Review: ‘Hocus Pocus 2’ doesn’t quite capture the magic of its predecessor


Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson in HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Matt Kennedy. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Julianne Panaro, news correspondent

Almost 30 years after the Black Flame Candle was last lit in “Hocus Pocus,” the Sanderson sisters have returned to the big screen — and yet, this sequel fails to hold a candle to the original film.

Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy reprise their roles as the iconic Sanderson sisters (Winifred, Sarah and Mary, respectively) seamlessly in the 2022 sequel “Hocus Pocus 2.” Actresses Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo and Lilia Buckingham join the classic Salem story as Becca, Izzy and Cassie, high school students with a penchant for the paranormal. The trio’s harmless fascination with witches — they live in Salem, after all — grows dangerous when they find themselves thrust into the world of the Sanderson sisters after accidentally releasing them from captivity.

The Sanderson sisters’ campy charm is as ageless as they are, and it provides the bulk of the film’s appeal. Scenes of the trio clumsily navigating modern-day cosmetics or witnessing the wonders of drag offer a delightful reminder of what made the original movie into a cult classic. Running jokes about the current adoration for the occult and “good for her” culture make it applicable to 2022 trends. Frankly, Disney could have released a feature-length film of Winifred Sanderson exploring the endless aisles of Walgreens, and it would’ve broken the box office.

“Hocus Pocus 2” gives audiences free range to indulge in their nostalgia. The Sandersons’ original spellbook returns, complete with the signature human eye darting back and forth on its cover. The costumes recreate the Sanderson sisters’ original outfits, while adding in new details to make their fashion fresh. The ‘90s-style mesh sleeves have become crocheted spiderwebs, and Wiccan symbols have been carved into Mary’s corset rings. “Hocus Pocus 2” also incorporates several Easter eggs for more attentive moviegoers — for example, while the sisters fly over Salem to search for the mayor, viewers can see a couple on the couch watching a scene from the original film.

As a standalone movie, however, “Hocus Pocus 2” leaves much to be desired. It is clear that far more energy was devoted to drawing on the forces of nostalgia than developing new characters. The teenage protagonists lack depth, and had they not been essential to the plot, they could have vanished from the screen without disrupting much of the viewing experience.

The introductory scenes offer an new insight into the origins of the Sanderson sisters and their witchcraft with a tale that emphasizes female independence and feminist ideals. Sisterhood takes on a greater significance at the film’s conclusion, as Winifred, Sarah and Mary remind viewers that even the wickedest of witches need someone whom they can depend upon. However, the entire second act of the film does little to explore these ideas. The concept of a fully-female teenage trio — especially one with a social reputation for having an odd love for the occult — offered much promise and opportunity for interesting parallels to be drawn between Becca, Izzy and Cassie and the three Sanderson sisters. Yet these concepts were considered in a rushed, careless manner, examined only at the surface level. 

Nevertheless, there is one newcomer who truly seems at home in the town of Salem. Sam Richardson brings both heart and humor as Gilbert, the shopkeeper of a magic shop who is instrumental in the summoning of the Sanderson sisters. Richardson, a long-time fan of the franchise, described the experience as “another one of those surreal moments,” and his love of the project truly shines through in his adaptation of the character. Richardson’s personal devotion to the story perfectly complements Gilbert’s adoration of the Sanderson sisters. According to director Anne Fletcher, the actor accepted the role immediately upon its offer, no meeting requested. When asked why, he simply responded “because I love Hocus Pocus.” 

Viewers on the hunt for a new Halloween favorite or a potential cult classic may not find that here. However, if they find themselves inside on a crisp fall evening, enveloped in soft blankets, donning flannel pajamas and craving the sense of wonder that Halloween held for them in days of old, “Hocus Pocus 2” may be just what they need.