The long awaited sequel arrives. After 29 years, the Sanderson Sisters have returned to Salem with a vengeance. Three decades is a long time, however, and previous inhabitants have moved on; Max, Allison, Dani, and Binx are long gone. In their stead are best friends Becca, Izzy, and Cassie. Along with Doug Jones’s reprisal of everyone’s favorite zombie, the cast offers familiarity and opportunity for new friends.
Director: Anne Fletcher
Producer: Ralph Winter, Lynn Harris, David Kirschner, Adam Shankman
Writers: David Kirschner, Jen D’Angelo, Blake Harris
Cinematography: Elliot Davis
Editor: Julia Wong
Cast: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo, Lilia Buckingham
Runtime: 107 minutes
US Distributor: Disney Platform Distribution
US Release Date: September 30, 2022
Starting with the cast, of course, are the witches themselves. The chemistry between Midler, Najimy, and Parker was always what made the first Hocus Pocus a delight to watch. Beyond that, it is the onscreen magic between the trio that has elevated the series to an iconic status. Fortunately, Hocus Pocus 2 delivers the characters in all their goofy glory; their chemistry remains tight with Doug Jones complementing the three nicely. His character Billy Butcherson is given more screen time for scene-chewing antics.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Hocus Pocus 2, however, is the creative choice to deviate from its predecessor. All too often a legacy sequel loses itself in a simple rehash of the original. Fortunately, Fletcher and the creative team weave their own story. Easter eggs abound, of course, and fans will revel in the various winks and nods to Kenny Ortega’s Hocus Pocus, but the sequel manages to stand on its own.
Themes of sisterhood and female empowerment supersede ideas of villainy in Hocus Pocus 2. It’s a respectable choice, especially when comparing 2022 to 1993. The flip side, however, is losing some of the darker tones of the first. Those expecting a devil worshipping bit, or the mass murder of children, may be disappointed by a seemingly tamer film where the witches are treated as quasi-heroes. This, of course, is discordant with their onscreen behavior but 30 years of real-world public adoration demands that they posses some redeeming qualities. Hence the finale’s emphasis on sisterhood. Not that this doesn’t work, but the choice feels contradictory to any behavior displayed in either film.
Nevertheless, it is a relief to excise the term “yabos”.
Hocus Pocus 2 offers plenty of fun gags and inspirational moments. Becca, Izzy, and Cassie are interesting and could easily handle further spooky adventures in Salem; a deeper sense of their relationship was lagging, however. Midler, Parker, and Najimy are hilarious; the latter two’s presence, however, is dwarfed by Midler’s in a way different from the first. Ultimately, it all leaves fans with a mixed-bag. Sanderson groupies will enjoy but newcomers can stick with the first.
by Vincent S. Hannam