Hocus Pocus 2 (2022) Review
THE WITCHES ARE BACK!
Back during the summer of 1993, Walt Disney Pictures brought the spirit of Halloween to theaters everywhere with the release of Hocus Pocus. Directed by Kenny Ortega, the film, which starred Bette Milder, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, follows the story of three youths (Max, Dani, and Allison), who inadvertently resurrects the three legendary Sanderson Sisters in modern day Salem, Massachusetts on Halloween night. During its initial release, the movie was faced with mixed thoughts, with some critics sighting Ortega’s mesh-mash of tone and of the picture as well as the summer release date for a Halloween season spirt movie. Furthering that notion was fueled by Hocus Pocus’s box office results, which only made $45.6 million against its production budget of $28 million. However, despite all that, Hocus Pocus slowly gained a cult following with viewerships, especially thanks to its cable box syndication on various family friendly TV channels as well as being approachable for even young audiences through the next generation of kids. To this date, Hocus Pocus has been considered to a Halloween classic, with a yearly interest in the Sanderson Sisters’ tomfoolery escapades of returning to the living on Halloween night. Now, twenty-nine years after its initial release, the witches are back for another go-around as Walt Disney Studios and director Anne Fletcher present the long-awaited sequel Hocus Pocus 2. Does this anticipated next chapter of the witch sister bring the same type of magic and energy of what made the first film a cult classic or is it just a shallow attempt for trying to reinvent a popular IP brand?
In present day Salem, it’s Halloween and Becca (Whitney Peak) is about to turn 16, and special birthday celebration is planned with longtime pal Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), with the girls making their way into the nearby woods to perform a special witchcraft ritual that never comes to fruition. The pair has recently had a separation fallout from former friend Cassie (Lila Buckingham), looking to continue their occult journey with help from local magic shop owner, Gilbert (Sam Richardson), who offers a special candle to Becca for her birthday celebration. However, instead of celebratory night of fun, the Gilbert’s candle produces a black flame for the young virgin, who unknowingly triggers the return of the Sanderson Sisters, with Mary (Kathy Najimy), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Winfred (Bette Milder) restored to the land of the living. Trying to make sense of their new surroundings, the witches plot to exact revenge on Mayor Jefry Traske (Tony Hale), Cassie’s father, who long ago was a Salem leader obsessed with destroying the Sandersons, newly marked for death by the siblings, who make their way across town during a Halloween festival. Now, it’s up to Becca and Izzy to prevent the Sanderson Sisters from achieving their goal and put things right before doom spells upon Salem itself.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Yes, yes…. I will agree that I am a fan of the original 1993 Hocus Pocus, especially since I grew up in the 90s. I remember I didn’t see the movie in theaters back in 1993, but I recall seeing it when it had its home media release at the beginning of the following year (my friend several houses down owned the VHS tape of it), so I watched it there. I actually really liked it. It was funny, it had a lot of memorable one-liners, and still had enjoy thrills and lighthearted mischief to make the movie quite entertained. I always loved Midler’s Winfred singing the classic Jay Hawkin’s song “I Put a Spell on You” as well as hearing Parker’s Sarah haunting song (titled “Sarah’s Theme). Plus, I felt that combined efforts of Midler, Parker, and Najimy were quite effective as each were memorable in their respective “larger-than-life” roles as the Sanderson Sisters. I can probably see why the movie wasn’t a completely success back in 1993, but I still liked Hocus Pocus and to this day I still like it. What I was more surprised at was how popular the movie had slowly become over the years, especially since there were plenty of other kid-friendly Halloween movies out there that have been release after Hocus Pocus. Perhaps it was because Disney (along with other TV channels) continuous play the movie throughout the month of October as a trademark staple for family film movie night as well as the constant release of the movie on various media platforms (i.e. DVD, Blu-Ray, and 4K Blu-Ray). As mentioned above, perhaps the accessibility of Hocus Pocus has also made the feature a cult classic for Halloween, especially since the movie itself isn’t that scary and could be watched by some younger viewers out there. Thus, regardless if you like the film or not, 1993’s Hocus Pocus continues to be a popular Halloween movie to watch, with many viewers (including myself) continuing to revisit the film and catch up with the crazy mischief shenanigans that the Sanderson Sisters get themselves into.