Hocus Pocus 2: A Meta Treat for Fans, Hard to Swallow for New Audiences

(SPOILER WARNING: Get on your brooms and turn back now if you don’t want anything ruined for you!))

When the new Hocus Pocus movie came out, I resubscribed to Hulu and added Disney + with a speed that would put most trick-or-treaters to shame. I grew up watching the original on repeat with my little sister, and we would sing the song to lure children merrily (as if we weren’t the intended victims). I loved the costuming, the singing, and the amazingly well-done Thackery Binx (seriously, how did they make a talking cat look that good back then?). I had high hopes for the new movie as most people have been waiting literal decades for a sequel … but for the most part, I confess to being disappointed.

Apart from the pacing, which felt off kilter, the sound mixing or recording for the Sanderson Sisters was particularly atrocious. For most of the movie they were impossible to understand, as if the actresses decided to deliver their lines with a mouthful of candy. There were also inconsistencies with the witches that made it difficult to suspend disbelief, like their failure to understand automatic doors but willingness to break into modern songs at a moment’s notice. Altogether, the witches came across as less sly, less intelligent this time around, if a bit more evil (seriously, they chowed down on a face mask with glee when they thought it was peeled from a child’s face). In many ways, I’m sad that the movie wasn’t a prequel, especially as the actresses chosen to play the young Sandersons were cast so perfectly and fit their parts well. If they were determined to have the movie set in the present, they would have been better served focusing on the new, young witches introduced in this movie.

Some threads that seemed fairly important were dropped altogether. The blackbird that turned into a witch at the beginning of the movie seemed to pop up frequently, but we never saw the witch again. And was she “the Devil” who gave Winnie her prized spellbook, or “Mother”? Her relationship with the sisters is unclear, though the trio clearly made their home in the woods of the more experienced witch. Gilbert, the owner of the magic shop, was clearly ready to deliver the girls up to the appetites of the witches but was given a free pass far, far too easily (you can’t tell me he didn’t grow up hearing about what the witches did to children). Most irritatingly, Winnifred’s drive to destroy the descendants of Reverend Trask seemed to fall by the wayside once she arrived at the house. Though she could have gone after the father who was Trask’s exact double (and thus, should have been the primary focus of her ire), she seemed more intent on going after the daughter. Also, if Winnie needed to be truly dead with no hope of coming back in order for her spells to be broken (thus allowing Billy Butcherson to finally rest) … why was Thackery Binx able to finally die in the first movie?

For fans of the original movie, there were plenty of meta moments to have you snapping at the screen like a DiCaprio meme. At one point Winnifred flies past a home where they’re watching the first Hocus Pocus movie, and though she sees the movie she only makes a face. Some of the folks attending the large Halloween party in town are seen wearing costumes from the first movie, such as the Madonna outfit the mother from the first movie wore. And it was definitely fun to see the new alternatives to brooms the sisters were sporting in the sky. Also, there was a nod to Thackery Binx when the sisters mistook a normal black cat for him and threatened its life (kitty went unharmed, though). Getting to see Doug Jones reprise the role of Billy Butcherson was a real treat, as was seeing our dear Book once more.

So many decades on, however, part of me is probably less than satisfied with the movies because of its depiction of witches and the fact that I am one. Especially in the current political climate in the U.S. with so many freedoms being rolled back to protect fundamentalist Christian sensibilities, humor that wouldn’t have bothered me before becomes possible ammunition for someone to use against me. With the movie’s messaging about witches being so negative, are we now to believe that the three young girls will soon be conspiring to eat the faces of children and murder people for fun? Are they automatically minions of Satan with beachfront property in hell to look forward to? And if so, what will people think about me in the back of their minds when they learn I’m a witch? This movie isn’t going to create any pitchfork wielding mobs on its own, of course … but it’s not going to dispel any, either.

And yet? I found the ending of the movie to be strangely sweet. Evil, child-face-munching minions of Satan they may be, but the Sanderson Sisters truly loved one another. After all of the jabs and jokes, the sisters have always had a commitment to stay together in this life and the next. I admit to crying a good bit when I saw they stayed true to that in the end.

The first Hocus Pocus movie was released in 1993, twenty-nine years before this year’s release of Hocus Pocus 2 (which did not air in theaters and went straight to Disney +). While the reviews for this new movie are not high, especially when compared to the beloved first, it’s important to remember that (at least initially), the first movie was considered a flop, losing Disney about $16.5 million. If Disney intends to show the two movies back-to-back in future years, doubtless things will improve as families make viewing it part of their annual Halloween tradition.

[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]

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