'Hocus Pocus 2' review: Sanderson sisters cook up hilarious magic in delightful sequel
Courtesy of Disney
It only took 30 years, but a sequel to the cult classic “Hocus Pocus” has finally arrived and devout fans of the original will be pleased to know that it doesn’t succumb to the same trappings most long gestating follow-ups encounter. On the contrary, “Hocus Pocus 2,” which brings back Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker as the devious Sanderson sisters, boasts a certain charm and appreciation of the loyalists who have made the original outing a mainstay classic around Halloween. And while “Hocus Pocus 2” might not have as memorable a storyline, it does introduce a new squad of teenage witches who are inevitably destined to get their own Disney+ series.
In other words, “Hocus Pocus 2” checks all the boxes for what makes a sequel enjoyable and silly: it pays homage to the original while trying to carve out a new, fresh identity. Having the OG cast back in the driver's seat is a major plus and writers Jen D’Angelo, David Kirschnerand, and Blake Harris give them decent material even if it occasionally rehashes sequences audiences have already seen (like several musical dance numbers, though none are quite as good as “I’ll Put A Spell On You”). Refreshingly enough, the film opens with a soft origin story that sees Winifred, Mary and Sarah Sanderson as children in 1600s Salem before they became known as sneaky witches.
Fast forward to present day and the town still remembers the havoc they reaped upon their incidental resurrection in 1993. You’d assume the trio would have been defeated, but the infamous sisters once again find themselves brought back to life after this generations teeangers: Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), who, conveniently enough have a yearly ritual, unbeknowingly light up the black candle (given to them by a local friend and magic shop owner named Gilbert played by Sam Richardarson) and will them into existence like Max Dennison did in the nineties. Of course, the sisters burst on the screen with a tongue and cheek song-and-dance number (“The Witches Are Back”) and the nostalgic buzz of seeing Midler, Najimy, and Parker immediately washes over you. It’s as though you’re being visited by old friends.
What happens next is more of the same “Hocus Pocus” energy as the sisters devise a plan to create a magical elixir that'll grant them eternal life (a quick trip to Walgreens yields some fascinating and hilarious results). Director Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal”) comprehends the level of campiness many remember about the original as people forget that in its heyday, “Hocus Pocus” wasn’t heavily regarded as “good” and I wouldn’t even go as far today to say it’s anything spectacular, but it’s fun and comical. “Hocus Pocus 2” doesn’t deviate from that formula and why should it?
Milder, Najimy and Parker’s uncanny resemblance still holds (they all look fairly identical to how you remember) and while there’s no Binx (his soul moved on in case you forgot) there’s another adorable black cat to fill the void. Composer John Debney also returns for the sequel as does Doug Jones who reprises his role as the zombie Billy Butcherson.
If you're already dedicated to all things “Hocus Pocus,” its sequel won’t diminish that enthusiasm despite the story wrapping up on a rather unsatisfactory note. You won’t be watching this one every year, but it compliments the original, which is really the best you could hope for.
HOCUS POCUS 2 streams on Disney+ Friday, September 30th.