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Review: The Sanderson Sisters can still put a spell on you in ‘Hocus Pocus 2’

by Attractions Magazine Staff

When “Hocus Pocus 2” is released on Disney+ this September 30th, it’ll have been 29 years, two months, and 14 days (right down to the day) since the first time The Sanderson Sisters appeared on the big screen with the release of “Hocus Pocus.” Although it may not have been apparent during its initial release, “Hocus Pocus” has become a Halloween tradition and treasure for so many people during the spooky season. And like so many films these days, the mix of fan demand and nostalgia made this the right time for the Sanderson Sisters to return. This time on the small screen.

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I’ll preface this by saying I am a die-hard fan of the original “Hocus Pocus” movie, so it’s impossible for me to give a review without making comparisons to the original. Luckily for you, if you’ve never seen “Hocus Pocus,” that is also available to stream on Disney+.

In “Hocus Pocus 2,” it’s been 29 years since anyone lit the Black Flame Candle and resurrected the seventheenth century sisters, and they’re looking for revenge. Now it’s up to three high-school students to stop the ravenous witches from wreaking a new kind of havoc on Salem before dawn on All Hallow’s Eve.

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(L-R): Belissa Escobedo as Izzy and Whitney Peak as Becca in Disney’s live-action “Hocus Pocus 2”
Photo by Matt Kennedy. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

So much of what I love about “Hocus Pocus” are the visuals in the film. In “Hocus Pocus 2” they did a nice job recapturing the feeling of Salem, Massachusetts even though none of the sequel was shot there. The same can’t be said for the flying sequences, of which there are fewer. The flying sequences in the original felt like balletic choreography while in the sequel it was more like computer animation. The way these kinds of effects are done now versus 29 years ago is quite different, so this wasn’t an unexpected change. But it didn’t make the impression one might have hoped for.

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(L-R): Taylor Henderson as a young Winifred Sanderson, Juju Journey Brener as a young Sarah Sanderson, and Nina Kitchen as a young Mary Sanderson in “Hocus Pocus 2”
Photo by Matt Kennedy. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When we first see the Sanderson Sisters in their adult form in “Hocus Pocus 2,” an interesting choice was made. It’s actually a flashback scene from the original movie. For the most part, I was fine with using flashbacks to remind viewers of original story points. But the first appearance of the Sanderson Sisters has always felt like one of those moments in live theatre where the star walks on stage and the audience stops the show to applaud. That’s the sort of entrance I would expect for the return of Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy to these iconic roles. I was disappointed that they weren’t given that moment of reveal.

kathy najimy, bette midler, sarah jessica parker
Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson in Disney’s live-action “Hocus Pocus 2”
Photo by Matt Kennedy. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

One of the first moments people visualize when they hear “Hocus Pocus” is the iconic “I Put a Spell on You” musical number from the first film. In the original, the musical number was unexpected and became iconic. In “Hocus Pocus 2,” we get a musical number parodying one of Elton John’s classics titled “The Witches are Back” immediately upon the Black Flame Candle being lit and the witches reappearing. Although it’s a cute number, it felt a bit forced. I didn’t really get why they would break into song in that moment, whereas the later performance of Blondie’s “One Way or Another” and the original’s musical number made more sense and were part of the story.

One thing that was back just as strong as the original is the chemistry between the three stars. Their comedic abilities created some laugh out loud moments. In the original film, the Sanderson Sisters need to adapt to twentieth century living. In “Hocus Pocus 2,” there are some hilarious 21st century moments as they try to understand Siri, and a particularly funny scene as they discover face creams and moisturizers in Walgreens. I’d also be remiss not to mention a lot of comedic moments provided by cast member Tony Hale in his role as the mayor.

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Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson in “Hocus Pocus 2”
Photo by Matt Kennedy. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

There is a lot of fan service in this movie. Some of it is nice, like the return of Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson. Some of it feels a bit forced. And one moment in particular is simply baffling when a couple can be seen on their couch watching the original “Hocus Pocus” movie. What universe is this? There are some moments that contradict the original film, but for the most part it is a very enjoyable movie. And the end of the film is a lot more touching than I expected.

tony hale in hocus pocus 2
Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, and Tony Hale as Mayor Traske.
Photo by Matt Kennedy. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Overall, this is a movie that fans of the original can enjoy, but probably won’t feel that it tops the original. New fans will love it and it’ll probably become a Halloween tradition for them. And it’s something the entire family can watch together all finding something to enjoy. The Sanderson Sisters still have it. Consider this movie a win for all of the fans who have been waiting for it for up to 29 years. These delightfully wicked characters can still put a spell on us after a long absence, even if it’s not as powerful a spell as the original movie.

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