‘Hocus Pocus 2’ Review: The Black Flame Candle Alit Again


Official Disney promotional poster

Nearly 30 years later, the Sanderson Sisters return under the direction of Anne Fletcher, and terrorize Salem, Massachusetts in their All Hallows’ Eve antics.

Hocus Pocus 2 is the sequel to the 1993 Disney film, Hocus Pocus. An all-time classic Halloween season movie to American audiences, the sequel to the 1993 film had a lot to live up to. The original Sanderson sisters were brought back for the second installation, Bette Midler returns as main antagonist Winifred Sanderson, along with Sarah Jessica Parker (as Sarah Sanderson) and Kathy Najimy (as Mary Sanderson), a very appreciated casting choice. The sequel is directed by Anne Fletcher, and takes elements from the original, with some of the iconic behaviors of the Sanderson sisters still ever present, but also with a new emotional subplot and understanding of the trio of witches.

The original Hocus Pocus left quite a cultural impact on American Halloween. Hocus Pocus showed off the trio of witches not as terrifying but rather comedic and funny. The second installment of the Hocus Pocus series was released 29 years after, there is a good sense of nostalgia when it comes to the original, as many people viewed the original film when they were younger. 

The film starts with a young Winifred Sanderson, played by child actress Taylor Henderson, being banished from Salem for refusing to be wed to John Pritchett by the demand of Reverend Traske. Winifred instead excused herself by claiming that she and Billy Butcherson were instead soulmates, despite Butcherson’s heavy insistence that he held no feelings for the eldest Sanderson sister. With the threat of her younger sisters being taken away, Winifred runs away into the forest with Sarah and Mary. There we get a sample of Mary’s song “Come Little Children” sung by a new character, Mother Witch, portrayed by Hannah Waddingham, who bestows upon Winifred her infamous spell book. There is a new emotional context behind the bond between Winifred and her sisters. Where in the original it was seemingly only meant to be comedic that Mary and Sarah devotedly follow their eldest sister, in Hocus Pocus 2, we see that there truly is a bond between the sisters and why they despise Salem. 

The 2022 film has Whitney Peak as Becca, the protagonist, accompanied by her close friend Izzy, played by Belissa Escobedo, along with their estranged friend Cassie Traske, portrayed by Lilia Buckingham. Cassie Traske along with her father are targeted by the resurrected Sanderson sisters. This creates a conflict that allows the estranged friends to rekindle their bond. Becca, Izzy, and Cassie act as parallels to the Sanderson sisters. Where the Sanderson sisters were always close and following, almost dependent on Winifred due to a conflict, our protagonists drifted apart and strengthened their friendship in the face of conflict. The underlying theme of the film was sisterly relationships. While Becca, Izzy, and Cassie may not be blood sisters, they do become a coven of sorts, learning to communicate and stand together against Winifred and her sisters. Winifred pursues the Magicae Maxima spell, which has a cost that the eldest Sanderson sister did not acknowledge, the loss of what is most dear to her, Mary and Sarah. This is where we see a big distinction between the two movies, we see Winifred willing to ask for help, and eventually giving up the power she seeks to be with her sisters. Certainly, it was very emotionally appealing, and it gave more depth to the character of Winifred Sanderson. However, the moment could have been stronger, had the movie had more time to really develop more of Winifred’s relationship with her sisters and the hardships they endured. Despite that, many viewers (including ourselves) did shed a tear when Winifred was sent to join her sisters. 

The performances in Hocus Pocus 2 were not as strong as the original. The cover in Hocus Pocus 2 is, “One Way or Another”, by American band Blondie, with a duration of 1 minute and 45 seconds. Whereas in the 1993 film, the featured cover was “I Put a Spell on You” by Jalacy Hawkins, with a duration of around 2 minutes. Comparatively, many agree that “I Put a Spell on You” in the 1993 film was a stronger performance than “One Way or Another” in the sequel. Despite access to more special effects, the performance in Hocus Pocus 2 is not nearly as strong. Bette Midler’s singing capabilities are not shown in the sequel in the same way that it was in the 1993 film which featured more belting, however, this can be attributed to the nearly 30-year gap between film production and wanting to ease the burden on Midler. The performance, however, is rather cut off by the lack of audience participation, being that they just march, whereas in the original we see that the audience is more enthralled by Winifred. There is also a lack of the original comedic antics during the performance, rather we just see the Sanderson sisters perform on stage, while the protagonists are elsewhere. 

Hocus Pocus 2 really grew with the audience. The humor of the original Hocus Pocus became more mature. The Sanderson sisters visit a Walgreens when being led by Becca and Izzy, where they then start consuming skincare products, with Sarah mentioning chemicals like retinol, something that perhaps only young adults and millennials understand. Another scene arises when discussing how to revive the trio of witches, a virgin needs to light the black flame candle. A child proceeds to ask what a virgin is, and Gilbert (played by actor Sam Richardson) cannot give a straight answer. Of course, some of the promotional posters showed the trio of witches on brooms, for Sarah and Mary, they utilize modern-age cleaning devices: Swiffer (Sarah), and two Roombas (Mary). Director Anne Fletcher did a good job acknowledging the audience that would be most excited for the sequel and matured the comedy to be something that they would find more entertaining now, along with keeping up with the more modernized culture.

Fletcher understood the significance of a sequel to the Halloween classic. New elements were added to the Sanderson sisters, and the other elements that audiences loved with the original were ever-present under Fletcher’s direction. It was still an addition to the series that did what sequels should develop and improve the original. Disney sequels have infamously been given the cold shoulder, but Hocus Pocus 2 was rather entertaining even if it does not have the child’s sense of wonder, it still retains the magic of humor and the fall season.