Let’s get this out of the way first: 1993’s Hocus Pocus, beloved as it is by the millennials who grew up with it, is a fun but flawed movie. Some of its biggest gags—including Sarah Jessica Parker’s addled rantings of “amok amok amok” and the Sanderson Sisters’ confusion over the existence of asphalt—are goofy at best and lazy at worst. Its success comes from the darkness generated by Mick Garris’ original script and the movie’s top-notch autumnal atmosphere, in addition to Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy’s witchy trio of antagonists.
Hocus Pocus 2, which uses a totally new creative team, leans hard into the original’s most indulgent instincts by assuming that more goofs are the only thing viewers want. The sequel doubles down on throwaway one-liners and songs, makes unfortunate choices for existing characters, and answers questions nobody had. At the same time, Hocus Pocus 2 ignores its new protagonists so profoundly that you may forget they’re in the movie at all.
We’re set up with a flashback to 1600s Salem, where the young orphaned Sanderson Sisters are kicked out of town after Winifred (Taylor Henderson) refuses an arranged marriage set up for her by a stern puritan minister (Tony Hale) on her sixteenth birthday. The girls run away to the woods, where they encounter a witch (Hannah Waddingham) who recognizes Winifred’s inherent powers and gives the teenager her famous sentient spellbook.
In the present, we’re introduced to best friends Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), who like to hang around a magic shop owned by Sanderson enthusiast Gilbert (Sam Richardson). The girls are planning a ritual for Becca’s sixteenth birthday, but are conflicted about including their friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), who they’ve been on the outs with since she started dating jock Mike (Froy Gutierrez), who despite being the school bully, seems pretty nice if a bit dim. When Gilbert sneaks a black flame candle into the girls’ shopping bag, the Sanderson Sisters are summoned, determined to get revenge on the town that shunned them.
The Anne Fletcher-directed update at least manages to get the cozy fall atmosphere part right—in addition to gloomy historical Salem, the contemporary setting features a fun-looking Halloween carnival. Turning the Sanderson Sisters’ former home into a combination magic shop and shrine is also a clever idea that nods to the original movie’s fandom while also feeling plausible. Midler, Parker, and Najimy’s chemistry remains lively as ever, even if it sometimes feels like they’re repeating old jokes hoping they’ll get the same response.
The Sanderson Sisters only made up around half of the first movie, however. The remaining chunk belonged to its skeptical 90s teen protagonists, who had their own arcs and clearly defined relationships. The trio of friends this time around get no such treatment. Becca and Izzy are whiny and surprisingly clueless about magic and witchcraft for kids who hang out at a magic shop in a town famous for witches. Our only knowledge about their friendship and their lives are what we’re told, rather than seeing those dynamics in action.
The result is a script that feels like the most amateur fan fiction, and a film that’s just barely better in quality than a turn-of-the-millennium Disney Channel Original Movie. Very little care seems to have gone into this sequel, other than a cursory watching of the 1993 movie and a checklist of what the studio thinks the original’s fans liked the most. That money-grubbing cynicism takes what could have been a fun Halloween treat and makes it an empty, soulless trick.
“Hocus Pocus 2” streams Friday on Disney+.