'Hocus Pocus 2' is great when it stays true to the 1993 movie – The Arizona Republic

The Sanderson sisters are back, and the Salem witches are up to their old hijinks nearly 30 years later.
The new Disney+ movie “Hocus Pocus 2” revisits the 1993 Disney film, in which three 17th century witches are unwittingly resurrected by a teenage boy and spend a Halloween night seeking a child’s soul to consume to stay among the living.  
As it turns out, there were a couple of loose ends after Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah Sanderson (Sarah Jessica Parker) were seemingly defeated 29 years ago. The famous sisters are resurrected in 2022 and intent on getting revenge on the people of Salem.
“Hocus Pocus 2” checks the boxes for an enjoyable sequel, especially one that comes decades after the original: Midler, Najimy and Parker are all back to recreate the magic of the now cult classic, and it draws heavily from the source material.
The movie delivers on nostalgia through its attention to detail and maintaining the “Hocus Pocus” campiness. However, it doesn’t have the legs to stand on its own.
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“Hocus Pocus 2” begins with some new backstory on Salem’s most famous coven, when the Sanderson sisters were teenagers in 1653. The intention is to establish an origin story, but the prologue does little to lend substance to the sisters’ obsession with youth.
Flash forward several centuries, and we meet this generation’s teenagers attending high school in Salem: Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), who are nearly 30 years removed from their predecessors who defeated the witches on Halloween night in 1993.
(If anyone needs a reminder of what happened in “Hocus Pocus,” the film generously provides flashbacks.)
But the group dynamic has been fractured due to Cassie spending the last several months hanging out with her boyfriend. So Izzy and Becca decide to perform Becca’s annual birthday ritual (which is strange but convenient) with just the two of them and an ugly candle from Gilbert’s (Sam Richardson) magic shop.
Like Max Dennison before them, the teens accidentally bring the sisters back to the land of the living — to the tune of a delightful song-and-dance number.
It’s up to the trio to put their differences aside and discover that they can accomplish so much more when they work as a team to trick the Sanderson sisters and prevent them from brewing a life potion and stealing souls.
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Jen D’Angelo’s screenplay and Anne Fletcher’s direction bring back the Halloween campiness that has audiences tuning in to Freeform’s 31 Nights of Halloween year after year.
Between the fun musical numbers with new takes on recognizable songs (the sisters’ version of “I Put a Spell on You” was a standout from the original film, and they take on Blondie’s “One Way or Another” in the sequel) and similar visual effects as those employed in 1993, “Hocus Pocus 2” is most enjoyable when it references the first movie.
The beats are similar, and that’s not a bad thing: The witches are accidentally summoned back to Earth and it’s up to a team of kids to send them back to where they came from. The Sandersons fall for the teens’ ruses time and time again, though Mary vows that “this time there will be no trickery.”
The new plotline and characters, however, are a harder sell. Peak, Escobedo and Buckingham do a fine job as the teens tasked with putting an end to the witchcraft, but their story is overshadowed by the sisters’ absurd antics. Really, we don’t end up knowing much about Becca, Izzy and Cassie.
The friends’ arc is not as compelling as Max and Dani Dennison’s sibling reconciliation in the original film; perhaps the story could have benefitted from establishing stronger ties to the 1993 characters.
Some new elements do work, including cameos by drag queens Ginger Minj, Kornbread Jeté and Kahmora Hall as well as comedic bits based on technology that has been invented since the ‘90s (watch out for the Roombas).
But “Hocus Pocus 2’s” best parts are familiar and beloved to fans of the original movie.
Midler, Najimy and Parker’s uncanny resemblance to their characters, even after several decades, is really the cherry on top of the sequel — and a testament to the hair and makeup department’s talent.
A major plus, for sure, is the number of people from “Hocus Pocus” who returned to work on the sequel. Composer John Debney again scored the film, and Doug Jones reprised his role as the zombie Billy Butcherson.
As for Binx, his soul moved on in 1993, remember? But don’t worry; there is another black cat in his absence as an ode to the talking feline.
Though “Hocus Pocus 2” wraps up Winnie, Mary and Sarah’s storyline satisfactorily, the rest of the plot is forgettable. The much anticipated sequel is a gift to the fans; however, after one viewing, they will probably continue seeking out the 1993 film (also streaming on Disney+) every Halloween.
Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★
Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★
Director: Anne Fletcher.
Rating: PG.
Note: Streaming on Disney+ starting Sept. 30.
Reach Entertainment Reporter KiMi Robinson at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @kimirobin and Instagram @ReporterKiMi.
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