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Hocus Pocus 2 review: that old black magic, new again

Director Kenny Ortega’s 1993 film Hocus Pocus wasn’t a hit when it was first released, but history has been kind to it, and turned it into a Halloween tradition of sorts for children of a particular generation (and their children, in many cases). And because this is a time when everything old is eventually new again — particularly if it’s gained the sort of post-release popularity Hocus Pocus has enjoyed — Disney has decided to bring the sorcerous Sanderson sisters back for another adventure in Hocus Pocus 2.

Hocus Pocus 2 conjures up original cast members Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as Winifred, Sarah, and Mary Sanderson, respectively, the trio of witches who were accidentally resurrected in the 1993 film and terrorized the town of Salem before being defeated by a group of precocious teenagers and a magical black cat. This time around, the film features Step Up and 27 Dresses director Anne Fletcher behind the camera, and follows another group of Salem teenagers who unwittingly unleash the Sanderson sisters on the town again, 29 years after the events of the original film.

Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy stand in a convenience store in a scene from Hocus Pocus 2.

Fans of the 1993 film will find plenty to like about Hocus Pocus 2, which manages to channel much of the same energy, humor, and seasonal playfulness of its predecessor.

Midler, Parker, and Najimy are nearly three decades separated from their performances in the first film, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the way they jump back into the roles in Hocus Pocus 2. The trio have an easy chemistry in both films, from the way they move, sing, and dance together, to their sisterly banter as they scheme, argue, commiserate, and celebrate. Much like the original film, the teenagers might be the story’s heroes, but the Sanderson sisters are the real stars of Hocus Pocus 2.

Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson sisters stand near Tony Hale in a scene from Hocus Pocus 2.

Hocus Pocus 2 also does a fine job of avoiding the pitfalls some sequels encounter when attempting to add a new chapter to a film released several decades earlier. Rather than trying to recreate the original film in the current time or changing the characters to make them a better fit for a modern story, Hocus Pocus 2 leans into the time-displaced nature of the Sanderson sisters’ return and how things have changed since their last adventure in the modern world. From the popularity of robot vacuums (as opposed to brooms) to the conveniences we take for granted now that would seem like entirely new magic to the Sandersons, Hocus Pocus 2 and its screenwriter, Jen D’Angelo, find some clever ways to make the elapsed time between the two films part of the story.

And again, like the original film that featured some capable performances from its younger cast members — which included Emmy  and BAFTA nominee Thora Birch, among others — Hocus Pocus 2 also casts some capable young actors as its teenage heroes.

Belissa Escobedo, Whitney Peak, and Lilia Buckingham walk near a high school in a scene from Hocus Pocus 2.

Gossip Girl actress Whitney Peak portrays Becca, who accidentally resurrects the Sanderson sisters in the film, and carries her role in the family-friendly adventure well, with just the sort of earnestness that Disney films of this sort demand. She’s joined by Lilia Buckingham and Belissa Escobedo as Becca’s best friends, Cassie and Izzy, respectively, along with Froy Gutierrez as Cassie’s dim-witted boyfriend. All four actors are fun to watch, and keep the story rolling along — and funny — when the Sanderson sisters are off-screen.

The film also brings in — and brings back — some familiar faces in entertaining roles, with legendary actor Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) reprising the role of undead Billy Butcherson, and phenomenal Ted Lasso actress Hannah Waddingham portraying a key figure in the Sanderson sisters’ early years. Along with Tony Hale (Arrested Development) as the mayor of Salem, all three actors add even more entertainment value to a fun film.

Doug Jones as the zombified Billy Butcherson opens a door in a scene from Hocus Pocus 2.

While it remains to be seen if Hocus Pocus 2 can conjure up the same sort of cult appeal as the original film, the sequel certainly doesn’t do anything to tarnish the legacy of the Sandersons sisters’ debut. Those who consider Hocus Pocus a Halloween staple are likely to find themselves embracing this new, two-film saga with the Sandersons going forward, as the trio’s return gives audiences even more of a good thing.

Disney’s Hocus Pocus 2 premieres September 30 on Disney+ streaming service. 

Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)
Hocus Pocus 2
Genre Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Horror
Stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy
Directed by Anne Fletcher

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