"Hocus Pocus 2" stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Doug Jones, Whitney Peak, Lilia Buckingham, Belissa Escobedo, Sam Richardson, and Tony Hale. Released on Disney+ on September 30, 2022, the film has a group of high-school students battling the wicked Sanderson Sisters.
The film was directed by Anne Fletcher, who also directed films such as "Step Up", "27 Dresses", "The Proposal", and "Hot Pursuit". It is the sequel to the 1993 film "Hocus Pocus". Disney delivered some creepy movies alongside its harmless cartoons back in the day. Some may frighten young children until they peed their pants, but they tend to provide some fun into their scariness without leaping over the adult-rated zone. One of those movies was 1993's "Hocus Pocus", a fantasy comedy about three witch sisters from the guy behind "High School Musical" and "Descendants". While the critics were mixed on the film, which lost money for the studio, its annual airings on television and spike in home media sales during Halloween transformed it into a cult classic. Around three decades after the movie's release, Disney is reviving the sinister sisters for another round of spooky silliness and stealing children's souls. With how popular the film is, it seemed inevitable that Disney wanted to bring these three witches back for some extra cash. I did a classic review of the first film two years ago in time for Halloween. Despite some issues with the story and characters, I was entertained by the chemistry between the Sanderson Sisters and the movie's spooky charm. So I was both excited and worried about its follow-up on Disney+. It's got the same main actors from the original, along with some fresh blood for them to encounter. However, it's part of a long line of long-awaited sequels to their cult classics that have been hit-and-miss so far. So I was hoping this film doesn't mess up the magic that made "Hocus Pocus" a gleefully spooky treat for families to watch every Halloween night. With that said, let's return to Salem and see if this sequel can cast a spell on me and the original film's fans.
The story occurs twenty-nine years after the first film and centers on high school friends Becca (Peak) and Izzy (Escobedo). They're on the verge of preparing for Halloween in Salem and Becca's sixteenth birthday. The teenage friends visit a magic shop run by Gilbert (Richardson), who gives Becca a candle for their annual birthday ritual. Unfortunately, they discovered too late that the candle was a Black Flame Candle, resulting in them resurrecting the Sanderson sisters again. Now in the year 2022, the sisters, Winnifred (Midler), Mary (Najimy), and Sarah (Parker), continue their quest to achieve power and steal children's souls to maintain their youth. With Salem in danger again, Becca and Izzy must send the sisters back to their graves before it's too late.
Like I did with "The Invitation", I saved "Hocus Pocus 2" for when October hits because, knowing me, I prefer watching scary movies around Halloween, both light-hearted and violently dark ones. Plus, my mother also wanted to see it since she enjoyed the original as much as I did. So that's the only reason it took me this long to talk about the long-awaited sequel. Well, that and my busy schedule. So I do apologize for me being late to this wickedly glorious party.
The original "Hocus Pocus" film holds a place in people's hearts, including mine, because of how it combines its creepy tone with family-friendly shenanigans. Sure, some may say that its storytelling bogs it down, but in the end, it retains the magic spell that's as ever-lasting as the Black Flame Candle. Like the other sequels to nostalgic classics, "Hocus Pocus 2" was tasked to recapture the original's cheesy charm and spooky tone and reintroduce it to a new generation of fans with a story set in modern times. A few like "Top Gun: Maverick" pass with flying colors, while some crash hard like a drunk witch who drinks and flies despite its entertaining moments. "Hocus Pocus 2" lands in the middle, closer to the latter. It conjured the same spells that helped its predecessor captivate audiences for nearly 30 years, resulting in it being a creepily joyful trip down memory lane. Unfortunately, it also conjured some familiar spells that prevented the original from being a wicked masterpiece.
The biggest drawback of "Hocus Pocus" was the story. While it wasn't without a few enjoyable elements, including the visuals, the original film was a fundamental and silly ghost tale that would delight many kids instead of those wanting an award-winning classic. Sadly, the same can be said for the sequel, which offers the same plot as before, but it's more modern. We have the characters who accidentally summoned the Sanderson Sisters, and they need to stop them from wreaking havoc. It's simple to a fault, but it's also entertaining to watch, especially when the sisters are on screen. The film easily falls in line with the original regarding Anne Fletcher's direction for its gleeful tone. It won't win over anyone who isn't a fan of the original, but it does accomplish its task of providing a fun yet flawed modern take on the 29-year-old horror comedy classic.
Another issue that plagued the film was the characters who aren't the Sanderson Sisters. Instead of two teenagers and a little girl in the 1993 film, "Hocus Pocus 2" has three teenage girls going up against the witches. Although, like the story itself, the film still didn't fix its potion to make the main characters as memorable as the wicked antagonists. Becca is a high school student who aspires to become a witch, with her friend Izzy helping her out, while alienating herself from her former friend, Cassie Traske (Buckingham), the Mayor's (Hale) daughter. The good thing about these teens is that they're not as unbearable as I thought. Sadly, it's not enough to provide something more outside of their formulaic traits. There are also a couple of moments that would've been more believable if writer Jen D'Angelo had expanded on those elements more in her screenplay, especially Becca during the third act. Although, I will give D'Angelo credit for attempting to provide some empathy for the Sanderson Sisters.
Regardless of how the characters are treated, the cast made a noticeable effort to provide entertaining performances. But, of course, the best part of the movie regarding the cast is the sisters themselves, played by Midler, Parker, and Najimy. I'm thrilled these actresses returned to the roles that made them famous because it's hard to imagine someone else playing the iconic witches. It's like these characters were made only for the three actresses alone, and it has every right to be. Midler, Parker, and Najimy were fantastic here as they were in the original regarding their chemistry, charm, and humor. Also, Sarah Jessica Parker still cracks me up as Sarah. Whether this movie is good or not, the sisters are the only reason you should get a Disney+ subscription.
Aside from the sisters, the rest of the cast did well in carrying the movie without the show-stealing enchantresses. Whitney Peak and Belissa Escobedo were pretty decent in their roles as Becca and Izzy, respectively. Tony Hale makes another attempt at providing an entertaining performance in a family film, this time as Mayor Jefry Traske. To his credit, the actor's been keeping himself busy with these types of roles. All I can say about him is that he's a bit better here than his performance in the Clifford movie. Sam Richardson also did a solid job delivering some comical moments as Gilbert, especially when he's with Billy Butcherson, portrayed effectively by Doug Jones. The latter also reprised his role from the original.
Overall, "Hocus Pocus 2" is a wickedly entertaining sequel that's constantly bogged down by the flaws that plagued its 1993 predecessor. It has plenty of nostalgic moments that'll cast a captivating spell on the original's fans, including the diabolically fun sisters and the film's tone. Sadly, it forgot to gather some new potions to make a powerful spell in its narrative cauldron. Regarding its plot and characters, the Disney+ sequel is far from a bewitching return of one of Disney's horror-themed treasures. However, like its predecessor, it's enjoyable enough to make it another Halloween tradition for families and people who loved the original.