‘Hocus Pocus 2’ Casts A New Spell: Review

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Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)

Just in time for Halloween, Hocus Pocus 2 sees the return of the Sanderson Sisters, ready to wreak havoc and become all-powerful, but can it live up to the original?  

★★★★

Long-awaited sequels can be fickle creatures, precarious even in their conception: what will the new story be; how will it link to the first film; will any of the cast want to do it again? And when it does arrive, the question waiting to be answered is will it be any good? Thankfully, Hocus Pocus 2, Disney’s follow-up to the 1993 Halloween classic has pretty good answers to all these questions.

Yes, 29 years after the original, Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) Sanderson return again. Another Halloween, another Black Flame Candle, and another virgin. This time it is 16-year-old Becca (Whitney Peak) and her friend Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) who raise the witches from the dead. Sure, they might’ve been casting their own spell as part of a birthday ritual, but bringing back the all-singing all-dancing witches was a bump in the road.

As appears to be common with modern sequels, HP2 goes deeper into the in-universe lore. Passing comments from the originals are explained, everything is given a reason. And starting with a flashback is a stellar way to do this. With perfectly cast young actors, we see the Sanderson sisters on Winnie’s 16th birthday, when they received Book (sorry, “Boooooook!”) from the mysterious yet alluring Mother Witch (Hannah Waddingham). While the flashback provides a solid foundation for the plot, the mention of a powerful spell the Chekov’s gun, the film does not dwell on filling in gaps.

The sequel doesn’t right any wrongs of the original, but being 2022, HP2 has caught up in terms of diversity and representation. The trios are foils of each other: all white versus diverse, evil versus good, familial sisters versus ‘chosen’ sisters. There is no tokenism or a feeling of forced wokeness in the casting; the film is simply moving with the times and our cinematic expectations.

Following the trend of recent Disney films, HP2 lacks any romantic subplot. Whereas HP1 had the teenage crushing of Max and Alison, HP2 stays focused on the magic, a more platonic sisterly love theme running through the film, and the mission to not die at the hands of evil witches. With a cast of mainly females, it would’ve been easy to squeeze in a hetero-compulsive storyline, a crush or a relationship appear from nowhere and have little bearing on the story. But thankfully not. The closest we get is Cassie’s boyfriend — a light and entertaining comedic performance by Froy Gutierrez, but ultimately forgettable.

And what of the plot itself? Would the sisters simply return to their original mission? All the ingredients are there, but director Anne Fletcher manages to craft a slightly different recipe. The witches have their goal, a specific spell to cast before sunrise, but complications are different and the stakes are raised. Sure, the end result might be similar to the original, but the journey there has new twists. Without giving too many spoilers away, the theme of sisterhood heightens and deepens the relationship between the witches to — would you believe — devastating results.

Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)
Hocus Pocus 2 (2022), Courtesy of Disney.

Sometimes it can be a challenge to hit the right balance between “this sequel is an homage to the original” and “this sequel is the same as the original, but the characters now have iPhones.” HP2 waivers ever so slightly towards the carbon-copy-of-the-original, but manages to readjust, balancing those scales. There are call backs to the original film without it being reliant on them: Sarah’s “amok amok amok,” the sisters fumbling around modern life, and Mary’s choice of flying tool — watching her navigate flying roombas. Genius.

But each call back and easter egg is made relevant, a new dose of comedy injected into it. Just as Dani, Max and Alison trick the sisters into believing their car headlights are the sun, Izzy and Becca trick them into eating, spraying and applying all manner of modern beauty products — who needs to make your own batch of life potion when you can buy it half off?

And of course, the plot, the references and the musical numbers (we’re spoiled with two this time round) are nothing without the cast. In an interview with ABC news, Midler, Parker and Najimy all agree that their costumes must be bewitched, for as soon as they put them on, they became the sisters again. All three actresses give stellar performances, really working those comedic muscles. The one-liners are delivered with such accuracy, hitting the mark like a well-placed tickle, especially by Midler, the creatrix of infamous phrases from the original (‘what a glorious morning, makes me sick’) and the sequel (‘my eyes are misted over with the tears of a lifetime of failure’).

 Unlike the first film, the unsuspecting emotional shift towards the end, pushes the actresses: will their dramatic performances be as digestible to young audiences as their comedic ones? From tears of laughter to tears of loss, the cast tell you exactly what to feel and how to feel it. (A parenthetical shoutout to Hannah Waddingham’s portrayal of the Mother Witch. Any other additions to the Hocus Pocus universe must include her!)

The Verdict

Hocus Pocus 2 refuses to dwell in the shadow of its predecessor, but shares the same light: a light of cinematic comedic campiness that emanates from the script, the cast and the plot. Fletcher prevents the film from falling into any sequel pitfalls, but creates a story of well-timed hilarity and well-placed drama. From teens dressed up as the sisters to a couple watching the first film, Hocus Pocus 2 is scattered with quasi-meta comments on Hocus Pocus’ cult-like popularity — a popularity that has defied box office stats and endured for 30 years. Musical numbers, a combination of innuendo and slapstick, and Halloween vibes galore, the sequel has brought Hocus Pocus another 30 years of fan dedication. Now, that’s magic.

Words by James Reynolds


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