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‘Hocus Pocus 2’ Review: The Sanderson Sisters Are Back in Disney+’s Nostalgia-Heavy Sequel

Twenty-nine years ago, the Sanderson sisters, a gritty trio of siblings, cast a spell on Disney audiences. Or at least they tried.

kenny ortega’s Hocus Pocus It wasn’t initially met with critical or even commercial praise, but over the years the entertainingly weird Halloween movie has gained a cult following. My younger sisters and I came to the film years after its release, an accidental encounter while channel surfing. We delight in his strange and off-kilter tone. From then on, watching Winnie (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) chase little kids around Salem, Massachusetts on Halloween night became our tradition.

Hocus Pocus 2

The bottom line

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Honor the past without forging the future.

Release date: Friday, September 30 (Disney+)
To emit: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Sam Richardson, Doug Jones
Director: Anne Fletcher
Screenwriter: Jen D’Angelo (screenplay by), David Kirschner (story by, based on characters created by), Blake Harris (story by), Mick Garris (based on characters created by)

Rated PG, 1 hour 43 minutes

Hocus Pocus 2, the long-awaited sequel to Disney’s original film, lives up to its story without really knowing how to go beyond it. Directed by Anne Fletcher, the live-action comedy film bears the marks of a struggle between embracing existing fans and courting new ones. Recycled plot points, strolls down memory lane, and insightful nods to the wider fandom all come together in the kind of slick CGI package that’s typical of Disney offerings these days. The result is a fine but satisfying piece of entertainment.

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What is the most interesting of Hocus Pocus 2 (aside from its usefulness as a lesson in how nostalgia can’t be bottled and resold) is its all-star trio: Midler, Parker, and Najimy reprise their roles with the same energetic madness they did. Hocus Pocus loved. It is obvious that they are having fun.

The film begins with a flashback. Winifred Sanderson (Taylor Henderson) has just turned 16, the age at which a young woman discovers that she is a witch and, according to the colonial patriarchy, she must marry. Winnie does not know the first part and is not happy with the second. We see her break into her house where she lives with her sisters, Sarah (Juju Journey Brener) and Mary (Nina Kitchen). There are bits of the trio’s adult personalities—Winnie’s bossiness, Sarah’s meekness, and Mary’s scathing asides—that keep this flashback from feeling exclusively superficial.

Sarah and Mary try to comfort Winnie, who has been asked by the town reverend (Tony Hale) to marry someone other than her lover Billy Butcherson (Austin J. Ryan), with compliments and gifts. Before they can move forward, they find themselves on the run from Reverend Traske and the entire town of Salem. The sisters end up deep in the woods, where an encounter with a witch reveals to them that they too are magical beings. The importance of the Sanderson sister’s origin story becomes clearer later on, but it’s hard not to squint at the film’s attempt to give the trio’s cruelty a pseudo-feminist justification, as cruella did with his protagonist.

Fast-forward to today and the Sandersons, as we know from Hocus PocusThey haven’t seen each other in years. It’s Halloween again. The story of his defeat at the hands of three boys 29 years ago has been added to the town’s lore. Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) are struggling with their friendship now that Cassie has a boyfriend (Froy Gutierrez). Becca plans to have her 16th birthday party without Cassie, who accidentally discovers that she is throwing a Halloween party at the same time. The three magic-obsessed friends once enjoyed a tradition of casting spells and playing with charms in their favorite spot deep in the woods. Not so much anymore.

After a tense moment between the three of them, Becca and Izzy continue with plans of their own. They visit a local magic shop run by Gilbert (Sam Richardson), a nerdy magic enthusiast obsessed with the Sanderson sisters (for reasons I won’t mention here). He takes it upon himself to regale Salem’s youngest residents with stories about their lives. As a gift for Becca, Gilbert gives the teen an enchanted candle, except he doesn’t tell them that. When Becca and Izzy turn it on in his secret spot under the glow of the full moon, just like his predecessors in Hocus Pocusrevive the witches.

The entrance of the Sandersons, an impetuous sequence of the division of the earth, the moon going dark, the crackle of lightning and, of course, a song and a dance, relaxes Hocus Pocus 2 significantly. The film enters its condition of event. Winnie, Sarah and Mary are back, and this time they want to live forever and be the most powerful witches in the world. That last wish is new; perhaps 30 years of inactivity makes world domination, a familiar goal of movie villains, more appealing.

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To distract the sisters from feeding on their souls, Becca and Izzy take them to Walgreens where they are promised youth in the form of retinol. In one of Hocus Pocus 2The funniest parts of, the sisters feast on the skincare aisle, drinking anti-aging elixirs and nibbling on face masks. They also come across a group of fans who ask to take a selfie, introducing the centuries-old witches to the power of Instagram filters.

Midler, Parker and Najimy have an electric screen presence, their chemistry virtually unchanged in the decades between movies. His scenes are the most enjoyable of all. Hocus Pocus 2 — the moments when it feels like everyone behind and in front of the camera is under its enchanting spell. The sisters sneak and meander through Salem on Halloween night, cracking jokes and jokes about the oddities of contemporary life with their trademark sharp tongues and quick wits. They still have a thirst for evil and disdain for children, but their bite is blunted by the film’s interest in softening them up.

Outside of the Sanderson dynamic, Hocus Pocus 2 fight a little more, although not for lack of effort. There’s an endearing, goofy friendship between Gilbert and grown-up Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones) that flexes the film’s potential for originality. But the narrative of the teenage witch that the film adopts is difficult to guess, especially since after Hocus Pocus those stories were not lacking, from halloween town a sabrina (and its reboot). It’s a struggle to muster the same enthusiasm for Becca, Izzy and Cassie’s sisterly bond because their friendship doesn’t get enough screen time for us to care. Even when those girls come into focus, taking up more of the narrative, the Sanderson sisters remain the crown jewels.


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