[Movie Review] HOCUS POCUS 2

[Movie Review] HOCUS POCUS 2
HOCUS POCUS 2 l Disney+
I’ve long been a fan of Kenny Ortega’s Hocus Pocus and, like most fans of the film, made it a yearly Halloween viewing with friends and/or family. Tackling a beloved film is never an easy feat, especially one of this caliber. For many, it holds a special place in their heart and was also a jumping-off point for their love of Halloween and horror. Being originally from the East Coast not far from Salem, Hocus Pocus has always been a staple in my life since I first saw it as a kid. When I heard there would be a sequel, I was cautiously optimistic that they could pull something off. And now with HOCUS POCUS 2 arriving on Disney+ this Friday, fans will find out if the 29-year wait was worth it.

In HOCUS POCUS 2, it’s been 29 years since someone lit the Black Flame Candle and resurrected the 17th-century sisters, and they are looking for revenge. Now it is up to three high-school students to stop the ravenous witches from wreaking a new kind of havoc on Salem before dawn on All Hallow’s Eve.

The movie kicks off in the mid-1600s when we meet the young Sanderson sisters. After a young Winifred refuses to be married to the Reverand’s son, blaming it on her crush on Billy Butcherson, the Reverand bans Winifred and her sisters from Salem. This part of the movie is by and far the strongest portion and I would have loved to have seen it extended past their banishing. Additionally, I must give a shout-out to Taylor Henderson, who played a Young Winifred, as she absolutely slayed her role and I hope made Bette Midler proud.

Once back in the present day, we are introduced to the best friend trio, Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) and it becomes apparent that this is a fractured relationship. While Becca and Izzy take part in Wiccan rituals, Cassie’s attention is focused on her boyfriend and rising social status. When Cassie plans a Halloween house party the same day as Becca’s 16th Birthday, this results in an even bigger rift between the friends. Peak, Escobedo, and Buckingham bring a relatability to their characters that’s sincere and genuine. And, when it’s just the three of them, they really shine on screen. However, when they’re up against the likes of Midler, Parker, and Najimy, they instantly are overshadowed.

(L-R): Lilia Buckingham as Cassie, Whitney Peak as Becca, and Belissa Escobedo as Izzy

It doesn’t take long before we meet the infamous sisters whose legend is still alive and well. After being given an oddly shaped candle by Gilbert (played by the ever-so-cheerful Sam Richardson), the owner of the local magic/occult shop and self-professed biggest fan of The Sanderson Sisters, Becca and Izzy head to the forest where they light the candle for Becca’s birthday ritual. However, as the wax begins to drip, it’s revealed to be The Black Flame Candle and, within an instant, the Sanderson Sisters have returned from the dead once more. You better believe I let out a joyous squee upon seeing Winifred, Sarah, and Mary Sanderson back in the flesh!

The way that Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy stepped back into their roles with such ease and vigor you’d never think that 29 years had passed since we last saw them. We’ve all seen remakes that featured the original actor phoning it in for a paycheck. But in the case of HOCUS POCUS 2, these ladies brought everything they had to the table. Whether it be singing, scaring, or eating children, they were 100% committed to the bit. As a fan, I appreciate that. It was exciting to see how much fun they were having.

Rounding out the cast is Tony Hale who plays both the Reverand from the 1600s as well as the present-day Mayor of the town and subsequently Cassie’s dad. Hale’s performance brought me so much joy because he seemed to have a real excitement for not only the celebration of Halloween but the delicious treats that come with it. Who would have thought that a candy apple could be a breaking point for someone? Ted Lasso’s favorite Hannah Waddingham shows up as The Witch Mother. She has such a commanding presence that it made it all the weirder that she was a bit part in the film. I’m not sure if they’ll be more Hocus Pocus films after this but if so, I hope we get to see more of Waddingham.

HOCUS POCUS 2 does at times suffer under the weight of corniness and outdated jokes. Do we really need to see Najimy’s Mary cracking up about saying ‘fart’? Even the throwback one-liners from the 90s when the witches first returned to Salem after the Black Flame Candle was lit were unoriginal and stale. I do get that a lot of these references were because the 90s were the last time they were among the living but it felt forced and unnatural. And with the ending, it felt a bit too Disney-fied for my taste with what looked like magic dust. It just felt out of place to what had been happening leading up to this point.

(L-R): Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson 

Regardless, fans will be thrilled to see all the Easter Eggs that pop up throughout the film, as well as get some much-needed time with poor old sweet Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones). And if this so happens to be your first encounter with the Sanderson sisters, there’s enough pertinent info given for those viewers to have a passing understanding of what took place in the previous film.

Even with all its flaws, I found HOCUS POCUS 2 to be a light-hearted, mischief romp that’s a great companion piece to a Halloween classic. It definitely has no problem hitting those nostalgia buttons and trust me, you’ll be hard-pressed to not run amok when the trio puts a spell on you.

All images courtesy Disney.

Shannon McGrew
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