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking about Hocus Pocus 2, a 2022 fantasy comedy film and the sequel to the 1993 film. Ever since Hocus Pocus started to gain popularity momentum, it’s always been talked, discussed, and filled with rumors of a possible sequel to the cult classic Halloween movie. Yet, nothing really materialized from Disney beyond a few snippets of such possible interests from several exces and fellow cast members. It wasn’t until September of 2019, when Disney officially announced that a Hocus Pocus sequel was greenlit, with Milder, Parker, and Najimy returning to reprise their roles as the three Sanderson Sisters, and was going to be an exclusive film release on Disney’s streaming platform…Disney+. After that, I really didn’t hear much about the project until 2022 when the film’s movie trailer was released, and that the movie was going to debut on Disney+ on September 30th, 2022. From the trailer alone, it looked quite amusing, especially seeing Winfred, Sarah, and Mary on-screen again and causing more mischief. I knew it was going to be hard to recapture that same type of energy and magic that the first film was able to achieve, but I did have high hopes for this long awaited sequel Halloween feature. So, I was interested in seeing Hocus Pocus 2. That being said, my work schedule was busy (along with getting COVID and dealing with Hurricane Ian), so I didn’t get the chance to see Hocus Pocus 2 a few weeks after its release. Now…finally…I have some free time and decide to watch the movie on a lazy afternoon and have some time to share my personal thoughts on the sequel project. And what did I think of it? Well, it was just okay. Despite having a nice kid-friendly tone, some Halloween mischief, and the returning cast members, Hocus Pocus 2 struggles to originally with its sequel by rehashing a lot of familiar beats that played out better in the 1993 film. It’s still fun and entertaining to watch, but doesn’t hold a candle to the original cult classic.
Hocus Pocus 2 is directed by Anne Fletcher, whose previous directorial works include such projects like The Proposal, The Guilt Trip, and Dumplin’. Given her familiarity with more comedic style films as well as some sentimental TV series projects (This is Us and Love, Victor), Fletcher seems like a suitable choice in approaching the sequel to a beloved cult classic Halloween movie like Hocus Pocus. In that regard, I think that Fletcher does a very admirable job in helming this project. Is it perfect? Of course, not, but I believe that she does try to capture the spirit and overall nostalgia fun of what made the 1993 film so memorable. It’s not perfect and still flawed, but one does have to admire Fletcher’s ambition for the project. By doing this, the director makes the movie have the same type of energy and kid-friendly nature in mind, with Hocus Pocus 2 still retaining accessibility for all ages to watch and view this movie without the hesitation of being too scared or too violent. Plus, Fletcher still makes the movie have a lot of cute and fun stuff for the story and characters, which makes the whole endeavor to feel lighthearted. There’s also several nods and winks to the original feature, with Fletcher staging a few Easter egg moments throughout the presentation, which (again) is quite amusing to see.
Another interesting aspect that Fletcher utilizes is help build upon the Sanderson sisters in the new movie, with an opening sequence that showcases the three witches when they were younger. Of course, this idea isn’t revolutionary, but it does help create a tighter-knit bond amongst the three of them (as characters) and does play a part in the film’s third act confrontation that reveals a slightly more depth into Winfred’s bossy nature and the love she shares for Mary and Sarah. Additionally, there is another musical number that Fletcher stages that is amusing to watch, with the Sanderson sisters singing / bewitching the townspeople while performing a cover to Blonde’s “One Way or Another”. Yet, at the same time, its kind is a “double edge” sword as it seems a bit of reused plot moment from the first film. Of course, it’s fun and entertaining to watch, but I would still prefer the original movie with the Sanderson sisters sing Jay Hawkin’s song “I Put a Spell on You”. All in all, while not sticking to the landing of what was probably originally intended, I think that Fletcher should be at least given credit for creating a fun and lighthearted follow-up sequel film to the cult classic Hocus Pocus. Yes, it’s indeed flawed, yet still carries the spirt and accessibility to its 1993 original.
