The Witches Are Back!
The sistahs have returned. As with any Disney movie, Hocus Pocus 2 opens with the magical Cinderella’s castle, morphing into a darker, spookier theme as the screen dims and the castle darkens. We’re then taken back to 1653 Salem, where we meet the young Sanderson sisters. With strong visuals, cinematography and, of course, performances, the sequel gave both original and new fans a fun and comical broomstick ride. No, it isn’t perfect. No, it doesn’t exceed expectations. But Hocus Pocus 2 paid homage to its 1993 predecessor and it incorporated enough modern characteristics to ultimately whip up a boiling cauldron of entertainment.
High school students Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) are at odds with their friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), who has a boyfriend that likes to tease the other two about practicing witchcraft. After Becca and Izzy perform a birthday ritual in the woods, unknowingly with a real black flame candle, they unwittingly summon the Sandersons. Salem quickly falls under their spell as the witches try to get revenge on the town that drove them away in the first place.
Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy all reprised their roles as Winnifred, Sarah, and Mary Sanderson, respectively. Unfortunately, we don’t get a reunion with Omri Katz who played the lovestruck teen Max Dennison or Thora Birch, who played little sister Dani. But we’re introduced to a whole new generation of teenagers, and the young actresses – Peak and Escobedo – did not disappoint.
The film was met with some wickedly harsh criticism, but not from the pros. Many so-called fans actually bashed it as a “low budget boring sequel” and this is far from what it deserves. Sure, it’s not totally unique, but neither was the first film. It became a sleeper hit once audiences decided to give it a chance after it grew on them. This is how a cult classic is born in the first place; it’s never automatically praised.
Humor for All Ages
From the moment the favorite trio reappears, Hocus Pocus 2 becomes itself: a funny, lighthearted family film with much higher-end cinematography and filming locations. We first meet the Sandersons’ younger selves in 1600s America. Sixteen-year-old Winnie (Taylor Henderson) is exactly like her adult self. Her comical smile and witty demeanor oozes with all the sarcasm Midler put into her adult character.
Young Winnie hilariously rejects a marriage proposal (well, really an enforced law) with her witty, sarcastic demeanor. And although her and young Mary (Aiden Torres) and Sarah (Juju Journey Brener) are supposed to be evil, we can’t help but root for the teens as they run away from the Puritan townsfolk of Salem and into the charmed woods where they meet their fate.
It’s hard not to develop a soft spot for them from this moment on.
Next we have the irony-filled showtunes, starting with “The Witches Are Back”, a rendition of Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back.” The film confuses viewers for a bit with how it initially looks like an attempt at a musical, but it quickly turns itself around with a little bit of meta usage. For starters, Becca (Peak) asks Izzy (Escobedo) who the witches are singing to and Sarah abruptly gets in their faces to reply, “You!” They’re poking fun at the fourth wall now, and it’s a stroke of simple genius.
But perhaps one of the most tenacious moments is the continued “virgin” joke. We already got that back in 1993, but this is Disney. They can’t address anything in the realm of sexy; the Mouse House can only skirt around it. And this time, they did it perfectly for viewers of all ages. When a kid asks Gilbert (Sam Richardson) what a virgin is, he answers, “a person who has never…lit a candle.”
Its Diverse Cast
One main issue with the first Hocus Pocus was that it’s basically an all-white cast. The sequel, however, made sure not to make that mistake twice. Our three teenage leading ladies made up one multi-racial group rather than another all-white girl trio like the Sandersons are. Whether we want to admit it or not, our favorite coven is not diverse whatsoever, so the sequel needed much more representation.
It’s worth noting, of course, that the opening scene of the film features a whole group of mainly white citizens of Salem. However, since that was unfortunately the cast at the time, it made sense to only include that from back then in comparison to the diversity the Sandersons see 400 years later.
Nevertheless, the movie could have incorporated a little more ethnicities and backgrounds, such as the Mother Witch (Hannah Waddingham). Although the Ted Lasso star nailed the role, some have also wondered why they didn’t choose a person of color for the character, like how they made Lucinda in Ella Enchanted a Black woman.
The only glaring issue with the sequel is that they injected a little too many showtunes into it. Its predecessor only has one defining musical scene (“I Put a Spell on You”) and it’s effective because it’s random and memorable. Hocus Pocus 2, however, almost tries to be its own musical, but we all know that it’s not. Either that or they tried to turn it into the Bette-Midler-Show being that the Broadway star has a strong set of pipes.
Perhaps if they had only kept the number “One Way or Another” then the sequel wouldn’t seem as if it’s a theatrical knockoff. We understand that they’re showcasing Midler’s undeniable theatrical talent, but the scenes confuse the audience. We’re not watching a Disney musical, so why are they acting like it’s an effort to be one?
Had they kept a more organic scene with the sisters singing, it would have felt more convincing, like their onstage moment in the original film.
Hocus Pocus 2 is an adorable, witty homage to its fanbase and previous movie. We laugh at moments (especially the awkward Walgreens scene) and our hearts break when Winnie must come to terms with a personal sacrifice. The plot is not what we were expecting, but that’s the beauty of it. Disney made sure this was a totally new storyline and generation while maintaining the same buoyant nature amongst its cast.
Hocus Pocus 2 (2022) Official Disney+ Trailer