The long-awaited sequel rarely results in a masterpiece. Even so, the ability to see our favorite characters on screen can be quite the draw. Hollywood’s latest trend has led to a spike in cult favorites returning to the silver screen. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen the Bill and Ted, Clerks, and Saw franchises return to theaters. Disney has its own in-house cult favorites, making Hocus Pocus 2 became an anticipated return. Filled with easter eggs, Hocus Pocus 2 will provide the sisterhood that homages that will satisfy the general audience. Yet at the same time, this feels like a truly missed opportunity for Disney and these characters.
Beginning in 17th century Salem, Hocus Pocus 2 provides more depth to the Sanderson Sisters. After a brief time with the three girls as teenagers, we discover they were outcasts from the town after refusing to marry. The story jumps to the present day, where Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) plan for a Halloween night. After discovering their friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) did not invite them to a party, the girls instead go to the Sanderson Sister’s house. Now, something of a tourist trap, shopkeeper Gilbert (Sam Richardson) sells the girls a black flamed candle. However, upon lighting it, the long-defeated Sanderson sisters (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker) return from beyond the grave.
The straightforward story allows for many of the gags from the original film to work their way back on screen. These easter eggs are fun, but offer little beyond a slight burst of joy. While the film succeeds in its casting of three new leads, it also struggles to get beyond its fairly basic plot. This makes Hocus Pocus 2 feel somewhat lackadaisical as it unfolds.
Midler, Najimy, and Parker bring their immense talent, which ultimately leaves the audience in an odd state. While Hocus Pocus was deemed unsuccessful at the time of its release, the reason for its revival has long been tied to these three actresses going above and beyond as performers. Midler, in particular, thrives, and the film allows her to blast new tunes with her sisters. While a little nonsensical, it also plays to the actresses’ strengths, and not enough films get musical breakdowns anymore. Each of the three gets trademark moments, and they showcase excellent comedic timing in the face of bad joke writing.
However, the film plays so heavily into Middler, Nijamy, and Parker’s talents, it strips away opportunities from the rest of the cast. Peak, Escobedo, and Buckingham are left with extremely thin characters, despite being the defacto leads. Instead, the narrative becomes an exploration of the Sanderson Sisters, rather than a story where the Sanderson Sisters serve as antagonists. It dives into the backstory of the famed witches, serving as something of a lore dump rather than an adventure.
The addition of this context may ultimately be the downfall of the film and the franchise. What makes Hocus Pocus such a fun ride was how it allowed Midler to play against type. Famed for her Broadway theatrics, taking on the role of an evil witch allowed Midler to embrace the camp and devious nature of Winifred. Make no mistake, the Sanderson sisters were full-blown villains, with no redeeming qualities. We love the characters because Midler, Parker, and Nijamy played into these aspects, delivering infectiously fun dialogue in the process.
However, Hocus Pocus 2 seeks to reframe them as “misunderstood” rather than simply letting them be the baddies. This sanitization harms the final product by leaving the film without stakes. If you pay attention during the first fifteen minutes of the film, the ending becomes clear.
While Hocus Pocus 2 could have been more exciting, many will enjoy its easy-to-follow plot. Frankly, the lack of complex visuals and some production aspects make it an ideal drop on Disney+. There’s plenty on the bone to roll out more Hocus Pocus sequels, even if the Sanderson Sisters choose to skip the next adventure. It feels like a series may already be in the works. Perhaps that was always the point. However, without letting the Sandersons return as their purely evil selves, it feels like we’ve missed out on a throwback to 90’s teen romps.