'Hocus Pocus 2' review: A sequel that can't quite reproduce the original's magic

The Sanderson sisters are back for more mayhem

'Hocus Pocus 2' is available to watch exclusively on Disney+. Photo: Disney Enterprises
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It’s difficult to say exactly what made the original Hocus Pocus so brilliant.

The allure of Halloween, angsty teenagers, Bette Midler’s outrageously entertaining performance, catchy musical numbers, quirky, dark humour, the brilliant costumes and set designs. Or maybe it was just the magic.

Whether it was these flamboyant elements coming together or something else entirely, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t love Hocus Pocus.

The 1993 original was by no means a box-office success but became a much-loved Halloween cult classic with a fan base that has diligently kept the characters alive through cosplay and October 31 viewing parties.

And since we live in the age of sequels, remakes and reboots, it’s no surprise that after much pleading from fans, the Sanderson sisters have returned to haunt audiences 29 years after they first bewitched our screens.

Hocus Pocus 2 features the return of the insanely talented Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, whose effortless, electrifying chemistry is unchanged and just as contagious nearly three decades on.

From the moment Winnie (Midler), Sarah (Parker) and Mary (Najimy) appear, we are entertained by their antics and unrepentant efforts to achieve their ultimate desires — immortality and eternal youth, through devouring little children.

They horrify the residents of Salem, cast spells, fly about on broomsticks and robot vacuum cleaners, break into dance and song and speak in a mock-Victorian dialogue. There is no doubt that the sisters make Hocus Pocus 2 an absolute delight to watch.

Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson in 'Hocus Pocus 2'. Photo: Disney Enterprises

The movie opens with the origin story of the sisters in the 17th century as children, revealing how they discovered their powers. Flash forward to present-day Salem where three teenagers — Becca (Whitney Peak) Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) — once best friends interested in witchcraft but now awkwardly navigating through their changing friendships, accidentally resurrect the Sanderson sisters when they light the famed black-flame candle on Halloween.

'Hocus Pocus 2'

Director: Anne Fletcher

Stars: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy

Rating: 3.5/5

What ensues is an adventurous and hilarious sequence of events in which the two covens fight through magic, music and Halloween mayhem.

But while wholesome and entertaining, Hocus Pocus 2 lacks the effortless, hard-to-describe magic of its predecessor.

The diverse cast of teenagers perform brilliantly, but their characters' personal stories are either lacking or left unaddressed.

The dark humour that made the original so engaging has been severely watered down, probably to better serve a more sensitive and cautious audience.

The “magic” also feels a bit flimsy. The original movie had clearer magical rules and limitations while in Hocus Pocus 2 magic doesn’t serve the plot of the story, but is used as a way for characters to get in and out of particular situations. Not a great storytelling technique.

Belissa Escobedo as Izzy, Whitney Peak as Becca, and Lilia Buckingham as Cassie. Photo: Disney Enterprises

The film reveals the origins of the Sanderson sisters and also concludes their story in a way that warms us to them. This point felt disingenuous to the authenticity of the characters.

Audiences love the Sanderson sisters for their unashamed, haphazard evilness. Why humanise them?

While the film references the original in a number of clever ways, this doesn’t mean those who didn't watch it can't see the sequel, which is probably the point.

Obvious hints were made that the mantle of magic at Salem is being passed down to a younger generation, implying there may be more movies to come. Which poses the question: does everything have to be turned into a franchise?

It would be unfair to say that Hocus Pocus 2’s shortcomings make it a bad film or that its main selling point is the fanfare around the original. Despite its marginal issues, the film is a great watch for fans of the original or a whole new generation ready to be bewitched by the Sanderson sisters.

Hocus Pocus 2 is now streaming on Disney+

Updated: October 07, 2022, 6:02 PM
'Hocus Pocus 2'

Director: Anne Fletcher

Stars: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy

Rating: 3.5/5