Sisters! All Hallow’s Eve has become a fun night where kids wear costumes and run wild while watching sequels to movies from the 1990s on Disney Plus. Scary follow-up The witches from the 1993 comedy Hocus Pocus, played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, are back in Hocus Pocus 2, which is Disney’s latest attempt to cash in on nostalgia.
Hocus Pocus 2 starts out well, and you can watch it now on Disney Plus. It starts in the distant past, like the first movie. Still, where the first movie started with a small child being killed and three women being lynched (not an excellent start for a family movie), the sequel goes back to 1653 to tell the story of how the Sanderson sisters first annoyed the Puritan people of Salem, Massachusetts.
It is a fun opening that makes it seem like everyone knows what they are doing, especially Taylor Henderson as a young Winifred who flashes her eyes (complete with distinctive dentistry). Jump to Salem in the present day.
Even though it is Halloween, three school friends are having trouble because of a birthday, a boyfriend, and a party that was banned. When they accidentally bring back Winifred, Mary, and Sarah, who is played by Midler, Najimy, and Parker, with their usual over-the-top enthusiasm, the angst of the teens seems like nothing.
Once again, these three spend the night making trouble in the modern world, and this time, the magical stakes are higher than ever. The first Hocus Pocus was a bubbling pot of camp chaos, and the second one is even better at that:
The three original stars jump right back into their roles as if they were brought back from the first movie (seriously, watch both films back to back). They look like they are having a great time, stalking as one through the frame and firing off zingers with glee. SJP especially steals a lot of shots with her funny antics in the background. At least once, the three seem to laugh for real.
And, of course, it is as campy as can be. The original movie did not do very well, but now kids and adults watch it every year as a Halloween tradition. The people who made Hocus Pocus 2 know this all too well. They were led by Anne Fletcher, who directed Step Up, 27 Dresses, Hot Pursuit, and Dumplin’.
As soon as they are brought back to life, the Sandersons break into a great but strange musical number, which gives us a great scare, so I will let it slide. Hannah Waddingham from Ted Lasso gives the three stars a run for their money when it comes to being vamps. The three stars even crash a drag show while RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni dressed as the famous Sanderson sisters are all around them.
All of that is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the second half of what should be a fun 90-minute ride loses some of its shine. Whitney Peak and Belissa Escobedo are attractive as the two main teens, but they do not have much to work with.
None of the new characters are fascinating, and Sam Richardson does not even get many funny lines. Tony Hale, in particular, is stuck in a thankless role as the town’s profoundly unfunny mayor, whose prominent personality is a confusing running joke about toffee apples or something.
As the story goes on, the chaotic energy of the early scenes gets replaced by dull action and adventure that reminds me of Harry Potter, complete with duelling lightning blasts in a dark forest. It might be exciting for kids who grew up on stories with more danger than the original, but it does drag on a bit.
Like the recent remake of Pinocchio, which was shown on Disney Plus, Hocus Pocus 2 is another modern movie that is hard to understand. It is hard to see what is going on during the day because the colors are not as bright as they should be, and it is often too dark at night to tell what is going on.
Really, Disney, take that Mickey Mouse money and buy some lights. Minor problems, though. Even though it has problems, it is a million times better than the last ’90s Disney Plus seasonal reboot, Home Sweet Home Alone.
The fact that Midler, Najimy, and Parker are back together and running amok (amok, amok, amok) gives this silly caper enough of that old black magic to keep it from feeling like too much of a cash-in. Even though the Sandersons are funny and evil, their lives have a touch of sadness. Even if nothing else works, the original still stands.
Most of the same ingredients are used in Hocus Pocus 2, but it is still a potent witch’s brew.