WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
‘Hocus Pocus 2’ review – a moderate amount of magic
Looking for something family-friendly to watch this Halloween? Now screening on Disney+, supernatural comedy, and 29-years-later sequel, ‘Hocus Pocus 2’ may be the potion you’re looking for.
Finding suitable family viewing for Halloween can be challenging. From a parent’s perspective, you probably want something a little dark and spooky, but balanced out with enough fun so that you don’t have to worry about nightmare-induced wails later on. Parents who were once children of the Nineties may be wondering if Hocus Pocus 2 – the 29-years-later sequel to the cult supernatural comedy – fits the bill? The answer is yes, although it’s definitely going to be enjoyed more by fans of the 1993 original, and older kids from their tweens through teens.
Hocus Pocus 2 offers a mix of old and new magic. It resurrects the witchy Sanderson Sisters, Bette Midler’s Winnie, Kathy Najimy’s Mary and Sarah Jessica Parker’s Sarah, but with modern sensibilities (and special effects) that will make the film more palatable for modern audiences.
In this new movie, present-day Salem teenagers Becca (Gossip Girl’s Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) accidentally summon the Sanderson sisters on Halloween while performing a birthday ritual for Becca’s 16th birthday. This time, though, the Sandersons aren’t fixated on murdering the town’s children to secure eternal youth. Winnie plans on performing a forbidden spell, the Magicae Maxima, which will make her all powerful. It will also liberate the Sisters from their current restriction of only having a single night on Earth once they’re summoned with the black-flame candle.
Hocus Pocus 2 is pretty light on story but makes up for it in charisma and charm, which floats this feather-light tale along like an apple bobbing around in a tub. Midler, Najimy and Parker seem to be having a ball back in their extravagant costumes, make-up and wig styling, and Peak is an effortlessly likeable lead. There’s also a memorable cameo from Ted Lasso’s Hannah Waddingham, who appears as the 17th-century high witch who introduces the adolescent Sandersons to magic.
It’s clear that the emphasis in Hocus Pocus 2 is squarely on light-hearted amusement. Unlike its predecessor, which featured on-screen child death, flattened cats, some pretty intense chases and jump scares, plus a peculiar running gag centred on virgin shaming, Hocus Pocus 2 has definitely filed down its edges. This even reflects in attitudes to the Sanderson Sisters. While they were regarded with hushed boogie (wo)men awe in the first film by the townsfolk, this time around they’re typically as admired by other characters as they are by the film’s audience.
More admiration and less vilification means the Sandersons are no longer as menacing. Without any real discomfort about their evil, viewers can simply relax and enjoy their witch-out-of-time misadventures involving virtual assistants, robot vacuums, and an extended sequence in the beauty products section of a pharmacy. The trio even enter a Sanderson lookalike contest, which culminates in a requisite musical number. For the record, choreographer and director Kenny Ortega, who directed the first Hocus Pocus, has been replaced here by Anne Fletcher, who has a similar background in dance and filmmaking.
On that note, there seems to be something in having a woman director and screenwriter (Jen D’Angelo) on board. Hocus Pocus 2 features a clear message about female solidarity and sisterhood of all kinds. That’s as positive to see as the sequel’s greater racial representation, and an impactful scene about bullying that stems from ignorance.
Those are some of the new ingredients that Hocus Pocus 2 introduces to the franchise cauldron. As for the old, Winnie’s sentient magical tome Book, and her ex-love interest Billy Butcherson (a returning Doug Jones) both enjoy larger roles. Overall, though, credit must go to the filmmakers for refusing to shoehorn in cameos and plot connections to the first movie. Hocus Pocus 2 doesn’t ever grind to a halt to make a wink-wink reference to its predecessor. The links that are present tend to take the form of Easter eggs for fans to spot, and are left at that.
Hocus Pocus 2 doesn’t feel as designed by committee as, say, a Marvel movie, but it does seem structured to leave Nineties childhood nostalgia intact and unchallenged. It’s harmless and fun (there’s that word again) but it’s also pretty toothless. The original Hocus Pocus may be dated now, but it has a richer mix of ingredients in its concoction. If you want more sweet-and-sour Halloween flavour, stick with the original, but Hocus Pocus 2 still provides enough declawed amusement while it closes Book gently. DM/ML
In case you missed it, also read The Black Phone horror movie: Please, take the call