Many of us look forward to the end of the year because this winter break is a time to reunite and reconnect with old friends. But what if you don’t want to wait out those eight weeks or so for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas? I mean, Halloween is the big fall festival, perfect for a visit with some movie buddies we haven’t seen in (gasp) thirty years. That’s what the fine folks at Disney+ think. So make sure you have an extra large punch bowl, light up the jack-o’-lanterns and reserve the big sofa for the Sanderson sisters, who will conjure up many new supernatural antics in HOCUS POCUS 2. Oh, and get a trio of new brooms too.
In great interplay from the first outing, this story begins in 1653, not 1693, in old Salem, Massachusetts. A large group of hostile townsfolk, led by the Mayor Reverend Traske (Tony Hale), arrive at the Sanderson home to confront the pre-teen trio of sisters. Traske plans an arranged marriage for young Winifriid, though she only has eyes for handsome, attractive Billy Butcherson. Fleeing the mob, she and her sisters Mary and Sarah rush to a place no one will follow: the Forbidden Forest. While they are resting in a clearing, a giant bird swoops down and transforms into the Witch Mother (Hannah Waddingham). She gives Winnie the Book of Spells (you know, with that creepy eyeball) and warns her against enacting the incantation of “Magicae Maxima”. Then we’re in modern-day Salem as the high school prepares for the town’s Halloween celebrations. BFFs Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) have their usual plans despite the loss of their other, now ex-BFF, Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), who is hip-attached to her jock beau Mike (Froy Gutierrez). and is planning a big party at her house since her father, Mayor Traske (Hale, natch’), will be at the town square for the celebrations. Becca and Izzy go to the village’s old amusement park and pick up some spooky stuff from Gilbert (Sam Richardson), who runs a magic shop in the former Sanderson cabin. In the dark forest, the duo light a candle that creates (uh oh) a black flame that brings back Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy), and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker). Ah, but this time they have bigger plans than just sucking the youth out of the city kids. No, Winnie wants to unleash the Magicae Maxima so they can rule forever. They just need to collect all the ingredients they need like their enemy’s blood (Traske) and a lover’s head (maybe Billy). Can Becca and Izzy foil their plan and send the trio back to the Underworld?
Speaking of the terribly awesome trio, how can they slip into their roles so effortlessly as if the last movie was filmed 29 days ago instead of 29 years ago? The grand dame, of course, is Midler, who smiles sinisterly around these bunny-like fake choppers. Her Winifred is regal, menacing, and can belt out a tune that will enchant anyone (oh, you bet we get a song). Equally hilarious is Najimy as Mary with her no-man’s-home look and wry grimace as she “sniffs out the boys.” And rounding it out (oh, those huggable curves) is Parker, who still projects a kitty wink as she indulges her “appetite” while singing the “enchantment” tune to draw the crowds in. But there’s a new trio of young women who share a common interest in the dark arts. It’s the old “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” Conflict led by the irresistible Spike as Winifred’s determined enemy. Her main helper is the fluttering Escobedo, who brings a tousled but endearing warmth to Izzy. The “Third Wheel” Cassie doesn’t get quite as much screentime as she goes partying with her guy and the “cool kids,” although Buckingham jumps right back into the fray with energy and a renewed appreciation for her “kid friends” in the final act. Jones as Billy has the physicality of a silent film clown while expertly making great retorts (“Hey, I’m a good zombie!”). Hale is just as dodgy in his dual roles, but with some big twists. The reverend is pompous and underhanded, while the mayor is a merry “cheap hawk” who only ditches his role as “man of the people” if his candy apple mania is denied. Also laughing is Richardson, who tries to be a kind magical mentor to Becca and Izzy but hides his sinister plans. A bonus treat, though her role is brief, is the dazzling Waddingham, majestic and gorgeous as the ‘supplier to the Sandersons’.
Directed (or would be broom more appropriately) by director/choreographer Anne Fletcher, it captures the spirit of campy mayhem from the first film. She deftly handles the slapstick visuals (the trio updating their transports), the musical set pieces (a still-fun slice of late ’70s pop this time), and the teenage clashes on the “social ladder.” The script, written by Jen D’Angelo, Blake Harris, and original co-creator David Kirschner, even has some fun with the 1993 film’s “legacy,” as the sisters have become fall break “drag icons.” The only glaring flaw of this entry is a bit of “retcon”, an irritation found in many sequels. The best example of this is how being called a chicken became a “trigger word” for Marty McFly in BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II (not mentioned in the original). Here the main goal of the trio is the “Magicae Maxima”, which is “new to us”. Also, it often feels like this is a “try” for a possible “spin-off” to continue the franchise with the three younger women, perhaps more as “nice teen riff on THE CRAFT” or as Junior” Charmed”. Of course, the massive fanbase who can cite the now cult classic will gobble this up like a heavy bag of trick-or-treating (and no bricks in it, Charlie Brown). Plus, the newest viewers (the kiddies) are going to really love the pre-teen sisters in the flashback opening. There’s no doubt that HOCUS POCUS 2 will feature Jack Skellington, Casper and the first Sanderson sister as an integral part of Halloween. No boos from me.
Three out of four
HOCUS POCUS 2 will stream exclusively on Disney+ starting September 30, 2022