As for the production and presentation, Hocus Pocus 2 certainly has a few things in its favor that make it standout. Of course, while the 1993 film was released when studios weren’t “dishing out” millions out to movies, especially ones that were geared more towards the younger audience. So, this sequel endeavor has the benefit of having a larger production value ($40 million against the original’s $28 million). Thus, regardless of what a person thinks about this movie, there is no denying the fact that the Hocus Pocus 2 (visually) looks better throughout the various background settings and style. Naturally, I didn’t expect anything grand or opulent in the movie’s presentation category, so I would say that it meets the industry standard for something that this production is going for (somewhere between a Disney Channel movie and a theatrical feature film), so it does make the most of it all. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” key players, including Nelson Coates (production design), Andrew Baseman (set decorations), and Salvador Perez Jr. (costume designs) are pretty good in the movie and put certainly hold their own. Another big asset that Hocus Pocus 2 has over its original predecessor is in the CGI effects that are utilized in the movie, with modern filmmaking technology providing a better layered of texture for those visual moments. Again, it’s nothing grand or amazing, but it definitely helps “keep up appearances” for a movie of today’s making and helps build upon the film’s story visual sequences of magic wielding and witches flying. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by John Debney, perfectly fits the representation of the movie, with the composition having all the trims and notes. This is made especially noticeable due to the fact that Debney was the composer behind the original Hocus Pocus movie, so his involvement is indeed a welcome one and the score hits every note correctly for a kid’s sounding / family oriented Halloween movie.
Unfortunately, Hocus Pocus 2, for all its charm, cuteness, and accessibility to all ages, can’t outmatch or outstep its 1993 predecessor, and has some problematic areas that draw criticism towards the feature’s undertaking / executing. Perhaps the most glaring one that many people is the story being told in the movie and how much it recycles and retools the first movie. Better yet….the movie’s story feels lackluster and half-baked. Whose the reason behind this? Well, the script was penned by Jen D’Angelo, David Kirschner, and Blake Harris, and one can easily tell the approach to Hocus Pocus 2 was to try to mimic what worked in the original movie. Yes, that does sort of work and captures the spirit and nostalgia factor of such a kid-friendly Halloween movie, but it feels more hollow. Naturally, I’m not saying that the story of the first Hocus Pocus was creatively done or anything new, but it was fun and had more of complete feeling, especially within its characters. What’s presented for the tale being told in Hocus Pocus 2 feels a little bit like the first one, but to a lesser degree. The main story thread of the trio of teenager girls in the movie feels like something ripped out of a Disney Channel movie and, while I know that Disney is the mastermind being this production, it feels quite underdeveloped, with uninteresting, generic characters (more on that below) and lacking emotion in some of the crucial moments. Even the main plot with the return of the Sanderson Sisters seems a bit too convenient and almost feels like a poor man’s recycled usage of the first plot. Heck, the movie’s script tries too much to be like the original feature, but ends up being shorthanded as it plays “fast and loose” with its own story and characters. Stuff happens rather quickly and check off the boxes quite easily for what viewers probably wanted to see in this sequel. Everything is handled with a lackadaisical effort, including character threads that aren’t fully explained or well-thought out, narrative threads are left unanswered and / or unresolved fully, and the story itself is just recycled ideas with a few minor tweaks. Heck, the Sanderson sisters aren’t really much of a threat in this new movie, with the threat being a revenge plot rather than sucking the life out of a child from the first one. Thus, all the rehashing sequences and scenarios that play out in service to fan-service comes at a price, with Hocus Pocus 2 feeling more generic DTV (direct-to-video) release than an actual proper second installment.
Even Fletcher’s direction is a little bit shaky at times. As stated, I’m sure she wanted to approach the sequel with a particular sense (and respect) for the original Halloween classic. Yet, try and she might, Fletcher struggles to find a proper footing in Hocus Pocus 2, with trying to pay homage to Ortega’s direction of the 1993 film a bit too much. There’s homage and then there’s just recycling and that’s one that comes to mind while watching this feature. As mentioned, Hocus Pocus 2 has a lot of reused scenes and plot points that are repurposed for this latest production that, while fun, come across as just lazy and unimaginative. Fletcher tries her best to handle such scenarios and puts more of a modern twist on them, yet they mostly fall flat. Heck, there are even same plot points that are “beat for beat” and, while this could’ve worked and has worked in other films this year (Top Gun: Maverick) the modern cinematics of it all never comes alive; resulting in Fletcher’s direction for the long-awaited sequel to be more unimpressive and just going through the motion of producing such a project. This makes for a very straightforward / cookie cutter endeavor that doesn’t really color outside the lines and plays everything safe. So, basically, Hocus Pocus 2 is like a cut above a Disney Channel movie and, while don’t discredit those particular endeavors (I grew up watching them), but still stands below of what the 1993 original film.
