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‘Hocus Pocus 2’ Review: Bette Midler Puts a Spell on Us, and It’s Totally Fine

Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy return in a satisfying enough sequel to everyone's favorite Halloween witch flick.

(L-R): Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson in HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Matt Kennedy. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“Hocus Pocus 2”

Matt Kennedy

There isn’t a lot that can go wrong when you put three fabulous character actresses onscreen together (yes, Sarah Jessica Parker was once a character actress!), but you have to give them a little something to work with. “Hocus Pocus 2” — the sequel to one of the most beloved Halloween comedies of all time — didn’t even have to be very good to get people to watch it. Anyone who grew up in the ’90s watches the original at least once in October. This year, the fun continues with a totally satisfactory sequel that brings the Sanderson sisters back to life one more time. OK, so the plot is basically the same and the jokes mere updates to the original. Why mess with a good thing when you can simply recreate it?

For those either old enough or young enough to wonder why anyone should care about “Hocus Pocus 2,” we have three names for you: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. Together this trifecta of divine divas are the Sanderson sisters of Salem, Massachusetts, and the only reason anyone cares about “Hocus Pocus.” Released in 1993, “Hocus Pocus” reportedly lost Disney around $16.5 million and earned mixed to negative reviews. Still, as ’90s children grew into adults with an appreciation for all things witchy and fabulous, the movie’s notoriety grew year after year, earning a spike in home media sales every Halloween.

Forgiving the pun, it’s an occult classic. And it was only a matter of time before “Hocus Pocus” got resurrected.

Written by Jen D’Angelo (“Solar Opposites”) and directed by Anne Fletcher (“Step Up”), “Hocus Pocus 2” hews closely to the original, perhaps a little too much. The movie opens with a fanciful flashback to the Sanderson sisters as young girls in 17th century Salem, amusingly recognizable by their false teeth, crooked mouths, and other unmistakable characteristics. Adding a predictable feminist twist to their origin story, it’s revealed that the sisters first discover their powers after Winnie refused a marriage proposal. Fleeing to the sacred forest, a lonely witch (Hannah Waddingham) gifts them her magic spell book (AKA “Boo-oook”), and warns them to always cherish each other.

Sam Richardson as Gilbert in Disney's live-action HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Sam Richardson in “Hocus Pocus 2”

Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Back in present-day Salem, some thirty odd years after the events of the first movie, a different kind of coven is fracturing under the stress of high school social dynamics. Best friends Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) are preparing their yearly Halloween ritual, but for the first time they’ll be without Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), whose new fling has distanced the group. Heading to the town magic store for supplies, they hear the story of the Sanderson sisters from shop owner Gilbert (Sam Richardson), who sums up the events of the first movie with much delight and many flourishes.

After the show, he gifts Becca a special candle for her birthday. Unbeknownst to her, it’s a black flame candle: The kind that can summon the witches from the dead if lit by a virgin on the full moon. Alone in the magic forest, Becca and Izzy summon the Sanderson sisters, who arrive in a devilish silhouette of witchy proportions. In true Midler fashion, they arrive singing an original ditty. “Who are they performing for?,” asks one of the girls, as she runs for her life. Summoned for just 24 hours, the witches are determined to stay forever, and again go in search of the spell that will grant them eternal youth.

Thinking quickly, Becca lures them into town with the promise of serums that will make them look younger. Entering the apothecary, also known as Walgreens, Mary (Najimy) notes: “It glows from within with a sickening light.” Physical comedy follows as they each contend with automatic doors, a gag reminiscent of their reaction to pavement in the original. Once at the lotion and serum aisle, they proceed to eat the products, remarking on their earthy flavors. Always with the funniest asides, Mary holds up a face mask, delighted to find “the face of a child.” As they fly off their modern makeshift broomsticks yet again, Mary has traded her vacuum for two Roombas, which she rides precariously like a hoverboard. Same bit, different prop.

The particulars of the story are secondary to getting the coven back together, but it involves another group dance number a la “I Put A Spell On You,” only this time it’s to the tune of Blondie’s “One Way Or Another.” Richardson adds some fun supplementary comedy, and he’s joined by fellow “Veep” alum Tony Hale as the fuddy duddy mayor in search of a caramel apple.

But it’s the witches’ world; everything else is just scenery to get these three back on broomsticks together. Unfortunately, their mean streaks seem to have softened over the years, and the movie relies on a manufactured sisterly bond to wrap things up. The script adds a saccharine sweetness along with its teen feminist morality play, as if it’s far too aware of sending a message. Some things, it seems, are better left buried.

Grade: B-

“Hocus Pocus 2” starts streaming on Disney+ on Friday, September 30. 

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