Entertainment Column: “Hocus Pocus 2” is a fun, yet generic trip down memory lane

October 30, 2022

In 1993, the film “Hocus Pocus” was released in theaters to little fanfare. The film received mixed reviews and underperformed at the box office, being largely considered a flop. It wasn’t until the following years, after the film was released on home video and aired on TV, that it began to generate a cult following. 

Since then, “Hocus Pocus” has only become more popular, being considered an essential watch-every-Halloween movie by many. Its eccentric lead characters and distinctly cozy fall atmosphere have solidified it as a titan of comfort films. 

Although the film undoubtedly has a place in pop culture today, many never expected a sequel to ever happen, let alone nearly 30 years later. Despite that, Disney announced “Hocus Pocus 2” was entering production last year. This created a lot of excitement among fans, as the announcement was a surprise to many. 

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The film was released directly to Disney+ on September 30, just in time for Halloween. Although, the decision to put it straight to streaming was perplexing to some, since the film had finally become popular enough that one would think it would be a big enough property for a theatrical release.

This is part of a continued trend, with Disney often dumping some of its biggest projects onto Disney+. The motivation behind the decision is up for debate, as sometimes it indicates Disney is not confident in the film’s ability to perform at the box office or as a tactic to get more subscribers to the service. 

The actresses who portrayed the Sanderson sisters from the original film return in the sequel although the film has a new director as well as new central characters. The film is set in modern day and sees the sisters being inadvertently resurrected once again by our protagonists. The film surprisingly resists the urge to make the witches the heroes, as they have since been transformed into cultural icons. They continue to be just as antagonistic as they were in the first film, which maintains their fun and hilarious dynamics. 

Although the film clearly has a great respect for the original, it disappointingly loses one of the 1993 film’s most important aspects. “Hocus Pocus 2” is an ugly looking movie. It loses almost all the warm, cozy and autumnal charm of the first film and swaps it out for a cold, blue and gray digital look that hardly evokes the Halloween season. While the set design may slightly make up for this, it leaves much to be desired. 

The plot of the film also tends to feel a bit tired. The film is more or less an exact repeat of the plot of the first film. The Sanderson Sisters are chasing after the kids, who accidently resurrected them, to steal their souls to keep them alive and youthful. While I hardly wanted the film’s plot to be needlessly complicated, as it thrives in its simplicity, in the 29-year span between the films, one would think there could be some slight variation. 

The new cast of highschoolers are undeniably charming, and they arguably surpass the original’s counterparts. While the two leads, Becca and Lizzy, are still distinctly “Disney Channel,” they bring a lot of camaraderie and fun to their roles. Sam Richardson also steals the show as their new mentor figure who runs the Sanderson’s old shack. Doug Jones returns as Billy Butcherson and is given a more expanded role than the original, serving up a fun performance. 

But easily the best aspect of the film is the sisters themselves. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy all return to their roles as if they had never left. Giving perfectly campy and hilariously eccentric performances that the fans have come to expect after spending years with the first film. Although the events surrounding them tend to feel dry, it’s impossible not to delight in their antagonistic but loving sisterly chemistry. 

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Nearly every aspect that one would expect in a “Hocus Pocus” sequel is present, but throughout its bloated runtime, something never quite clicks, and it begins to lose its initial nostalgia-fueled momentum. The scenarios that move the film along all feel tired and generic, being emphasized by its drab visual design, causing it to lose its charm.

While the film operates at low stakes by design, in a decade’s later sequel, audiences have grown to expect some sort of escalation. There’s plenty of nostalgic, Halloween-themed fun to be had, but by the time the credits hit, I never felt quite compelled to give the film much thought. That can feel disappointing, as the first film is maybe one of the most consistently rewatched films of all time, and I don’t see myself ever revisiting “Hocus Pocus 2.” 

Rating: 5/10

Staff reporter Zaden Dennis can be reached at [email protected] and you can find his other reviews at letterboxd.com/Zadenator.

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