We just realized over here at 3rd World Geeks that we never really do anything special for Halloween. I guess that’s mainly because, in the Philippines, it’s not that big of a deal as it is in Western territories. As my colleague of the site put it so many years ago, we’re much too eager to celebrate Christmas to pour too much attention to Halloween. But, as Halloween is a big part of the geeky community, we decided that’s going to change as, starting this year, each entry of October’s I’ll Review Anything will feature a horror or spooky themed item up for review.
And we’re starting our Halloween reviews for this year with a film that’s almost three decades in the making: the Disney+ exclusive, Hocus Pocus 2.
By the way, even though the film has been out on Disney+ for around a week now, this is still going to be a SPOILER FREE review. Maybe you’re a big fan of the original film and you’re unsure if you should watch Hocus Pocus 2 because it might ruin your childhood. Maybe you’re like me who’s in the Philippines who doesn’t have legitimate access to Disney+ as of yet because they haven’t made it available in your location. Maybe you’re waiting to watch it in Halloween itself. Whatever the reason, I’m going to make this review SPOILER FREE just in case you haven’t seen it yet.
Anyway, Hocus Pocus 2 takes place almost three entire decades after the first film. Once again, a bunch of teenagers release the Sanderson Sisters in Salem during Halloween. However, this time around, the Sanderson Sisters are not content with just retaining their youth and not dying when the sun comes out. This time, they need to gather the components for a spell that will grant them ultimate power. And, like with the first movie, it’s up to the kids to find a way to stop them.
I will say I was cautiously optimistic regarding Hocus Pocus 2. I’m not a die hard fan of the original film but I remember liking it just the same. I was afraid Disney was just dipping into the well of nostalgia to try and capitalize on good memories instead of actually making a good movie. Well, I’m happy to report that Hocus Pocus 2 is, while not exactly a triumph, it’s still an incredibly entertaining movie but it doesn’t come close to what made the original film a cult classic.
Easily the best thing about Hocus Pocus 2 are the Sanderson Sisters. Like with the original, they’re played by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker as Winnie, Mary and Sarah Sanderson, respectively. You can clearly see the three of them just having a ball playing the Sanderson Sisters and it does show on screen. The chemistry they have between them is still infectiously energetic and fun, even though you can clearly see they’ve lost a little pep in their steps. After all, it has been almost three decades since the first movie. And while they’re supposed to be playing witches with the power to be immortal, the actresses aren’t. Still, it’s the interactions between them that really is the most entertaining part of Hocus Pocus 2.
Like with the original, a good chunk of the humor deals with the Sanderson Sisters getting acquainted with the modern world. The situations they get in are rather hit or miss but even the ones that do miss never made me groan or cringe. A lot of the jokes are kind of obvious but I will say Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker still makes a stale joke work because of how they react to the situations. I will say, however, this time around, the film is much more concentrated on Bette Midler’s Winnie Sanderson and this makes Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker’s Mary and Sarah feel more like hangers on rather than a functional part of the Sanderson Sisters coven as they don’t really do anything magical for the majority of the film’s 103-minute runtime. The two are there mostly as additional comic relief but don’t really get to do much in the grand scheme of things, which is disappointing as, in the original film, they did have some powers and abilities.
While the above trio are extremely entertaining to watch, the rest of the cast aren’t. It’s not that they’re bad or anything. It’s just that the script and dialogue is, well, kind of bad. This is especially true for the teenage leads as, whenever they’re on, I just wish they would switch to the antics of the Sanderson Sisters. I was generally okay with Sam Richardson as Gilbert, the proprietor of a magic shop, and a returning Doug Jones as the reanimated corpse of Billy Butcherson, as they do give energetic performances that kind of make the lame script work in a kiddie sort of way. The only real exceptions regarding this would be, ironically, the kids who played the young version of the Sanderson Sisters as well as the Mother Witch. The actors who portrayed the young Sanderson Sisters did a fantastic job of imitating the mannerisms of the more veteran actresses while Mother Witch just seemed to exude charisma, making her a blast to watch. Too bad they’re only in the movie for a short time at the start.
Speaking of kiddie entertainment, I do wish Hocus Pocus 2 had a little more bite to the overall tone. The first one was weirdly dark at times as there were scenes where a kid dies, witches get hanged and even some sexual innuendo here and there. Heck, when was the last time you watched a Disney movie that would regularly make fun of a teenage boy for being a virgin? The original Hocus Pocus did! Hocus Pocus 2 does reference the entire virgin situation but it’s quickly brushed aside and a lot of the more “adult” humor is replaced by more generic Disney kid-friendly jokes. It’s not necessarily bad but, if they really wanted to make the sequel more like the original, they should have also tried to imitate the more raunchy tone.
I also do feel that Hocus Pocus 2 had quite a bit of unnecessary padding. There are a couple of plot threads that felt totally unnecessary. Things like the teens having a misunderstanding with one of their friends or the entire sequence with the mayor. These things didn’t add anything to the overall story they could’ve been written out quite easily. What makes these bits of wasting time is how they could’ve used it to show more of the Sanderson Sisters being fishes out of water while exploring the town.
The weird thing is, despite all of the padding and extra story bits, Hocus Pocus 2 generally follows the structure of the original film. It’s not exactly an exact copy as there are variations here and there. But it does follow the major story beats. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as you do get all of the fun stuff from the original film, like the fish out of water moments with the Sanderson Sisters and a couple of big musical numbers. Still, fans of the first film might be wondering why they’re watching this when they can just see the original. At the same time, however, fans of the first Hocus Pocus will love the callbacks the second movie does. This does hint that the makers of the sequel to adore the original.
I guess the big questions is if Hocus Pocus 2 was necessary? In the grand scheme of things, not really. The first movie was a financial flop but slowly gained a cult following as the years went by, which is the only reason why there’s even a Hocus Pocus 2. I still think that, while Disney didn’t need to pump out a sequel, Hocus Pocus 2 is still a fun watch in general. It doesn’t come close to capturing the magic that made the first movie a cult classic. But Hocus Pocus 2, thanks to the chemistry of Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker, is still a wholly enjoyable film. It’s not necessarily a must-watch and I’m not sure it will be placed in anyone’s Halloween rotation in the future. But it’s still worth a look if you want some good but sanitized laughs.
Have you seen Hocus Pocus 2? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!