Hocus Pocus 2, a decades later sequel to the 1993 movie, manages to avoid the pitfalls of many legacy sequels by not being just a thinly skinned remake. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel as, like the last film, a trio of witches cause bumbling chaos while youngsters attempt to stop them, but there are distinct enough variations. The real fun is the Three Stooges style antics of the witch trio with lots of slapstick comedy as the returning vets settle back into their roles. It isn’t exactly a sequel that was needed but it does its job competently and adds more content to the Hocus Pocus section on DisneyPlus. Which is either a good thing or an unnecessary thing. Probably both.
The Sanderson Sisters, Winnie (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy), were three witches in Salem from the 1600s who were resurrected in the 1990s and then banished again. But when two young witchcraft practising teens, Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) accidentally light a cursed magic candle the Sanderson Sisters are back and ready to party as Winnie is determined to use a forbidden spell to become the most powerful witch in the world. The man who sold the girls the candle is a magic shop owner named Gilbert (Sam Richardson), who is obsessed with the Sanderson sisters ever since witnessing their magic chaos spree in the ‘90s. The Sisters command Gilbert to dig up their old flame, Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones), who happens to be undead. Now the Sisters are obsessed with finding Salem’s mayor Traske (Tony Hale) who is a descendant of a Reverend who hassled them in the 1600s. Traske’s daughter, Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), is a former friend of the two girls but now must band together to stop the Sanderson sisters while Becca finds a reserve of power she never knew she had.
There is an attempt here to give the Sanderson sisters a sense of sympathy. Like a lot of Disney’s 21st Century remakes, the villains are not so bad after all. Thankfully, the script never makes the Sisters heroes. They’re still bad with Winne often smacking the other two girls upside the head for cheap slapstick yuks. The movie begins with the young Sanderson girls being bullied and threatened to be married off which engineers some sympathy as Winnie cannot stand to be separated from her sisters. But they aren’t all good as the girls are still plotting curses against innocent bystanders anyway. This slight lightening reaches an apex in the film’s finale when it looks like Winnie will be separated from her sisters for good. And Midler, who has been playing a broad and amusingly loud comedic villain, shows a bit of humanity and sadness as she looks positively bereft without her sisters around.
Mostly, the Sandersons are loud witch caricatures but that makes them engaging. When the Sandersons first arrive back they burst into song and the two girls are watching dumbfounded, asking why they’re singing. Midler as the lead witch channels Moe from the Three Stooges as she’s constantly berating and whacking the dumber ones. Najimy as Mary has even sillier moments like when she can’t find a broom, so she glides through the sky with two Roombas on her feet as she treats them like pets. Rather enjoyably, Parker slides back into the role of the younger, dumber Sanderson sister Sarah with ease with enthusiastically silly bits, like when Winne tells the girls to “spread out” and she literally just spreads across a hallway. The three have an engaging chemistry and, like a lot of legacy sequels, it’s a kick to see them slip back into their roles. There are a few musical numbers that are charmingly goofy and over the top.
The girls who unleash the witches aren’t exactly the most interesting as the film crams in subplots about teenage angst. Becca and Izzy are practising witchcraft in a nature-loving way which is probably a way to tone down the overriding theme that witches are monsters. Cassie used to be a part of their group but has drifted away as Buckingham is all moody. The girls reuniting is basically a way to have a good coven at the end. Escobedo’s Izzy mostly provides sidekick exposition and Peak’s Becca is a fairly standard teenage protagonist who somewhat inexplicably gets witch CGI lighting superpowers in the third act for FX spectacle.
Jones is a remarkable physical actor as he puts jerking movements into the somewhat undead Billy Butcherson’s walk. Hale and Richardson are dependable comedic actors and add fun to their small parts. Richardson’s Gilbert is a seemingly benevolent magic shop owner who becomes a unwilling lackey for the Sanderson sisters. Gilbert integrated into the backstory of the first movie very inelegantly with a few shots of him as a kid inserted into clips from the first movie instead of making him a character from that film. Hale as the friendly mayor spends most of the movie wanting to get a candy apple and also plays a mean Reverend from the 1600s with lots of high-pitched screeching.
Hocus Pocus 2 was never something that anyone was clamoring for but it’s a charming, silly return to the trio of witches. It’s loud, dumb, and campy but knows it is so that’s okay.
Hocus Pocus 2
Director: Anne Fletcher
Starring: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Sam Richardson, Doug Jones, Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo, Tony Hale and Hannah Waddingham