It would be difficult to top the pure fun of the original “Hocus Pocus,” which was released in 1993 and has become a beloved seasonal favorite for every generation of kids since. “Hocus Pocus 2,” dropping Friday on Disney+, cannot exceed the fizzy joy of its predecessor, but it makes a valiant attempt.
Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy are back as the Sanderson Sisters, three kooky witches from the 17th century who return to Salem on Halloween night when a virgin lights the black flame candle. The sequel puts a contemporary spin on the narrative, introducing a new cast of characters who come face-to-face with the goofy wrath of Winifred (Midler), Sarah (Parker) and Mary (Najimy).
Director Anne Fletcher (“Dumplin’,” “The Pacifier”) continues her run of fun family films with this long-awaited sequel. Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo and Lilia Buckingham make up the young cast, playing high schoolers trying to repair their fracturing friendship. Over the course of one Halloween, taking on the Sanderson Sisters will bring these friends closer together, or drive them further apart.
“Hocus Pocus 2” shifts the witches more centrally to the narrative, making room for big laughs and clever references to modern life. Poking fun at our modern conveniences is even easier now than it was in 1993, and this juxtaposition provides some of the film’s biggest laughs. Despite being created in a new era of filmmaking, the sequel never overplays its computer-generated effects; they are only an asset to the storytelling and never feel gratuitous.
Tony Hale and Sam Richardson are especially funny additions to the cast, and the movie’s youngest stars will quickly win over audiences. Midler, Parker and Najimy ease back into the characters with the same humor and camp that made the original so much fun.
It’s difficult not to miss Max, Allison, Dani and Binx, but this film pays small tribute to the original, with references to Binx and Billy. While it doesn’t feel as authentic to Salem as its source material, the new characters are fun and have surprising depth, driving home the theme that “a witch is nothing without her coven.”
Some will say it’s a shame that “Hocus Pocus 2” is a streaming-only release. When watching at home, it’s easy to imagine the sound of laughter and cheering from a crowd that has long loved visiting Salem every Halloween, through the screen. Then again, the original has likely been seen more often on rented DVDs, cable networks and streaming services than it ever was in theaters.
The staying power of sequels is difficult to predict, but “Hocus Pocus 2” has enough tricks and treats of its own for a young audience to love, while giving older viewers an excuse to ruminate on the old days.