The only thing millennials have been waiting longer for than affordable housing is a “Hocus Pocus” sequel. The 1993 Halloween-themed Disney movie rankled critics and charmed audiences, resulting in its elevation to cult-movie status in the three decades since its debut. Now its follow-up, “Hocus Pocus 2,” has finally arrived with a straight-to-VHS — er, pardon — exclusive Disney Plus streaming premiere Friday.
The original film follows a trio of kids who work together to defeat the wickedly funny Sanderson sisters (played by Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker) after accidentally bringing them back from the dead. The witches are on a time-sensitive quest for immortality, an adventure that entails a virgin, the souls of children and a few musical numbers, of course.
The comedy was lambasted by film critics, including The Washington Post’s own Desson Howe, who called it “another future videotape disguised as a movie. In the not-too-distant future look for ‘Hocus Pocus’ in the rental-store bins, or as part of a Halloween ‘Trick or Treat’ package.”
But critical disgust did nothing to stop the intense love that children developed for the slightly scary movie. Though it didn’t do particularly well in theaters or with home sales, it found a second life on television: When Disney started to air the film on its own channel, and later on ABC Family, “a generation of millennials … suddenly began associating ‘Hocus Pocus’ with Halloween, viewing it with the same reverence ’70s and ’80s kids had for ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ and the ‘Thriller’ video,” according to Vulture’s Josef Adalian.
As Midler told People magazine in a piece celebrating the movie’s 25th anniversary, “It was like an ugly duckling … a little creature that nobody thought could do anything and now it’s a swan. It’s found its wings and it’s just flown away. I think it’s fantastic.”
Midler, Najimy and Parker reprise their roles as Winifred, Mary and Sarah Sanderson in “Hocus Pocus 2,” alongside Doug Jones (who you may remember as the fish person from “The Shape of Water” or the fish person from “Hellboy”), who returns as friendly zombie Billy Butcherson.
So how does the new outing stack up to the original, without the benefit of shoddy special effects watched on well-worn tapes?
Here’s how the two do — and do not — compare.
“Hocus Pocus” centers on new kid Max (Omri Katz), his much cooler younger sister Dani (Thora Birch), his crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw) and a cursed boy-turned-cat named Thackery Binx (Sean Murray). While the audience fell in love with them nearly 30 years ago — in part because of Max’s very floppy hair — none of those characters are in the sequel.
Director Anne Fletcher told Entertainment Weekly that she tried to fit in the entire original cast, but their appearances didn’t work with the story. “People would say, ‘They could be in the background!’ and I’m like, really? You’re going to put the leads of the first movie in the background and be satisfied? You’re not going to be satisfied, you’re going to be angry,” she explained.
The new generation of Salem youths are a group of teen girls: Becca (Whitney Peak), Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo). These childhood friends don’t need much convincing that their hometown is haunted, and are also without the constant guidance of a talking cat. And though they have less floppy hair than Max, they also have significantly better witch-foiling plans.
Bad witches are out; good witches are in. Whether it be because of the more universal acceptance that the historic concept of evil women was based in sexism, or because a bunch of Disney’s target audience is on #WitchTok, the “wicked” are given a new image in “Hocus Pocus 2.”
As naive Gilbert (played by “Veep’s” Sam Richardson) says about the Sanderson sisters in this go-round: “They were ahead of their time, they were misunderstood.” And while it’s fair to say that good witchery may still not be in the cards for that particular family clan, it is found in a new generation.
Becca, Cassie and Izzy have been trying their hands at magic for years. The group is fractured at the start of the film because of a bad high school boyfriend, but their mini-coven provides the necessary positive rebrand to avoid a witch PR crisis.
The original film has the iconic cover of Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell on You,” as performed by Midler, Najimy and Parker. The sequel changes tunes, going with an upbeat performance by the trio of Blondie’s “One Way Or Another,” complete with an entranced flash mob.
While “I Put a Spell on You” is a fan-favorite, the super-creepy “Come Little Children,” sung by Parker’s Sarah to bewitch children for eating, is also a memorable performance. For fans of that, you’re in luck! We get a shortened version performed by the Mother Witch (played by “Ted Lasso’s” Hannah Waddingham).
Did Winifred actually like her sisters in “Hocus Pocus?” It would be fair to assume no: Her focus is only on revenge, her youth and snappy quips. At one point she even asks, “Why was I cursed with such idiot sisters?”
But “Hocus Pocus 2” provides more sisterly affection and less mockery. Audiences are given a glimpse into the Sandersons’ childhood and how Winifred worked to keep them together. It’s a “Cruella”-esque origin story rewrite in terms of how it gives a childhood excuse for adulthood villainy, but works to up the sibling camaraderie nonetheless.
Will you still have to explain to your child what a virgin is after watching the new movie?
To achieve their immortality in the original “Hocus Pocus,” the Sanderson sisters require a virgin to light a candle. Consequently, the film puts an aggressive emphasis on ribbing Max for his ability do so. While the sequel sweeps the issue a little more under the rug, the birds and the bees conversation still haunts Salem, and even pokes fun at the uncomfortable “what’s a virgin?” conversation many families were forced into after the first movie.
We might suggest a more informative approach than Gilbert’s, whose explanation is that a virgin is someone who has never lit a candle, but far be it from us to deprive young millennials of reliving the uncomfortable situation they put their own parents in 29 years ago while trying to watch a simple family Halloween movie. In that respect, “Hocus Pocus 2” remains quite the same.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the "Hocus Pocus" character Thackery Binx as Zachary. The article has been corrected.