For the last decade, it seems like we’ve been living in a perpetual state of remakes and sequels that no one really asked for. I’m looking at you, X-Files Season 11. And the 2015 version of Fantastic Four. And Steven Spielberg’s attempt at West Side Story. All of which are just a few examples of Hollywood bringing things back from the dead that perhaps should’ve stayed dead. The studios are allegedly running out of ideas – but anyone with critical thinking skills knows that’s not the truth; the truth is that there are thousands of original ideas out there, but studios won’t give them a chance because they’d rather invest in something with which audiences are already familiar.
Which brings us to this review. It’s been nearly 30 years since Disney’s Hocus Pocus premiered in theaters. Its successor, Disney+’s straight-to-streaming Hocus Pocus 2, is the rare sequel that proves some stories are worth reviving.
The film’s plot is simple. The Black Flame Candle has been accidentally set ablaze again, 29 years after its last lighting. With it come the Sanderson Sisters (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy), back from the dead, ready to once again run amuck, amuck, amuck in modern-day Salem. Hell-bent on killing the Mayor (Tony Hale) – a descendant of the reverend who had little Winifred (Taylor Henderson) banned from Salem in the 1600s – Winifred decides casting the Magicae Maxima spell is the best way to get her revenge.
And exactly what is the Magicae Maxima spell, you ask? Simple: it will make the Sanderson Sisters all-powerful…but at a cost. It’s also the one spell they were warned not to perform by the Witch Mother (the criminally underused Hannah Waddingham, who is absolutely ethereal in this role and who also lends her spellbinding vocals to her lone scene). When the Sisters come across the Witch Mother in the forbidden forest on the fateful day of Winifred’s banning, she realizes the potential for power that Winifred holds and gives her a book of spells (lovingly referred to as “Book” throughout both films).
The Witch Mother also advises the sisters that a witch is nothing without her coven, reminding them that they’re lucky to have one another – before she disappears not in a puff of smoke, but a puff of feathers, because she’s able to transform into a raven (or is it a crow? I’m not an expert on birds).
So it’s up to Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), the girls who were bamboozled into lighting the Black Flame Candle by Gilbert (Sam Richardson), to try and stop the Sanderson Sisters from killing the Mayor. Of course, this being a small town, he’s not just the Mayor – he also happens to be their friend Cassie’s (Lilia Buckingham) dad. And while the girls aren’t on the best of terms at the moment, they can’t let their friend’s dad get murdered just because of a rift in their friendship, right? Right.
What follows is the hilarious antics of the Sanderson Sisters trying to find their way in a newly confusing modern world. Mary (Kathy Najimy) uses Roombas as a broom. Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) thinks ‘Retinol’ is the name of a child. The three have numerous encounters with people dressed as them and accidentally end up in a costume contest where they have their first – and last – meeting with drag queens. (Ginger Minj from RuPaul’s Drag Race plays one of the drag queens – which I know because they’re from Orlando, where I just spent the last decade of my life. Orlando rights!)
Hocus Pocus 2 features two musical numbers, both of which are absolutely wonderful and more than live up to the one in the original. There’s also a mind control scene that has the entire town lead the Sanderson Sisters to the Mayor, who gleefully exclaims that he’s in a flash mob. And to top all of that off, the film is perfectly cast, with no one more perfect than the Sanderson Sisters themselves. It’s like no time has passed since the last time the original trio shared a screen; their banter is top-notch and effortless. (A shout-out to Sarah Jessica Parker in particular, whose delivery of some lines had me laughing out loud at 3 AM.) Taylor Henderson, Juju Journey Brenner, and Nina Kitchen as the young Sanderson Sisters capture the likeness of their older counterparts delightfully; and Peak, Escobedo, and Buckingham ably embody what it’s like being a teenage girl in this current world.
While Richardson and Hale never share the screen (a massive L for Veep fans) they’re hilarious in their respective parts. In addition to playing the Mayor, Hale also takes on the role of The Reverend in the film’s opening scenes. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how wonderful it is to have horror icon Doug Jones return as Billy Butcherson.
And perhaps this won’t be the last we see of this universe. At the end of Hocus Pocus 2, we see that Waddingham’s Witch Mother is still alive, as her animal form has been in Salem this entire time.
Hocus Pocus 2 is the best kind of sequel: one that holds close to its heart not only the essence of the original movie, but the love the fans have for it as well. It’s no surprise, then, that this is one of the few sequels that no one asked for but that we’re far better off having than we would be without it.