When Disney announced in 2019 that a sequel was being made to the 1993 film “Hocus Pocus,” it was impossible not to leap for joy. People like me who grew up watching it every October on television wondered not only if it would live up to the original, but if the writers could tell another unique story about the Sanderson sisters.
In the opening scene of “Hocus Pocus 2,” the audience is taken back to 17th century Salem, Massachusetts when the Sanderson sisters, played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, are orphaned children. Director Anne Fletcher said part of the reason she took on this project was to give the fans a “peek into the earlier years of our witches.” It’s discovered why the sisters were shunned by their community and their first encounter with witchcraft.
Then we’re taken to present-day Salem where we meet high school teens Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), whose friendship has hit a fork in the road. Becca and Izzy occupy their time by frequenting the former Sanderson house-turned-magic shop run by Gilbert (Sam Richardson), who very much believes in the folklore surrounding the witches. Cassie, on the other hand, opts to hang with her new boyfriend and his friends, who bully Becca and Izzy.
On Halloween, Gilbert tricks the two girls into lighting the Black Flame Candle, which brings the witches back for one night. Still relatively naive to the modern world, the sisters naturally cause chaos around Salem, vowing to get revenge on the town for being mistreated as teenagers.
While the film gives several nods to its predecessor with black cats, Madonna cone bra costumes and a spellbinding dance number, it stands just as powerfully on its own. It even expands the story by revealing that Gilbert saw the Sanderson sisters on Halloween 1993 when he was a young boy trick-or-treating. It explains why he kept many of their belongings in the shop for so long in hopes he would one day summon them.
The film also focuses on strong female friendships like Becca, Izzy and Cassie’s. Despite bumps along the way, they’re still fiercely loyal to one another, much like the Sanderson sisters. Even Winifred, one of the Sanderson sisters, who finds herself alone at one point, admires the girls’ bond saying, “How lucky [you are] to have each other.”
The theme of feeling like an outcast is also explored. At the beginning of the film, the Sandersons are ostracized in their community for refusing marriage and speaking out against religion and men. Becca and Izzy are also judged for their different interests. Both are able to find a smidgeon of common ground despite a 300-plus year age difference.
The only time where the film falls short is in some of the production designs. Many of the outdoor present-day Salem sets look like sets, not real places. While it certainly adds to the campiness of the film, sometimes it makes the shots look cheap and overly saturated. It doesn’t fully capture much of the Halloween atmosphere New England towns are historically known for.
Nevertheless, the actresses of the witches bring their wit, banter and silliness in a refreshing way that’s fitting for the generation that is currently coming of age. Even Doug Jones, who plays the undead Billy Butcherson, eloquently reprises his role and gets a long-overdue resolution to his entanglement with the Sanderson sisters.
The 29-year gap between the first film and its brilliant sequel is well worth the wait. The story is comical without taking itself too seriously, and it’s just the right amount of camp, along with a healthy amount of millennial and Gen Z references. Whether you’re watching it for the first time or catching up with the Sanderson sisters, “Hocus Pocus 2” will soon enter the canon of much-loved Halloween movies.