There are very few sequels that live up to – or surpass – their predecessors. Godfather Part II. Aliens. Terminator 2. Toy Story 2.
And now we can add Hocus Pocus 2 to the list.
I’m being slightly facetious here. He compared Hocus Pocus to the Godfather?!?! Bring on the hate clicks!!! (Hey, editors! Make sure you put that in the SEO field!)
I should clarify by saying that I was never much of a fan of the original Hocus Pocus, so it’s not like there was a high bar to clear. It’s like saying that a Five Guys burger is better than a McDouble, not that a Five Guys burger is better than a steak from Peter Luger.
Despite starring Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker as the witchy Sanderson Sisters, all actresses I like a lot, I could never get into the first movie. The tone whipsawed around too much for my liking. Were the witches supposed to be evil or campy? It depended on the scene. There was a weird obsession with teen virginity, like an American Pie level obsession, that did not fit into a G rated Disney film. (“A virgin has to light the black flame candle? That’s you, dude! You’re so lame! Haw haw haw!”) And the plot, where the Sandersons had to murder all the children in town to brew their potion, seemed a little heavy for a Disney comedy. (Yes, I know. Disney murders parents gleefully in every animated film, but mass murder of grade schoolers is a little different.)
This time around, the film knows exactly the tone it’s going for. Camp, with some mild spookiness thrown in. And it nails it.
This time, the Sandersons are unwittingly brought back by a pair of teen girls. Becca (Whitney Peak) has her sixteenth birthday, and she and her bestie Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) are doing their annual birthday ritual in the woods outside of Salem. Gilbert (Sam Richardson), the friendly owner of the local magic shop, gives them a candle to light. He doesn’t tell them that it’s the magical black flame candle that will bring the witches back. So when Becca lights the candle in the woods on Halloween during a full moon, the witches reappear. And then sing!
Thankfully, the whole “only a virgin can light the candle” business is barely acknowledged. (A sixteen year old in a Disney movie? OF COURSE she is, why would you think otherwise, you weirdo?) All the better to get into the hijinx quicker. And the spell they want to cast no longer needs the souls of children. No, just the blood of an enemy, and conveniently the town mayor (Tony Hale) is a descendant of the Reverend who exiled the Sandersons 300+ years ago.
It’s all played much more light and campy this time around, and all for the better. More jokes land here. There’s a running gag about a Roomba that pays off in a big way. Plus several jokes made me laugh out loud, like a bit where Winnifred tells her sisters to spread out and Sarah spreads her arms and legs until she slowly slumps to the floor.
Everyone involved seems to be having a great time. The songs are fun, the new characters are engaging, it’s snappy and well paced. Plus Hannah Waddingham shows up to play the Mother Witch, and how can you say no to that?
Is this destined to be a Halloween classic? Well, I would never have predicted that the first one would have a devoted cult following, so I couldn’t begin to guess. But will you have a fun time watching this with a big bowl of fun-sized candy bars and a mug of hot chocolate? Absolutely.