Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)
Director: Anne Fletcher
Screenwriter: Jen D’Angelo
Starring: Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo, Lilia Buckingham, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy
Hocus Pocus 2 is a testament to nostalgia, girl power, and Walgreens. After an almost 30-year hiatus, the witchy franchise has dished up another potion of movie-making magic in the much-anticipated sequel. While the film fails to live up to the original, there are certainly some spellbinding moments that make viewing a pleasure nonetheless. Hollywood titans Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy reprise their roles as the iconic Sanderson Sisters and the film largely serves as a tribute to their carefully crafted witchy goodness.
This time around, a teen named Becca (Whitney Peak) celebrates her Hallow’s Eve birthday with a ritual of her own. Accidentally lighting the black flame candle that releases the Sanderson Sisters, Becca and her friend Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) must once again fight off the singing, child-eating, youth-seeking sisters.
Newcomer Whitney Peak is one of the stronger elements of the film. She brings humor and sarcasm to her role, leading to a slightly more three-dimensional protagonist. While the original Hocus Pocus was a fun, anti-witch romp, the new film seeks to complicate this problem. Becca and her friends are considered outcasts (even labeled “witches” by their peers) but through the power of friendship and good magic, the girls learn that spellcasting isn’t all bad.
The film itself takes a more feminist approach to magic. In the opening scene, we see the tragic origins of the Sanderson Sisters. Winifred Sanderson dares to defy the church and denies marriage to a boy picked especially for her – claiming her soulmate is one Billy Butcherson (who appears as a zombie in the first film). She, with her sisters, escapes into the woods and the legend goes from there. Though it’s not a complete feminist retelling (the sisters still learn to kill children to keep their youth), the compassion for the witches is a breath of fresh air.
Indeed, these witches are once again the standouts of the film. Bette Midler is back with bigger hair and a stronger singing voice. Hocus Pocus 2 offers two complete song and dance numbers including “One Way or Another” and “The Witch is Back” performed by the trio. The film certainly understands its mission to let the campiness shine and the witches do their thing. Sarah Jessica Parker feels more refined (perhaps less surprisingly hilarious) and Kathy Najimy is finally given a moment to shine.
Despite its many glorious moments, Hocus Pocus 2 has one fatal flaw: a Walgreens brand deal. After the Sanderson Sisters track down Becca and Izzy, the two girls lead them to a place with “premade potions”. This magical place happens to be a brightly lit and well-stocked Walgreens where the cast spends a whopping seven minutes strolling down the aisles. The (17th Century) Sandersons hold up mysterious products and even interact with a friendly Walgreens associate. Even after they exit the pharmacy, the cast still hasn’t escaped its clutches yet. Throughout the film, various characters namedrop the store. Even characters who weren’t there for the encounter make reference to it. To make matters worse, the last spoken line of the film is one of the girls suggesting they head back to Walgreens. There is no greater kryptonite to fun than poorly executed product placement.
Additionally, the film falls victim to the novelty of social media and technology. The Sanderson Sisters spend a few laborious minutes marveling over phones, Instagram, and selfies. Mary Sanderson rides a Roomba and recounts the moment more than it’s worth. The jokes are tired and offer nothing new. If anything, this new rendition could learn from the raunchy jokes of its predecessor. At points, the film feels scrubbed clean and sanitized for a younger audience when the true fans are in their twenties at the youngest.
Hocus Pocus 2 does a lot of things right. It understands that we are hungry for nostalgia and great actors in funny roles. It gives us Tony Hale as the mayor of the town and a fleshed-out story for zombie love-interested Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones). However, at times, these moments are overshadowed by a desire to be relevant and to cash in. In the scenes where the Sanderson Sisters are allowed to thrive the film is great, but overall it still falls short of the original.
Written by Emi Grant
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