“Hocus Pocus 2” is Disney’s latest attempt to squeeze extra profits from their many classic movies, trying to recapture the original’s magic in an updated form. The modern reimagining of the ’90s classic replicates the corny hilarity of the original while falling victim to the same lack of direction.
The Sanderson Sisters return in all their humorous, bewitching glory, played by Bette Midler (“The Addams Family”), Sarah Jessica Parker (“New Year’s Eve”) and Kathy Najimy (“Dumplin”). Besides a flashback to the Sanderson Sisters’ youth to introduce the all-powerful Magicae Maxima spell, the film follows much the same premise as its prequel. We are introduced to Becca (Whitney Peak, “Gossip Girl”) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo, “The Baker and the Beauty”), two teenagers who are obsessed with witches and magic and inadvertently bring the Sisters back to life. The Sisters have moved on from gaining immortality and instead want to take revenge on all of Salem.
The most important thing this movie had to get right was the humor. Luckily, the comedic timing of Midler, Parker and Najimy has not waned. They make their characters just the right level of over-the-top. The Sanderson Sisters feel absurd and out of place in the modern world, leading to countless jokes at their expense. They’re convinced by Becca that lotion is a modern form of potions, leading to an incredibly gross scene of all three Sisters eating beauty products. But, outside of these jokes, the movie struggles to generate laughs. It attempts to solve this issue by reusing gags from the original movie but with a slightly more modern twist, such as when the Sanderson Sisters used Roombas as brooms, copying the moment where they used vacuums for brooms in the original movie, beat for beat. I still laughed at these moments, but not quite as hard as when I saw them the first time.
The film does, however, excel by adding a message about female empowerment and sisterhood. It’s an organic addition that improves the movie overall, as Becca is a likable character and an intelligent adversary for the Sanderson Sisters. The teenage characters don’t resort to screaming, instead working in creative ways to stop the ancient witches — the audience can hopefully see themselves in these characters and is spared yet another bumbling fool to cringe at.
There’s one scene in particular that I feel obligated to address. It flashes on the screen for only a couple of seconds, but about two-thirds of the way through the movie, we are shown a couple watching an unchanged scene from the original “Hocus Pocus.” It is never explained. I exclaimed when this happened, as it completely broke the continuity of the film. It brings up an endless array of questions about what exactly the nature of the first film is. I questioned the scene but stopped myself. I realized the audience is not meant to think about this scene that deeply because the film itself doesn’t. It’s a one-off joke that’s meant to make the audience laugh and move on.
This realization made me realize that as much as I wished to be enchanted by this movie, there was a question in the back of my brain stopping me from fully enjoying it: What was the reason for making this sequel? The generous answer is to create a lovable homage to the original. But every choice this film made screamed the contrary: This film is a blatant cash grab. Every joke stolen in its entirety from the original, every copied plot point and every illogical decision point to this film as another soulless attempt by Disney to turn a profit.
Despite my painful awareness of the reason this movie was made, I still enjoyed it. The jokes made me laugh, if less so than the originals, and the film aesthetically embraces the Halloween spirit. I would encourage audiences to watch the original film instead, but “Hocus Pocus 2” is still a movie all about Halloween that anyone can appreciate near the holiday.
Daily Arts Writer Zach Loveall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.