Hocus Pocus 2: A Noticeable Improvement Over its Predecessor, Making the Original's Issues Apparent.
by Tyler Wanke
For many film fans, Halloween is as much a time for spooky/scary movies as it is for candy and costumes. I even get caught up in the festive nature. The weather is getting colder and nothing beats spending a Saturday afternoon watching some familiar favorites. Halloween (1978) is probably my most watched and all-time favorite film, and I even enjoy going back to familiar favorites such as Halloweentown, When Good Ghouls Go Bad, and Trick ‘r Treat. Yet, one film that is a standard for thousands is beginning to feel like more of a chore to watch.
Despite receiving mixed reviews from critics and bombing at the box office (seriously, whose genius idea was it to release this film in July?!) Hocus Pocus has become a cult favorite over the last 30 years. I didn’t watch the film as a child and don’t have the nostalgic attachment to it that others do, but I do look forward to watching the cheesy, flawed film every year. Yet, as the release of the long-anticipated sequel approached, I feel that the rose-colored glasses that people view this film through have become more hypnotic. It frustrates me to no end that we are mistaking nostalgia for quality.
I wrote a review a while back about Hocus Pocus so I won’t go into too much detail here, but ultimately, I feel the film is more fluff than substance. A plothole-riddled motley of anachronistic fish-out-of-water gags loosely strung together, with Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy’s performances as the Sanderson sisters keeping the film from completely falling apart.
Understandably, I did not have much hope for the sequel. Especially 29 years after the original was released. Think about it, Tron Legacy, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Finding Dory, Dumb and Dumber To, Blues Brothers 2000. There is a nearly endless list of legacy sequels that no one is picking over, or even coming close to honoring the original. Top Gun: Maverick is the exception, not the rule.
So you’d be surprised to learn that I, of all people, not only enjoyed Hocus Pocus 2 but feel it may be a stark improvement over its predecessor. Fans and arguably most critics revisiting both films won’t agree with me, but this just feels like a film that not only justifies its own existence, which the films above rarely did, but it also works better on a technical and narrative level.
Set 29 years after the event's original film, a group of high school girls who have grown apart accidentally resurrect the Sanderson Sisters during a yearly birthday activity. Dead set on beating the curse, The Sanderson Sisters attempt a new spell that can keep them around forever. Too bad they have to deal with the horrors of the 21st century, and a enemy from the past to do so!
Right off the bat, I was impressed with how much care the film has for its fans. There are plenty of fan moments that, if this premiered in theatres, would have been applause-worthy. From going back to 17th century Salem for a Sanderson sister origin story, to having plenty of those fish-out-of-water moments the first film so heavily relies upon, this time with a modern twist. Maybe it is because it’s my first time seeing them, but quite a few of them were chuckle-worthy. The Sanderson Sisters return to their (slightly older) former glory, and it’s still apparent that the chemistry hasn’t aged as much as Midler, Parker, and Najimy have. The story allows for bigger plot points to be earned, like the explanations for why the Sanderson Sisters return. Hell, the town itself feels more alive. I don’t know what it is with that original film, but every set just feels so empty. Ultimately, it just feels like this is just a better-made film than the original.
Hocus Pocus 2 isn’t perfect, I think some of the plot points feel a bit unnecessary, but I think about so many of the things I didn’t like about that original film and how this film just does it better. My biggest gripe with that first film is that they set up a perfect conclusion in the school. Max, Dani and Allison trap the Sanderson sisters in the kiln and burn them alive, ending the story. Instead, the green fog that represents the Sanderson sisters souls is sucked back in the schools chimney for “reasons” and they blast out of the kiln with nothing more than some soot and shattered egos. The film then gets artificially extended for another 20 minutes, devastating the already wonky pacing.
Hocus Pocus 2 on the other hand, never overstays its welcome and is careful to explain most if not all of its choices. From the triumphant return to a better look into how the magic of witches works in this universe. Everything in the second film feels tighter and purposeful. Even with it being nearly 10 minutes longer than the first, it is a far breezier experience.
I’m not saying that Hocus Pocus 2 is a perfect film that will stand up to multiple viewings. Some of the gags may get old, but the bones (hehe) of the film are stronger. Hocus Pocus 2 is simply a better made film than the first. We need to stop pretending that films we are nostalgic for are actually “good” films. Sometimes that happens, Halloween is a perfect example of a good film that people are nostalgic for because of its connection to the holiday.
Film companies know this, There are so many films released that are centered around certain holidays. Some are good, some are bad. Some are revisited every year, some are forgotten on store shelves and discount bins. What I want us to get away from is making that connection that rewatching a film to get into the holiday spirit makes it good film. I’ve rewatched Hocus Pocus more than a lot of films I actually do like, and I feel that I like it less and less because people seem to put it on this unearned pedestal more and more.
If you think I’m coming off as some old curmudgeon that is bitter about people enjoying things, that’s valid. Hell, the more I write the more I’m starting to feel like Nebbercracker from Monster House, yelling at kids to get off my lawn. I just hope that we can learn to separate quality from nostalgia and go back to enjoying Hocus Pocus as a flawed cheesy cult film instead of some enshrined holiday classic.