Saturday, October 8, 2022

Hocus Pocus 2

While certainly not the longest gap between sequels, twenty-nine years is still a pretty long wait for a sequel to Disney’s Hocus Pocus from 1993. At the time we finally saw the original, we found it entertaining and could see why it developed a cult following, but didn’t find it enough to go into our regular Halloween rotation. Come the release of Hocus Pocus 2 and although we were on the fence about watching it, we thought we might as well see how well the second appearance of the Sanderson sisters stacks up to the first. The good news is that it does a great job at emulating the tone and feel of the original film, but the bad news is that not everything lands.

In 2022, twenty-nine years after the events of Hocus Pocus, two teenagers in Salem, Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), plan to celebrate Halloween and Becca’s sixteenth birthday through a yearly ritual. Their estranged friend, Cassie Traske (Lilia Buckingham), invites them to a party, but they turn her down thanks to the actions of her boyfriend, Mike (Froy Gutierrez). At a local magic shop that was once the home of the Sanderson sisters, the owner, Gilbert (Sam Richardson), gives Becca and Izzy a candle to help with their ritual. Deep in the woods, Becca and Izzy light the candle, only to discover that they lit a Black Flame Candle. Thanks to the presence of the full moon and the girls’ status as virgins, the Sanderson sisters, Winnifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), are resurrected once more.

There are a few things this sequel does well, including how well it emulates the original. The Sanderson sisters still have that same chemistry after all these years and their scenes include a similar “fish out of water” humor as before, though applied to the world of 2022 instead of 1993. Although there are plenty of new characters, they’re balanced well with the familiar faces and are written organically into the story, at times also addressing questions the audience may have at the point the film answers them. While the humor may not always land, some scenes still made us laugh out loud.

Despite the introduction of the new cast, however, this sequel feels like it puts more focus on the Sanderson sisters, almost to the point that they’re the actual protagonists. The first few minutes of the film, which take place in 1653, expand on their backstory and establish certain details that are actually plot-relevant. One repeated gag involving non-standard broomsticks, rather than hinder them at a crucial moment, actually ends up helping them out of a jam this time. The Sandersons even get the most emotional scene in the entire film, which nearly brought a tear to my eye. There are also implied similarities between the Sanderson sisters and the three main girls, Becca, Izzy and Cassie, that the story actually takes advantage of for its message on friendship. While it’s clear the new girls are the main characters, the expanded focus on the Sanderson sisters is enough to warrant a mention, as some legacy series with a recurring antagonist have gradually done the same.

The Sanderson sisters feel like the real main characters at times;
L-R: Mary (Kathy Najimy), Winnifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker)

One major difference between the original and the sequel, however, is that the original feels more self-contained. As fun as the sequel can get, it doesn’t quite feel like it could stand on its own and the post-credits scene more blatantly leaves open a backdoor for a potential Hocus Pocus 3. Whether or not this potential sequel would ever come to fruition is up in the air, but it would be interesting if a future installment would continue where this one left off rather than depend on the Sanderson sisters, as at that point the series may risk feeling repetitive.

While the script may feel uneven, the visuals feel more consistent, with good camerawork and practical effects. Though there is some CG, it’s mostly pretty subtle and blends in well, while the magic is suitably more blatant without feeling too cheap. That said, there are moments where the effects get a little dodgy. The flight of the Sanderson sisters, for instance, is obviously filmed in front of a green screen and one shot of Billy Butcherson’s (Doug Jones) severed head makes it look more obviously like a prop. There’s also the very blatant product placement for Walgreens and Swiffer, the former coming off close to an extended ad for the pharmacy chain.

Thankfully, the acting is pretty on-point, with performances from everyone in the cast that fit the tone of the film without going too over-the-top. The music choices are also generally good, though the implementation of "One Way or Another (Hocus Pocus 2 Version)" felt more forced.

If you’re already a Hocus Pocus fan, there’s no doubt you’ll find something to like about Hocus Pocus 2. For everyone else, watch the original first before you decide if you want to watch this one.

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