Certain millennials of the same age (myself, perhaps and that includes me) there’s something perfectly ritualistic about drinking the 1993’s Witchcraft comedy Hocus Pocus, a film that was made, and is scheduled to be watched at halloween. It’s as connected to the holiday as going to the market for apples or being afraid of teens and the type of daily habit that occurs without thinking about it, which results in massive, unquestioning pools of love, less so in relation to what’s inside and more because of what it symbolizes. In these kinds of situations where nostalgia may overpower objectivity, the idea of adding something to the narrative is always a risk with any excitement about the latest is tempered by affection for the past.
As with many fan-favorite sequels, Hocus Pocus 2 is stuck in the middle, between different audiences, times and tones, trying to accomplish more, and in this case, accomplishing only a tiny amount. It’s structure is more like the original, and is designed to please older fans and be accessible to those who are new it’s not an impossible feat (recent revisits that included the likes of Chip n Dale and Scream have done this with ease) but it’s a challenge with all through, the broomstick barely afloat above the ground. It sometimes appears as if it’s an extensive, humor-free SNL skit rather than a genuine film, offering us the visuals we want, but without the heart, drive or even the basic necessity to make it work the film exists due to the fact that it could and not could rather than.
The local historian/gift shop owner jokingly recalls, it’s nearly 29 year from when three of the Sanderson siblings (Bette Midler Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy) last showed on the scene in Salem (why it took them so long to just wait for it to become the clean 30th anniversary is still a mystery) and, since then, their story has been rewritten and, for a few even, altered. In a poorly-written and, at times, savagely acting, cold film, we go back times when they were young and were rebuked from the community for being too different, defying the dominant male culture that was prevalent at the time, not marrying and finding comfort in the forest and the witch (a courageous Hannah Waddingham) who teaches their daughters how to live independently. While the first film started with three witches sucking life of a tiny child, this film presents them as the sexiest girl bosses (they later are referred to in later scenes as “ahead of their time” and “misunderstood”), a oddly miscalculated gentler tone (notably there isn’t a single child is killed in this film).
The Sanderson sisters weren’t as gruesome as, for instance, Roald Dahl’s witches but they were plain villains fed and renewed by breathing the energy of children However, in 27 Dresses, director Anne Fletcher’s dystopian sequel the Sanderson sisters are sanded to dust. There are of course intriguing stories of Salem’s deadly patriarchy, and how witchcraft could be a powerful force of liberation for women, but I’d suggest that the Hocus Pocus sequel might not be the most appropriate way to look at the Sanderson sisters. It’s a modern twist done with a heavy touch and it is particularly unsettling in the sweet final scene, where the tone changes into a tear-filled emotions in the midst of the strength and power of sisters leading us far away from where we started from. It brought back memories of the de-famed Mean Girls musical on Broadway in which the cruel Bully Regina George is turned into an empowering feminist (“Never be ashamed of being bossy!” she says in one sloppy humanizing scene). The jock bully in this scene is nothing more than a dope. Do you think it is a bad idea to wish for baddies to have the ability to … awful?
The witches are in competition with young people, but this time represented by their friends, that are played by Whitney Peak and Belissa Escobedo (both strong , but never Thora Birch) And, again the plot is a race to stop a plot that’s evil however, it’s an ephemeral relic of the original , with the stakes being less defined and the relationship between the teens is less engaging. The dialogue is laced with exposition, there’s strange, indulgent musical sequences (that could be an indication of some imminent Broadway musical being developed it’s a very intriguing possibility) and there’s an Walgreens sequence so overtly branding that it’s as if we’re watching the Super Bowl ad. The creators are also not sure of the rules of the universe that we’re occupying with just a snippet of actors watching original characters show on television. Therefore, in Hocus Pocus 2, Hocus Pocus exists , and it raises more than enough questions to attempt to find the answers (I tried, but I got headaches and ended my attempt).
Naturally, the trio returning are just as ferocious like ever, sticking to the story despite the screenwriter Jen D’Angelo that lacks the sparkle they’re owed. The change from a murderous threat to mild mischief gives the trio less material to get their teeth into, and the cultural clash comedy from the first is evidently less with a smaller gap in the time frame and the only attempt to discuss this is through a couple of roombas who are helpful (from Walgreens! ) that are much less entertaining than it is.
This Halloween most likely, many family members will enjoy Hocus Pocus 2 together, eagerly anticipating changing the way they watch. This year I’m sure they won’t be watching it again.
- Hocus Pocus 2 is now available on Disney+
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