Hocus Pocus 2, the long-awaited sequel to the cult classic Walt Disney Studios film, just arrived on Disney+! The film features the return of the Sanderson Sisters to Salem, Massachusetts when yet another virgin lights a black flame candle to (this time unintentionally) summon the witches back.
Much like the original Hocus Pocus (1993), the sequel is largely carried by the incredible performances of the Sanderson Sisters, with Bette Midler (Winifred), Sarah Jessica Parker (Sarah) and Kathy Najimy (Mary) all reprising their roles. This time, the Sisters are brought back to Salem by a new set of teenagers, Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), Becca (Whitney Peak), and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) with a little assistance from a local magic shop owner named Gilbert (Sam Richardson). Also returning for the sequel is Billy Butcherson, played by Doug Jones. The film is directed by Anne Fletcher (Step Up, 27 Dresses), and written by Jen D’Angelo (Workaholics).
Fans (along with members of the original cast) had been begging for a sequel to Hocus Pocus for years, so there was certainly a lot of hype surrounding Hocus Pocus 2 when the project was finally confirmed back in 2017. (In 2018, Disney actually released a book titled Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel, which followed the story of Max and Allison’s daughter bringing the Sanderson Sisters back to Salem, however, this is not the plot the studio went with for the movie sequel.)
Hocus Pocus 2 attempts to carry the nostalgia-fueled trip audiences are taken on in the original film, but whether it lives up to the task could be up for debate. There is no doubt that the performances of Midler, Parker, and Najimy, and Doug Jones who we see and hear more from in the second film, live up to the original, but beyond that diehard Hocus Pocus fans may have expected more.
Fans are not going into Hocus Pocus 2 with expectations for the next great Academy Award-winning film. They’re going into it to reconnect with everything they loved about the original in an all-new way, but there are some disconnects in getting there.
I might be biased (or at least more keenly aware) as a local to Salem, Massachusetts, but the settings both in the story and where the original Hocus Pocus was actually filmed are incredibly iconic. Every movie has a setting, but not every movie has fans traveling thousands of miles just to pose for a photo in front of the characters’ homes and school. Of course, with Hocus Pocus 2 filmed in Rhode Island (with a couple of reshoots in New York) it would have been impossible to capture the original film locations that fans have continued to obsess over.
Some locations still shine through with the Sanderson Sisters’ cottage appearing as as a renovated magic shop, and Gilbert’s trolley which is clearly inspired by the Salem Trolley. Still, much of the sequel’s setting feels generic, save for efforts to include signage by actual Salem businesses and indications that Salem does indeed throw a fun Halloween festival.
As for characters, having Billy Butcherson play a larger role in the sequel was an excellent decision, and it was fun to see more of him than we do in the original. While Thackery Binx could not have made an appearance due to his soul being freed at the end of the first Hocus Pocus, some small references to him were a nice touch. Still, even without Max, Allison, or Dani returning for the sequel, it seems there could have been smaller cameos that would have added a few more laughs to the sequel (perhaps by the bullies, bus driver, the man dressed as the cop, or even in the case of Binx, some small supernatural nod to make audiences go ‘hmm’.)
This isn’t to say that the film completely doesn’t work– You’ll get that new twist on nostalgia from nearly any moment the Sanderson Sisters are onscreen and in smaller scenes like Mary riding two Roombas instead of a 1993-style vacuum cleaner. If you were hoping for 100% fan service, however, you may be left wanting more (the new film does not even include a performance of “I Put a Spell on You.”)
Hocus Pocus 2 was enjoyable to watch despite its shortcomings and I found it incredibly entertaining despite some of its shortcomings. (The new musical numbers were fun, and while I doubt they will ever have the same legacy as “I Put a Spell On You” did, I still enjoyed watching them.) Seeing more of Billy Butcherson and learning more about his character was another high point of Hocus Pocus 2, and I have to give credit to Disney for using similar albeit updated special effects from the original without creating an overload of CGI or too remastered feel.
Add Hocus Pocus 2 to your Disney+ watchlist for this spooky season, and I think you’ll find it a spellbinding adventure for the whole family, but be sure to keep the original on hand for the nostalgic 90s vibes.