“Come little children, I’ll take thee away into a land of enchantment…”
The words that started it all—a Disney Channel Original, a Halloween classic, a cultural cornerstone for a generation. Hocus Pocus has been a hit since it came out in 1993. You can’t make it through the Halloween season without seeing the Sanderson Sisters somewhere. For a movie that came out 29 years ago, it still has a thriving cult following.
And that following is growing. Yesterday, the long-anticipated sequel to the original premiered on Disney Plus. One of the reasons the film wasso delayed is because Disney was adamant about all the stars returning. After all, you can’t have Hocus Pocus without Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. Even Doug Jones returned to reprise his role as Billy Butcherson. (That’s lucky, because it would’ve been a deal-breaker for me.)
But even with the original cast, a sequel is a daunting prospect. How do you follow up a beloved classic after nearly three decades? How much do you balance references to the original while also establishing a new cast of characters? Is it even possible to meet the extraordinarily high standards of the fandom?
Frankly, I was terrified to start the sequel; the last thing I wanted was a cash-grab that sullied the sanctity of my favorite childhood movie. It’s a big cauldron to fill. Thankfully, Hocus Pocus 2 delivers.
The Story of Hocus Pocus 2
If you happen to be one of the few people who read Hocus Pocus: The Sequel, you can go ahead and put the book back on the shelf. Hocus Pocus 2 tells a new story completely apart from our original heroes. Honestly, the easiest way to describe the plot is: Hocus Pocus meets The Craft.
The new film follows two best friends, Becca and Izzy, as they celebrate Halloween—which also happens to be Becca’s sixteenth birthday. The two have a reputation at school for being into “weird” stuff like witchcraft. It’s a far cry from the applause Allison gets for explaining All Hallows’ Eve in the first film. (Something that gave me drastically distorted expectations for high school when I was a kid.) When one of their birthday traditions goes wrong, the Sanderson Sisters are summoned back to Salem for a second chance at immortality. The girls need to lean on each other, their childhood friend Cassie, and their knowledge of the occult to make it to sunrise.
Sure, it’s a bummer that we don’t get any peeks into Max, Allison, and Dani’s lives, but it was also a really smart move for the film. Whenever a series is revived after a considerable amount of time, there’s a certain amount of film dedicated to filling in the gaps. In Jurassic World: Dominion, we need to know what Alan and Ellie have been up to since their last adventure. Or in Top Gun: Maverick, we need to backfill the relationship between Maverick and Rooster to understand their dynamic. Even in the most recent Halloween trilogy, we need to know which movies are considered canon, which aren’t, and where are new starting point is. It’s great to reconnect with characters, but it takes up a chunk of time.
The only characters that return in Hocus Pocus 2 are the Sanderson Sisters and Billy Butcherson. We already know what they’ve been doing for the last 29 years: being dead—or undead, in Billy’s case. Cut, print, moving on. That means that the movie can focus all its exposition on establishing the new characters and getting us invested before the real mayhem starts. It’s something the sequel does really well, and it’s vital to the success of the film.
One of the best parts of Hocus Pocus is seeing the interaction between, as Max puts it, “three ancient hags against the 20th century.” Watching the Sanderson Sisters learn about buses, paved roads, sprinkler systems, and high school has all the novelty of a great science-fiction story—aliens or time travelers interacting with a new environment.
It’s no surprise, then, that the humor dominates in Hocus Pocus 2. While keeping this relatively spoiler free, the world’s changed enough between 1993 and 2022 that there’s still plenty for the Sandersons to discover. Some of my favorite jokes involved face masks, Snapchat filters, and Roombas.
The original Hocus Pocus alsohas its iconic musical number, “I Put A Spell On You.” In fact, it’s such an integral part of the film that the sequel has, not one, but two different musical numbers. One fits seamlessly into the plot, part of a bewitching spell similar to the first film but amplified for more effect. The other one was a little more cheesy, but I can let it slide for a rendition of Elton John.
And of course, there’s a decent amount of self-referential jokes—the calming circle, flying on brooms that aren’t brooms, Sarah’s “amok, amok, amok, amok…” and so on. It’s these things that make the film predictable—but not in a bad way. It’s the dependable promise of nostalgia and silliness we can expect from a good Disney movie. Having that and getting the follow through was really gratifying after all my worrying.
Okay, since I am overly nit-picky, I feel the need to air a few of my complaints.
The logic of reviving the Sanderson Sisters again was actually pretty solid. While Hocus Pocus establishes that the magic only gives the sisters until sunrise to make their potion, it never says they can’t be revived again. Should there every be another virgin who lit another black flame candle on another Halloween with another full moon, which I imagine doesn’t happen often.
The logic around what enchantments are lifted when the witches die is something that’s always irked me. In the first movie, Binx’s curse is lifted and his soul is allowed to move on because the witches are dead. On the other hand, Billy—who is also only alive because of Winnifred’s magic—gets to stroll back into his grave instead of returning to a corpse. In fact, the new film establishes that Billy’s been awake the whole 29 years between the movies. So that was a spell that certainly never ended, despite the way spells and curses seem to vanish once the caster is deceased. (But maybe I’m still a little sensitive about Binx…)
There was one other big thing for me, and that’s where self-referential humor goes a little too far. In a scene where the Sandersons search Salem for their new target, Winifred passes an apartment where a couple is watching Hocus Pocus on their TV. Granted, it’s not a scene that has the witches in it; it features the married couple dressed as Satan and “Medusa,” a cameo by actor/director duo Garry and Penny Marshall. Later, there’s even two characters who are dressed up in the same devil costume and hair curlers. It functions as a tribute to the Hollywood stars, both of whom have passed since the original Hocus Pocus. Still, the events of the first film are referenced as something that really happened in Salem. It felt odd to squeeze other parts of the movie in as fiction.
The rest of the inconsistencies can basically be explained away as “sometimes the history books get it wrong.” Just because the legend says that Winifred got her spell book directly from the Devil doesn’t make it true. (Also, I feel the need to point out that salt works as a deterrent for dark magic whether or not you have magic.) But on the whole, the film does a pretty good job of coloring within the lines of the previously established universe.
A Witch’s Coven
The original Hocus Pocus and Hocus Pocus 2 differ in two really significant ways. At its core, Hocus Pocus is plotted out like a horror movie: some well-intentioned kids mistakenly let out monsters and have to fight for their lives to fix the damage. While Hocus Pocus 2 has a similar conflict, it’s also a coming-of-age story. It’s heartwarming to watch the main characters discover themselves over the course of the film. It also made me sentimental about the kids who’ll be watching the same way I did.
That brings me to the second difference: if the original Hocus Pocus is about family, then Hocus Pocus 2 is about found family. It’s about finding the people who support you for who you are and leaning on that support to build yourself up. The power of love and friendship is an ancient trope, but it still gets me every time. After all, a witch is nothing without her coven.