Hocus Pocus 2 was a chance to make a mark on a familiar story. Sam Richardson, who plays Gilbert, a fan of the sisters who aided in their return, accepted the role and spent a considerable amount of time on set without meeting the director. Fletcher recounts the uncanny experience and how she asked him why he would accept the role without meeting her, “It’s the weirdest thing. It just doesn’t happen. And he goes ’cause I love Hocus Pocus.”
A huge part of Hocus Pocus 2 is how the fan culture around the sisters is reflected in the modern Salem culture. In their universe, the sisters have wormed their way into local folklore and have garnered a fanbase. This not only reflects their pop culture status in the real world, but it added another level to how the actors interacted with their place in the legacy of Hocus Pocus. “I’ve been a fan of movies since it was in theaters,” Richardson shares. “So to get to be in the movie and getting to watch these three and Doug, as a fan in my eyes, and watching myself it’s so many levels of Inception.”
Embracing its meta quality, Hocus Pocus 2 shows its love for the original while also carefully not overstepping its boundaries. The cast retains their charm, bringing a new story to a generation that’s already fallen in love with the one that came before, and hopefully will share that love with the generations to come.