Halloween is upon us once more, and so is Hocus Pocus. Every year, when October rolls in, scenes and memes from the 1993 Disney movie starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as a trio of witches known as the Sanderson sisters fill the internet. And this year, we were even given a sequel on Disney+, with the three (and Doug Jones!) reprising their roles.
Hocus Pocus has become as much a part of Halloween as A Christmas Carol has become a part of, well, Christmas (I, for one, rewatch it regularly whenever October rolls around for nostalgia reasons). So powerful is the Hocus Pocus brand that Disney didn’t even bother giving its well-received sequel a subtitle—it’s just Hocus Pocus 2. Yet when the movie first came out nearly 30 years ago, its cultural status was far from certain. How did we get here?
Victor Catano and I discuss below.
So I was a kid when the original Hocus Pocus came out in 1993, and I remember it being a perennial Halloween favorite. I also remember finding the witches kind of scary because they killed a little girl in the beginning. What do you remember from its release?
Well, as a grizzled old man, I must confess that the original came out when I was in college. As such, I really don’t have the same emotional connection to it that many of your generation do. I mostly remember it getting panned by critics and not doing great at the box office.
I have much fonder memories of another film that came out in 1993 and also became a holiday classic. aka Nightmare Before Christmas. That connected to me on a much deeper level. (I think if you count up my t shirts, you’d find that after Star Wars, I have more NBC gear than any other franchise.)
The generational difference is so interesting! I guess my cohort were all in elementary school and had no concept of whatever it was the critics disliked… we just knew it was spooky Halloween fun. 30 years later, we’re all grown-ups and definitely wearing nostalgia goggles as we watch the sequel. I’ll admit, I enjoyed Hocus Pocus 2 a lot. It was campy nonsense, but that was the point… I love that it took itself even less seriously than the first one. What did you think?
Generational differences really sneak up on you, huh? I remember when I was working at a college, I’d sometimes ask the students what their favorite Halloween film was as an icebreaker. Half today them answered “Twiches,” which I had literally never heard of and I thought they were punking me. (It stars Tia and Tamera Mowery as twin witches.)
Like you said, Hocus Pocus starts off with child murder and a mass hanging. It’s tough for Monty Python to make a family comedy out of that let alone the Disney borg.
And I’m not a big fan of the original. The tone is all over the place. Is it supposed to be campy? Scary? The kids are often in mortal danger! A couple spend a long time locked in a cage!
Thinking about it critically, and as an adult, you’re totally right. But I think as adults, it’s easy to forget how absurd kids’ entertainment can be because kids see the world differently. A lot of things we find horrible don’t register to kids in the same way, especially when depicted in such a silly tone. I think the reason why Hocus Pocus had a strong cultural impact despite being critically panned is because it captures what contemporary kids (well, contemporary in the ’90s) wanted out of Halloween: something that was both spooky and fun. Scary, sure, but not horrifying.
And of course it has all the elements of the fun commercial Halloween that ’90s American kids were into… witches, black cat, zombie, dark magic…
While I found the opening of Hocus Pocus 2 a lot of fun, I did think it a little weird that the Sanderson sisters were being low-key reinvented as girlboss types. But I guess that’s not surprising when in 2022, witches have for the most part become representative of female empowerment.
I think you’re right about that. How many times have you seen that “We are the daughters of the witches you didn’t burn” meme on Facebook?
It’s telling that the original felt the need to have a teen boy as the protagonist, and the sequel just fully embraces Girl Power. The only young man in this is a doofus boyfriend. I think it’s also a sign that Disney knows where a good portion of the Hocus Pocus fan base is coming from that they literally have the Sanderson Sisters crash a drag show (And lose!).
It’s kind of incredible how much the Sanderson Sisters have bubbled into pop culture consciousness. I would not have guessed that this trio would have this much staying power back in ‘93. Some of that is attributable to kids like you growing up and watching them, some of it is Disney marketing muscle, but it’s a real thing. Real enough that Disney produced a big 25th anniversary special a couple years ago, Bette Midler did an online Hocus Pocus fundraiser special in Oct 2020, and the Sandersons are the hosts of the Villains show at Disney World.
And the sequel is honesty better than it has any right to be. As you well know – from your deep dives into Disney remakes and sequels – the mouse house often just churns out content without regards to quality. And this was actually fun! It gives me hope that Disenchanted might be fun to watch!
I was so skeptical of Hocus Pocus 2 when I first heard about it. “Here we go, another soulless Disney cash grab,” I thought. But it was actually good! And I think the reason is that it’s one of Disney’s few blasts from the pasts that actually figured out what made the original so compelling: the shameless fun of it all. The kids’ party store kind of Halloween. No overstuffed plot, no endless CGI action scene, no weird crossover attempts, and minimal corporate wokeness (a bit of a nod to girlboss feminism, but it was a light touch and fun to watch… not preach-y). Just the Hocus Pocus we know and love, back again for another wackadoodle Halloween adventure.
So much of entertainment tries to be “more” in some way… message-y, or a franchise starter, something like that. The original Hocus Pocus was content to be a fun Halloween adventure, and they did it well. I think that’s why ’90s kids loved it so much. And the new one has recaptured that feeling, which I think means the now-duology will be a Halloween staple for years to come.
Well, there’s a pretty clear sequel hook in the post credits scene, so I may withhold judgement. We should check in 29 years from now for HP3, featuring an all CGI Bette Midler.
I totally forgot about the post credits scene! I guess we’ll have to wait and see what comes out of it…
Coming soon to Disney+: Binx: the secret origin…