Hocus Pocus kids of the ’90s have waited a long time for a sequel to happen. Its poor critical and commercial reception wouldn’t have justified a sequel. And yet, since its release, it has gathered a rather powerful coven, one that demanded a sequel be made. So, after nearly three decades of waiting, Disney has delivered Hocus Pocus 2, which brings the Sanderson sisters back for some wicked good fun while also building upon the mythology with a modern and emotionally nuanced story.
Set some 30 years after the events of the first film, Hocus Pocus 2 opens in the early days of Salem, Massachusetts, where we meet the young Sanderson sisters living as orphans. Though Winifred (Taylor Henderson), Sarah (Juju Journey Brener), and Mary (Nina Kitchen) give each other support, the Reverend Traske (Tony Hale) threatens to tear their family apart if Winifred doesn’t wed. As such, the rebellious elder sister takes Sarah and Mary into the forbidden woods, where they meet Mother Witch (Hannah Waddingham), a beautiful witch who realizes the coven’s powerful potential.
She bestows Winifred with powers and gives her the book of secret spells, which she uses on the townspeople to create all sorts of havoc. But she warns the Sanderson sisters that the book won’t reveal certain spells, some of which come at a high cost.
By now, we already know what happened as the sisters (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy) get older to become the wicked ones we all knew and loved back in 1993. Flash forward to 30 years later, and Salem has changed since the Sanderson sisters tried to capture children for their souls. It’s still a bustling town that holds All Hallow’s Eve events, which is a local favorite and something I’d like to see just for the experience alone.
Now, Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) celebrate All Hallow’s Eve with an annual tradition of casting spells and watching a horror movie marathon. However, they would be doing it without the third member of their coven, Cassie (Lilia Buckingham). While Becca and Cassie’s friendship is broken because of their place within the social hierarchy, they still care for each other.
But the three will have to put their differences aside when a trick candle given to Becca by Gilbert (Sam Richardson), who uses the Sanderson home as a tourist trap, turns out to be the same malevolent candle that resurrects the sisters. And now that they are back, they are ready to take the stage and exact their revenge on the people of Salem, especially on Mayor Traske (also Tony Hale), the descendant of the reverend and Cassie’s father.
Hocus Pocus 2 is a charming sequel that knows what it is and where it came from. In fact, Jen D’Angelo’s script takes a meta approach to deliver a lot of humor that is sure to bring laughs while also revering to its roots. For instance, when the Sanderson sisters announce that they are back by giving a show-stopping performance, Becca and Izzy wonder who they are performing for. And as a goofy nod, Mary chooses a couple of rumba vacuums as a mode of transportation, which is a slight upgrade compared to what she rode back in the 90s. What’s more, Hocus Pocus 2 recognizes the original’s pop culture impact as some characters are seen participating in the town’s Sanderson sister costume contest. It’s that sort of a thank you to all of the fans that stood by the original for so long and helped make the sequel happen. And Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones), everyone’s favorite non-brain-eating zombie, is back, but this time he’s there to help Becca and her friends and find closure.
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a Hocus Pocus sequel without the obligatory Bette Midler musical number with a slight wicked witch twist. But this time, the production is bigger in size and energy as it is all choreographed to Blondie’s “One Way or Another.” So while there are plenty of jokes and inside humor from the original, there are still plenty of new and timely stories that audiences can gravitate towards if they haven’t watched the original.
As much as Hocus Pocus 2 likes to poke fun at itself and deliver a few new punchlines, the heart of the sequel is in its themes about sisterhood. And the sequel explores those themes by presenting its audience with some interesting parallels between the Sanderson sisters and the three best friends, Becca, Izzy, and Cassie. While the good and evil aspects are there, there’s that conflict we often see those dynamics, whether that’s in Winfred undermining her younger sister or how friends gradually drift apart due to differing interests. So the film recognizes how there are always these rough patches between family and friends. And as such, it addresses the importance of communication, and the bonds shared between loved ones through some wicked witchcraft and some great music.
Additionally, it explores the prices one pays for being so selfish and doesn’t have a typical Disney happy ending in order to make amends for said selfishness. It’s a refreshing twist to the story that’s needed for this day and age.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Hocus Pocus 2 is how much sincerity it has. While the original was so busy being a cheesy family-friendly made-for-TV Halloween special, the sequel has plenty of heart and humor. And director Anne Fletcher helps channel a lot of that energy through the story, which gives us a better understanding of who the Sanderson sisters are and how the friendships between Becca, Izzy, and Cassie aren’t that different from the ones that we see now. It’s sometimes a little schmaltzy, but it’s charming and funny and puts a bit of a showbiz flair into the stage performances. Because just like the spell that she casts on Salem, the cameras are drawn to Midler, who doesn’t miss a step in reprising her role as Winfred. Najimy and Parker also play their parts well as the constantly seeking approval Mary and immature siren Sarah, respectively.
As for the newer cast members, Richardson provides plenty of scene-stealing moments as Gilbert, the shopkeeper whose somewhat tragic Halloween past made him a fan of the Sanderson sisters. But it’s Peak, Escobedo, and Buckingham’s performances that are the real heart of the film. All three have such wonderful chemistry with each other that you almost believe they’ve been lifelong friends. It’s rare to see such a friendship on screen without having two of them fight over something like being in love with the same boy. Instead, it is about those bonds and being comfortable with each other without compromising personalities or aspects of themselves.
Though there are some flaws to it, too much fanfic being one of them and not enough Waddingham being the other, Hocus Pocus 2 is undeniably a feel-good Halloween flick that everyone, fans, and non-fans, can enjoy. It may even get the latter to watch the original. But one thing is for sure, it’s a sequel that should have come sooner, and hopefully, the demand for another is just as strong, if not stronger, because after watching Hocus Pocus 2, there definitely should be a Hocus Pocus 3.