Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson in Disney's live-action Hocus Pocus 2.

Film Review: Hocus Pocus 2

Film Reviews

Hocus Pocus 2
Director: Anne Fletcher

David Kirschner Productions
Streaming on Disney 09.30

The month of October is almost upon us, which means ghosts, goblins, trick or treating and trying to remain patient with our friends who stubbornly cling to the belief that Hocus Pocus is a classic. Even as a child of the ’90s who can get nostalgistic for just about anything, I’ve never been able to jump on the retcon bandwagon for that one, and as such, my hopes for Hocus Pocus 2 were not very high.

Hocus Pocus 2 takes place 29 years after the last time someone lit the Black Flame Candle and brought the Sanderson Sisters—a trio of legendary 17th-century witches—back to life. The new film begins with a flashback to the sisters’ childhood in Salem, telling the story of how they first got their powers before jumping forward to Halloween season in present-day Salem, where Sanderson fever is running wild. When a local teen named Becca (Whitney Peak, Molly’s Game, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) is tricked into lighting the flame, Winnifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) are summoned back from the netherworld to wreak havoc, feast upon the souls of children and perform anachronistic and kitschy musical numbers once again. It’s up to Becca and her besties, Izzy (Belissa Escobedo, Sex Appeal) and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham, Dirt), to save the town. 

Director Anne Fletcher (The Proposal, Dumplin’) is better suited to the material than Kenny Ortega of Newsies fame was to the original, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call Hocus Pocus 2 a good movie, it’s less insufferably shrill, in-your-face and incoherent than its predecessor. Midler, Najimy and Parker also work more as a team this time around rather than seeming to be in a constant battle for center stage. The story is still choppy, and I confess that even at a runtime of 1 hour and 43 minutes, I couldn’t get through it in one sitting. Still, there’s an added sense of heart this go around that makes it a lot more appealing, and in the final third, Hocus Pocus 2 settles into a groove and becomes just engaging enough to work as family entertainment. The three young leads are charming, especially Peak, who plays quite well opposite Midler in the scenes where they go toe-to-toe. 

The best thing the film has going for it in terms of casting, however, is Sam Richardson (The Afterparty, The Tomorrow War) as a book store owner named Gilbert, and the return of Doug Jones (The Shape of Water, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army) as the undead incarnation of Billy Butcherson, Winnifred’s paramour. Richardson and Jones have some fun moments as a mismatched comic duo, and while it certainly doesn’t amount to either actor’s best work, they are clearly having a lot of fun playing off of each other, and that feeling is infectious. The score by John Debney is rousing and fun, and the sister’s rendition of one of the cinema’s most overused songs, Blondie’sOne Way or Another,” is a nice showcase for Midler.

In the end, Hocus Pocus 2 is aimed at a specific audience, and it’s a decent, disposable Halloween movie for kids, nothing more or less. For those who consider the original to be a beloved staple of the season, it will be a welcome treat. It’s not likely to be genuinely embraced by those of us who just don’t understand the appeal of the 1993 box office and critical misfire, though it does work out of some of the kinks, and exhibits a genuine improvement, even if that makes for faint praise. –Patrick Gibbs

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