The new Disney+ sequel to the 1993 classic casts a spell on viewers, featuring the stellar return of original cast members, and some fun new faces to Salem.
The original Hocus Pocus has grown to be a cult favorite over the years. The 1993 film followed the Sanderson sisters: Winnie (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy), and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) as they terrorized Salem, Massachusetts after rising from the grave—until their apparently eternal banishment the end of the film. Now, in 2022, the Sandersons have been resurrected by the corporate magic of Disney. Luckily, Hocus Pocus 2’s spellweaving will delight both nostalgic fans of the original and draw in a new crowd of young fans.
The picture opens in late 1600s Salem. The Sanderson sisters are teens, led by bossy elder sister Winnie. The town’s Reverend (Tony Hale) has ordered her to marry a local young man, as it’s her 16th birthday, and thus it’s about time she gets married. Winnie protests the marriage and flees into the area’s enchanted forest along with her sisters. There they meet a witch (Hannah Waddingham), who senses Winnie’s newfound powers (the 16th birthday is a pivotal one for a witch, as that’s when she acquires her powers). Forming a coven with her sisters, Winnie vows that Salem will belong to them.
Come the present day, we meet a trio of friends: Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham). It’s Becca’s 16th birthday, but a cloud hangs over it for her—Cassie has grown distant, choosing to spend her time with a dumb jock boyfriend instead of her witch-obsessed friends. At the Salem Magic Shoppe, Becca and Izzy are gifted a candle by shopkeeper Gilbert (Sam Richardson). They head to the woods, light the candle, and whoosh—the Sanderson sisters are back, ready to cast the all-powerful Magicae Maxima spell to get their revenge on the Mayor Traske (also Tony Hale), a descendent of the Reverend from their past…and Cassie’s father.
Writer Jen D’Angelo’s script boasts some sharply funny moments. The Sandersons must again acquire modern versions of brooms: Sarah gets a wet jet mop, and Mary straps Roombas to her feet. Other clever sequences include the witches taking a selfie (under a filter, they look years younger) and chowing down on youth beauty products—believing they’re made from children’s souls. There are, of course, some direct throwbacks to the original—the Sandersons once again enthrall the townspeople by leading them into a song. But if you’ve got Bette Midler in a movie, you have to put a song and dance moment in there.
The cast is spectacular. Midler, Jessica-Parker, and Najimy are bewitching—they slip seamlessly back into the sisters, and it’s refreshing to see Sarah and Mary with more power as they start to speak up against their bullying elder sister. As heroes Becca and Izzy, Peak and Escobedo have instant best-friend chemistry, working together to stop the sisters from destroying the town.
Richardson and Hale are similar highlights. Richardson plays magic shopkeeper Gilbert to perfection. When he meets the Sandersons he asks, in a concerned state, “What are we conjuring? Perhaps some fun?” He also has a fun subplot with Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones), Winnie’s undead “lover,” where they run amok in town collecting items for a curse. Hale has the time of his life as the eternally smarmy Reverend and Mayor Traskes. Upon finding the Sandersons in his home, he asks Cassie why the “Goth Golden girls” are there. I’d watch a spinoff dedicated to the goofy shopkeeper and entitled mayor in a heartbeat.
Hocus Pocus 2 offers the best of both worlds – it charmingly plays to nostalgia for the original while finding new ways to elevate the material. There’s a theme of sisterhood— a witch is only as strong as her coven—which is a nice development from the original. There’s also a moral about the consequences of hoarding power hoarding—the spell the Sandersons seek to cast bears a massive cost. There’s a lot of magic in Hocus Pocus 2—enough for parents, kids, and kids at heart.
Hocus Pocus 2 is casting its spell on Disney+.