Lastly, the third act confrontation becomes quite tedious and empty. There’s a lot of build-up to it and thought it was going to be something a bit more worthwhile. Yet, what is presented definitely feels so underwhelming. It’s rather short and just simply feels like a lot was left on the cutting room floor during the final editing process. I definitely get the themes for what the script was calling for (as mentioned above), but it kind of pulls the rug underneath us (as viewers of the story) and quickly wraps up before any type of exciting conflict (magic vs. magic) could be presented. It was also a bit of headscratchers because it just resolves itself rather quickly and very suddenly; concluding on such bland note that (to me) doesn’t really work as well as intended.
The cast in Hocus Pocus 2 is a bit a mixed bag, with several recognizable actors and actresses selected for the film’s characters, with some of them reprising their roles from the first film. However, most characters are rather generic, flat, and aren’t fully fleshed out. Perhaps the ones that are the exception to this (and are probably the main reason why many people are going to watch this movie) is seeing the return of the original Sanderson sisters, with actresses Bette Milder (Beaches and The First Wives Club), Kathy Najimy (Sister Act and Rat Race), and Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex in the City and Divorce) returning to play their iconic roles as Winfred, Mary, and Sarah Sanderson. Of course, these three actresses had previous done work prior to play the characters in the first Hocus Pocus and have done many other things after the 1993 film. So, to see this trio of actress coming back to play these larger-than-life character roles once again was absolute blast to see and (more importantly) they haven’t lost their step in playing these characters. Of course, Midler’s Winfred is still the bossy leader of the trio, Najimy’s Mary still points the obvious and usually gets some type of on-going gag to play with, and Parker’s Sarah is still the dim-witted one of the group. These traits were established in the first movie and Hocus Pocus 2 embraces those idiosyncrasies with such glee and delight as well as the actresses that play them and easily slide back into those roles. There’s a little bit of new development of their characters, which shows on important the sisters are together, but there isn’t much beyond that. Perhaps the one and only exception that can be allowed in this movie (at least in my opinion), so it didn’t bother me as much….and I don’t think many viewers out there won’t mind as well. In the end, whether the movie for you or not, there’s no denying the fact that seeing Midler, Najimy, and Parker reprising the roles as the Sanderson sisters is the big highlight of the movie and quite the treat to see.
In addition to the Sanderson sisters, I do have to praise the younger iterations of the characters that are featured during the film’s opening sequences, including actresses Taylor Henderson (Earwig and the Witch), Nina Kitchen (making her debut with this movie), and Juju Journey Brener (Vanquish and Dared My Best Friend to Ruin My Life) as the younger version of Winfred, Mary, and Sarah Sanderson. All three definitely do a great job in mimicking their character’s older counterparts (and the actresses that play them) and are a delight to watch. Heck, I would’ve liked to see a whole movie surrounding them than the narrative that follows in Hocus Pocus 2. All in all, great job to these three.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is pretty much bland and underdeveloped, with the acting talent involved doing what they can with such stripped and one-dimensional characters. Perhaps this is most noticeable in the main trio of teenager girls (Becca, Izzy, and Cassie) that the movie focuses on in the narrative. For their sum parts, the acting talents of Whitney Peak (Gossip Girl and Molly’s Game), Belissa Escobedo (Blue Beetle and Don’t Look Deeper), and Lila Buckingham (Zoe Valentine and Crown Lake) are decent for this particular movie, with no one really giving bad performances or trying to overact beyond their characters. That being said, the overall feeling that I got with them was a bit flat for large portion of the movie. As mentioned above, the script doesn’t give much explanation or time to fully develop these trio of teen girls beyond their initial setup at the beginning of the feature, which makes these particular characters rather bland and generic. Becca plays an important part of the narrative, yet her character feels empty and almost hollow, while Izzy just feels like the stereotypical side-kick friend. As for Cassie, it seems like there could’ve been something more defining in her character, especially in the rift / tension between her and Becca and Izzy. It’s all just serious (and woefully) underbaked and the trio friendship between Becca, Izzy, and Cassie lacks development and never truly makes for a lasting impression. Heck, even the combined camaraderie between the original Hocus Pocus younger cast were ten times better and were character developed much better than the ones in this movie. And that’s a such a shame!
