THE STORY – Three young women accidentally bring back the Sanderson Sisters to modern-day Salem and must figure out how to stop the child-hungry witches from wreaking havoc on the world.
THE CAST – Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo, Lilia Buckingham, Sam Richardson, Tony Hale, Froy Gutierrez & Doug Jones
THE TEAM – Anne Fletcher (Director) & Jen D’Angelo (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 103 Minutes
Few of the classic Halloween films that have come out over the years seem to have reached a cult following among millennials like “Hocus Pocus.” It’s not so much that the story was anything extraordinary — Max (Omri Katz), the new kid in town, struggles to fit in but faces even bigger problems when he accidentally brings back three executed witches out for revenge – but it was the diabolical trio who made the movie fun as hell. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy iconically brought the Sanderson sisters to life in a way that could only be described as camp with their misadventures, lack of understanding of modern society, and ridiculous one-liners.
When something delights a whole generation, it’s pretty hard to capture the same magic twice. But Disney has done a great job with “Hocus Pocus 2,” directed by Anne Fletcher, which brings back these legendary witches in a modern tale. It may not be as legendary as the first, but this trio doesn’t skip a beat as they give us even more fish-out-of-water moments and tug on a few heartstrings.
In the original film, the Sanderson sisters’ backstory focused on how they killed a child so they could be young again and turned her brother into a black cat. Unfortunately for the gals, they were executed for their crimes, but not before Winifred (Midler) cast a curse that would resurrect the sisters during a full moon on All Hallows’ Eve if a virgin lights a black flame candle. This time around, we learn even more about the sisters, particularly how they got their powers. In 1653 Salem, Winifred (Taylor Henderson) just turned 16 and is just as dramatic as her adult self – Henderson does a great job matching Midler’s energy. The reason for all her huffing and puffing is that Reverend Traske (Tony Hale) is forcing her to marry, and it’s the last thing she wants to do. But not marrying comes with real consequences: Her sisters Sarah (Juju Journey Brener) and Mary (Nina Kitchen) would be taken from her. But as we’ve learned from the first movie, no one can make Winifred do something she doesn’t want, and she finds a way to escape with her sisters in hand.
Sisterly relationships and finding one’s coven are extremely important themes in “Hocus Pocus 2.” With this new backstory, we’re able to see that these three have always had a close relationship, even if Winifred has often felt like the smartest one in the bunch. Brener and Kitchen do as delightful of a job as Henderson bringing their roles to life, especially since their characters’ mannerisms – Sarah’s ditziness and Mary’s confused facial expressions – are so easy to pick up on. When these three young girls meet a powerful witch (played by a wonderful Hannah Waddingham, who deserved way more screen time) and are given their iconic spellbook, it’s the beginning of an even more mischievous time in these girls’ lives.
In the present day, teens Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) are facing some issues in their own coven. Ever since their friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) started dating airhead Mike (Froy Gutierrez), things haven’t been the same between them. Though they all want to brush it off like it doesn’t bother them, on Becca’s 16th birthday, when all three of them would have normally participated in an annual ritual in the woods, it doesn’t feel quite the same without Cassie there. But it soon becomes a birthday to remember when Becca and Izzy accidentally bring the Sanderson sisters back to life – after they were tricked by the witches’ biggest fan Gilbert (Sam Richardson), who gifted Becca a black flame candle.
It feels like no time has passed since Midler, Parker, and Najimy starred in these roles because they instantly jump back into these larger-than-life characters. The trio is ready to take away Becca and Izzy’s life forces to become young again, but once the teens tell them there’s an easier way to get youthful-looking skin these days, thanks to lotions and creams, the sisters eagerly take a trip to Walgreens. There, they slurp down jars of anti-aging cream, tricked into believing they contain children’s souls, which easily ends up being the film’s best scene. Once they find out they’ve been fooled, they’re back on their mission to take down Salem once and for all. Their silly walk – where they move their heads left and right with each step – comes back in full force, and Winifred’s elongated call to the spellbook rings loud and clear. Seeing them discover technological advancements is another treat, especially when it comes to mastering automatic sliding doors and using a Swifter and Roomba vacuums as broom replacements (a callback to the first film). And, of course, there are musical numbers involved (and the songs will get stuck in your head). It simply doesn’t get better when these three are involved.
Other parts of the film don’t shine quite as bright, but they’re still enjoyable and have nostalgic elements. Becca, Izzy, and Cassie have to work together, even though there’s still tension between them, to try and stop the Sanderson sisters from casting an all-powerful spell. Gilbert also goes on a mission to collect all the ingredients for the spell and comes across Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones), the beloved zombie from the first film who has a complicated relationship with Winifred. All of the new characters seamlessly fit into the fun, making it even more delightful to watch. Though the ending isn’t as much of a showstopper as the first film’s, it goes in a sweet direction as Winifred finally admits how much her sisters mean to her and that life is meaningless without a witch’s coven. For the young teens in the film and those who will watch “Hocus Pocus 2” at home, it’ll serve as a touching reminder to always keep your friends close and to surround yourself with people who will support you no matter what (but perhaps make sure it doesn’t involve a diabolical plan to get revenge on your hometown).
It’s an intimidating task to resurrect a beloved movie that enchanted so many youngsters, but Fletcher has done a fine job with “Hocus Pocus 2.” The new generation might not be as drawn to this film as the older generation was with the original, but millennials will have fun revisiting Salem’s most iconic sisters. With wonderful performances from its stars to so many nostalgic moments, get ready to have another spell put on you by Winifred, Sarah, and Mary.