The Witch is Back: HOCUS POCUS 2 review 🌘
Our three favorite witches are back in Hocus Pocus 2 as they try once again to beat the sunrise (and a group of meddling teens) to attain immortality.
Like every other 90s kid, I grew up watching Kenny Ortega’s 1993 fantasy comedy Hocus Pocus every Halloween season. My sister and I would buy the Pillsbury precut spooky-themed sugar cookies (the lil ghost was my favorite), light up a fire, and settle in on the couch every year well into adulthood. I’d hazard a guess that we’ve seen the Sanderson Sisters resurrected in modern-day Salem more than I’ve seen any other movie. There’s real magic (pun intended) captured in the movie. It’s like capturing lightning in a bottle. A perfect spooky-not-scary tone, both intentionally and unintentionally hilarious lines, outlandish running gags, and three iconic performances from Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker came together to make the perfect Halloween classic. To say Hocus Pocus 2 had a lot to live up to is an understatement. However, director Anne Fletcher and screenwriter Jen D’Angelo not only delivered a worthy sequel to the original. They also perfected the 90s nostalgia sequel.
More often than not, sequels to 90s IP that we have nostalgia for fail—Space Jam: A New Legacy, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Independence Day: Resurgence (they just love a subtitle). There are two reasons. First, because they try to mimic the original—whether out of reverence or an unsubtle attempt at leveraging our nostalgia for money—yet often misunderstand what we loved about it. Second, they try to one-up the original, again resulting in a misinterpretation of what made it good in the first place. Hocus Pocus 2, on the other hand, doesn’t ape the original. It doesn’t try to outdo it either. It completely understands the tongue-in-cheek tone and weaponizes it in an updated way without feeling like a grab for relevancy.
At the same time, it expands the lore of the first movie as it opens with more backstory for our three favorite witches—Winnie (Midler), Mary (Najimy), and Sarah (Parker). We learn that from their youth they have been outcasts, albeit aimless. That is until Mother Witch (Hannah Waddington) gives them the famous booooOOOOOk that gives them their powers—while also warning them against using a magica maxima spell to become all-powerful. In the present day, we meet our own rambunctious group of outcasts, Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), and their recently estranged friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham). However, unlike Max in the original film, Becca and Izzy are ostracized for being into the occult.
Well, maybe the other students—including Cassie’s boyfriend Mike (Froy Guttierez)—are onto something.
That’s because while performing a ritual for Becca’s birthday on sacred ground with a candle they’re gifted from Gilbert, owner of the Olde Salem Magic Shoppe in the Sandersons’ home, they accidentally resurrect the sisters… again. This time, though, they enter with a musical number. Like “I Put A Spell on You” from the original, they sing a version of Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back” reworked as “The Witch is Back.” As Becca and Izzy are hiding watching the witches sing their song they wonder, “who are they performing for?” That question is answered when Mary suddenly appears beside them and says, “you!” In an attempt to save themselves from the sisters, the girls convince them they are actually 40, witches, and can help them get the souls of children.
Of course, hijinks ensue. In what is easily my favorite scene of the movie and an instant classic, the Sanderson sisters take on all of our nemesis: a Walgreens. Just like the “black river” in the original, Winnie hilariously takes on the automatic door—”the gates parted for her,” she snarls in amazement when Becca walks through—before our young heroines convince the sisters that the beauty products have the souls of children in them to keep them youthful. As they start to eat the product, Sarah delivers my favorite line of the entire movie, “retinol, what a charming name for a child.” And while a lesser movie would try to hit the original’s jokes beat for beat, Hocus Pocus 2 creates its own gags and jokes—including lines I’m going to quote forever.
However, what this also did is immediately signal to us that this isn’t going to just be a retread of the original’s plot. There’s added complexity including a revenge storyline involving the town’s mayor (Tony Hale), a coming-of-witch plot with Becca, and a reintroduction to our old friend Billy (Doug Jones). While the plot of the original was relatively simple, Hocus Pocus 2 expands the parameter of the world in new ways while maintaining its campy tone.
That’s not to say there aren’t references back to the original like an onstage performance by the trio—complete with drag queen versions of them played by Kahmora Hall, Ginger Minj, and Kornbred—a trap set up by our teenage heroines, and the sisters’ unconventional broom choices (did Roomba have a sponsorship?). However, the movie doesn’t rely on them to keep the movie interesting. It forges its own way while allowing Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker to have fun and live in these roles that have been so iconic in their careers.
Hocus Pocus 2 is nostalgia done right because it doesn’t rely on our nostalgia to keep it afloat. Instead, it casts its own set of spells to bewitch us in the same way it did 30 years ago. Watching this movie with my sister decades older in her home in New York City (but still with the cookies) just felt right. Like it fits in with the same routine we’ve been doing for years. I already can’t imagine a Halloween without it. Call me a sap, but this was the sequel my inner child didn’t know it needed—but maybe it’s just really just a bunch of hocus pocus.
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