Just not enough “Hocus Pocus”

“Hocus Pocus 2” adds little to nothing to story of Sanderson sisters, leaves much to be desired

Allyson Strable, Staff Writer

Nearly three decades after the initial release of the beloved family-friendly film “Hocus Pocus,” released in 1993, Disney finally released its sequel, “Hocus Pocus 2,” on Sept. 30, 2022, on Disney+. Branded as an atmospherically spooky, fantastical adventure of self-discovery, friendship, community traditions and love, the franchise has become a household name during the autumnal season. 

Reprising their roles as the maniacally eccentric and magical Sanderson Sisters, Winnie (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy) Sanderson are serving thrills and chills of unholy mischief to the small town of Salem, Massachusetts, all season long.

Illustration by Mia Eshima

The movie follows closely the plot of the original film in which three teens ignite the flame of the black candle on Halloween night, unintentionally resurrecting the sisters from the dead. 

Normally, when a film franchise changes directors between the production of movies, the audience begins to see differences in how explorative the production teams can become. Those differences only get magnified when so much time has passed between each project as seen in the “Hocus Pocus” franchise. 

The original 1993 film, directed by Kenny Ortega, starts in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1693, exactly 300 years to the day before the rest of the film takes place. The Sanderson sisters are pictured as aging adult witches who use a ‘life potion’ to take the life of a young girl named Emily Binx (Amanda Shepherd) and make themselves appear younger. The sisters then transform Emily’s brother, Thackery Binx (Sean Murray), into a black cat who, in 1993, has been rumored by the townspeople to have kept a watchful eye over Salem for the last 300 years, making sure that the sisters never return.

Then, in the present day, after the supposed death of the sisters, the rest of the movie takes place over one day – Halloween – when the skeptical main character Max Dennison (Omri Katz), his sister Dani (Thora Birch) and their friend Allison (Vinessa Shaw) light the black candle, despite Thackery’s best attempts to stop them, the resurrection of Winnie, Sarah and Mary occurs. 

While the main points of the movies are eerily similar, say, nearly identical, the similarities stop there. 

The 2022 sequel, directed by Anne Fletcher, starts with a flashback of the young Sanderson sisters living in Salem in 1653 when Winnie turns 16, but ultimately follows the journey of two best friends, Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), as they navigate the ups and downs of losing a friendship. This proves especially hard during the time of Halloween, which is around Becca’s 16th birthday and the time that the girls used to celebrate with an almost witch-like ritual every year. 

Now, Fletcher’s sequel has taken on many creative liberties that critics say bring both good and bad aspects to the movie. One of the more controversial liberties taken is the increase in special effects – no surprise there since the technological processes have significantly improved in the nearly 30-year gap between the movies. There is more to be said about the showing of the witches’ powers, the effects of spells, the CGI animals and much more. However, there is a preemptive question of whether it adds to the sequel or if it is just an excuse for the production team to spend the budget. 

Another important question being asked by movie lovers is how the films differ in pop-culture references since there is a three-decade time jump between them. Are there still some ‘90s references sprinkled in throughout the script and, if so, how does one discern the ‘90s from the 2000s or even the ‘10s references? 

After watching the film, it does seem that the Sanderson sisters are somewhat stuck in the ‘90s, seeing as they are mesmerized by the technology of the early 2000s such as smart-home devices and cleaning supplies, especially the Swiffer. Mary is even seen at one point in the movie riding on what she might call a “hoverboard” but is actually just a Roomba vacuum.

Once again, it’s a tale as old as time for Disney – creating sequels for stories that needn’t necessarily be added to once the end credits roll, but it’s all up to the minds of the viewers who ultimately decide the fate of the movies. Despite this, “Hocus Pocus 2” is a film fit for family movie night or a movie marathon of atmospheric autumn feels with nostalgic quirky characters and a classic plot.