Even the some of the more supporting “seasoned” adult actors involved on this project are utterly undercooked throughout much of the feature. This includes actor Sam Richardson (Veep and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), actor Tony Hale (Veep and Toy Story 4), and actor Doug Jones (The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth) as magic shop owner Gilbert, the mayor of Salem / Cassie’s dad Jefry Traske, and the returning zombie corpse of Billy Butcherson. Basically, Richardson’s Gilbert is basically an expositional character that gives us Becca and Izzy insight into the Sanderson sisters lore (much like how Thackery Binx did in the first film), while Hale’s Traske is merely a plot device that gets introduced as a prominent character, yet is easily forgotten by the time the third act rolls around. Sadly, while it was great to see Jones reprise his Hocus Pocus role, his involvement in Hocus Pocus 2 is kind of odd. He’s not as menacing and / or memorable in this particular movie (in comparison to the 1993 film) and he becomes just another exposition dump-like character. Such a shame because they could’ve done so much more with the return of Billy Butcherson. It’s sad because all three of these acting talents have proven themselves to capable in their past role endeavors to make some type of mark on the characters they’ve played. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with their Hocus Pocus 2 characters and that’s a crying shame for making them so underdeveloped and flat.
Other minor supporting characters in the film, including actor Froy Gutierrez (Teen Wolf and Light as a Feather) as Cassie’s vapid boyfriend Mike and actress Hannah Waddingham (Ted Lasso and Game of Thrones) as Mother Witch, round out the rest of the characters in the movie. Unfortunately, much like the majority of the characters in Hocus Pocus 2, these two individuals feel underwhelming and underdeveloped in the narrative and could’ve easily been expanded upon for a better understanding of their respective characters, the characters that they interact with, and in the film’s world building nuances. Again, the potential is there for their characters, but nothing is done with them beyond their initial setup.
Lock up your children! Yes, Salem…. the Sanderson Sisters are back and looking to exact revenge for another Halloween night of mischief and shenanigans in the movie Hocus Pocus 2. Director Anne Fletcher latest film takes up the mantle of revisiting the 1993 cult classic Halloween movie and generates a spiritual sequel successor that emotes the same type of kid-friendly approach to such cartoon-esque mischief and fun for all ages. While this particular point is a welcomed sight as well as the updated visuals, several Easter Egg references, and a great returning of several talents (i.e. Milder, Najimy, and Parker), the movie itself is just a recycled rehash of the first film, lacking a strong narrative direction, lazy plot devices, underwhelming ending, and undercooked and / or bland characters. Personally, it was just mediocrely okay. It wasn’t completely disappointing as there was several key points that keep the movie afloat and watchable, but I can’t stress enough that the feature just felt lackluster because the mostly everything about it feels half-baked. And that’s just the grit of the feature because the potential for a great sequel was there, but it never comes to fruition. That being said, I did love the return of original Sanderson sisters back-in-action together and haven’t loss their step in their respective roles, but that’s pretty much the only highlight of the movie. To me, I would rather just watch the original Hocus Pocus feature than this one. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is a vague “iffy-choice” for some of the diehard fans of the original movie as well as newcomers for a friendly family movie night endeavor, while I will also give a “skip it” as it really doesn’t really generate enough entertainment to warrant a watch through for everyone else. In the end, Hocus Pocus 2 sets out what it was meant to do by reuniting the main trio of witches together for another misadventure of Halloween night shenanigans for the younger crowd, but does little to push the boundaries of just being mediocre. In short, the witches are back, but the sequel doesn’t hold a candle to its original film.
2.7 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice / Skip It)
Released On: September 30th, 2022
Reviewed On: October 31st, 2022
Hocus Pocus 2 is 96 minutes long and is rated PG for action, macabre / suggestive humor, and some language