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The 1993 Disney movie “Hocus Pocus” is the story of three witch sisters who were executed in Salem in 1693 and returned to create havoc 300 years later on Halloween. It is more than a classic; it is a cultural touchstone. Moderately successful on its first release, it became a phenomenon on home video and cable and is now an annual tradition for many families, with parents who loved it in the '90s sharing it with the next generation. Disney hit just the right spot between spooky and silly, with Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as a sort of witchy Three Stooges. Midler's Winifred was the Moe-like short-tempered ringleader, Parker was a fluttery, Curly-like scatterbrain named Sarah, and Najimy was Mary, the Larry of the trio, never quite making anything work, but sure that she's nailing it.
Nearly 30 years later, “Hocus Pocus 2” should make fans of all generations happy, paying tribute to the original and adding some gentle updating and some welcome diversity, subtracting some violence. It is also a little bit sweeter. The adult cast from the first movie includes always-terrific Doug Jones, the brilliant actor behind the creature in “The Shape of Water” and Abe in “Hellboy,” as the hapless zombie Billy Butcherson. Welcome new additions include comic powerhouses Tony Hale and Sam Richardson and all-around powerhouse “Ted Lasso’s” Hannah Waddingham.
The first movie was about the relationships between brothers and sisters (with a little teen romance); this one is about friendship. And we get a bit of an origin story. After an aerial opening shot referring back to the original "Hocus Pocus," we see the Sanderson sisters as young girls. First, we see the Pilgrim community scurrying out of the way as Winnie stomps furiously through the town. Young Winnie is played by Taylor Henderson, complete with wild red hair and buck teeth. Her witty rendition of Midler’s alpha witch is sharp and funny. The local clergyman, Reverend Traske (Tony Hale) has decided that since the Sanderson parents are dead, Winnie must marry a young man from the village and the younger girls will be sent to live with another family. Winnie refuses, and the girls run away to the forbidden forest, where they meet a very glamorous witch (Waddingham) who gives them one of the key props from the first movie, the book of spells with a human eyeball on the cover that really opens, and, I guess, sees.
In present day, high school students Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) are getting ready for their Halloween tradition, Becca’s birthday sleepover. This year it will have to be without their other friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), who has not been a part of the group lately because she’s been spending all her time with her boyfriend. Becca and Izzy like to experiment with magic and spend a lot of time at the local magic store run by Gilbert (Richardson). He gives them the other key prop from the first movie, a black candle, and, just like in the first movie, even though they are well aware of the Sanderson sisters legend, they light it. (The virginity requirement to activate the candle’s power to bring back the witches is joked about but not explained.)
And so, the Sandersons return on Halloween night, as costumed partygoers and trick-or-treaters are out celebrating, led by the town’s jolly mayor, who is also Cassie’s very strict father. He is a descendant of Reverend Traske and again played by Hale. The witches want revenge on Traske, and, as in the first film, they want to inhale the essence of children so they can have eternal youth.
The challenge for the sequel to a beloved film is maintaining enough of the original to make the fans happy without being too repetitive or confusing newcomers, and “Hocus Pocus 2” gets that just right. The highlights of the first film are celebrated (there’s a delightful musical number) and there are some very funny moments, including a Sanderson sisters costume competition. It is not a spoiler to say that smart, brave, and loyal teenagers get more comic treats than tricks. So does the audience. NOTE: Watch all the way to the end of the credits for an extra scene.
Available on Disney+ on September 30th.
Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson
Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson
Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson
Whitney Peak as Becca
Lilia Buckingham as Cassie
Belissa Escobedo as Izzy
Froy Gutierrez as Mike
Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson
Tony Hale as Mayor Traske
Sam Richardson as Gilbert
Hannah Waddingham as The Witch
Juju Journey Brener as Young Sarah Sanderson
Taylor Henderson as Young Winifred Sanderson
David Torres Jr. as Teacher
Ginger Minj as Drag Queen of Winifred Sanderson
Skyla Sousa as Teen Winifred
Aiden Torres as Teen Mary
Emma Kaufman as Teen Sarah
Ryan Rosenthal as Glenn