Your eyes have not been bedazzled by witchcraft; that is a picture of the cast of Hocus Pocus (and now the new Hocus Pocus 2) standing in a Walgreens pharmacy. This pharmacy becomes the location of a key scene in Hocus Pocus 2, and it is shot in the style of an extremely lengthy commercial. First, the witches gaze at the brick-laden exterior of the Walgreens, where its red neon sign shines through the darkness of a dreary New England evening. Then the witches go inside at the behest of some of the other characters, where they proceed to try out the drug store’s admittedly impressive selection of beauty serums and lotions. Just for a laugh, they even try eating one or two of them. Lo and behold, they actually taste pretty good.
Kids: Don’t try this at home. In fact, maybe don’t try watching Hocus Pocus 2 at home either, even though the movie is going straight to streaming on Disney+. Fans of the original Hocus Pocus beware: This movie seems to have put more thought into the pharmacy product placement than coming up with a reason the wicked Sanderson sisters would return to Salem — or why it took them 29 years (since the events of the first movie) to do it.
Speaking of Salem, the initial scenes are set there during the days of the witch trials. A flashback reveals how Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary Sanderson (Kathy Najimy) formed their powerful coven with the help of an older and more experienced sorceress (Ted Lasso’s Hannah Waddingham). Back in 2022, there’s a new generation of teenagers gearing up for Halloween surrounded by local legends about the Sanderson sisters. They include Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), who recently had a falling out with their former bestie Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) over their disparate social status in school.
Cassie is also the daughter of Salem’s Mayor Traske (Tony Hale), who, as is often the case in stories like this, is not only a direct descendant of the puritanical preacher who made life miserable for the Sanderson sisters in the 1600s, but also looks exactly like his great-great-great-grandfather. I wonder if the Sandersons will go after him when they inevitably show up in the present on another quest for power, immortality and a stage where they can occasionally sing a lightly choreographed musical number.
For a lot of viewers, the original Hocus Pocus is a nostalgic favorite that they watched over and over and home video and cable all through the ’90s and 2000s. I never saw it until years later, so I don’t have any kind of strong affection for the material, but its appeal has to be at least partly rooted in the fact that it’s fairly dark and edgy by the standards of a Disney comedy for kids. In the first Hocus Pocus, the Sanderson sisters sucked the life out of an adorable little girl, and they could only be revived in the present by a virgin. For a movie of this kind, it does feel a little transgressive — or at least taboo enough that a 10 year old might think they’re getting away with something by watching it.
But all of those rough edges have been sanded off of this sequel. The Sandersons threaten to swallow the occasional soul, but it’s mostly left as a vague and implied threat; they’re much better for campy laughs than any legitimate sense of danger. The best you can say for the movie is that Midler, Parker, and Najimy don’t treat this like an easy payday. They came ready to play, whether that means singing and dancing, riding on a Swiffer (they couldn’t find a broom, you see), or eating face cream at Walgreens. What little magic Hocus Pocus 2 contains is entirely because of them.
When Disney announced they were making Hocus Pocus 2, I wasn’t surprised; no franchise is ever truly over these days. But I didn’t expect Disney to realease the sequel straight to Disney+ instead of putting it in theaters. It wasn’t until I actually saw the movie that that particular decision made sense to me. From the look of it, Hocus Pocus 2 was done on the cheap; very cheap. It’s got a tiny cast and a handful of sets, and all of them have the same flat, bland, direct-to-streaming-movie look. (Except for that scene in the Walgreens — that place looks incredible.) Hocus Pocus 2 doesn’t necessarily demand Kubrickian levels of visual splendor, but it’s still a film, and film is a visual medium. If there was anything even remotely interesting to look at on the screen, that would be nice.
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