A pointless and unfunny witch sequel

The truth about the original « Hocus Pocus » is harder to swallow than a witch’s brew containing « a bit of your own tongue »: it’s a very bad movie.

Well, take another sip. The new sequel, « Hocus Pocus 2, » released on Disney+ 29 years later, is much, much worse.

Film critic

Duration: 104 minutes. Rated PG (action, macabre/suggestive humor and some language). On Disney+ September 30.

Yes, many of us kids loved watching Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy play the role of 17th century witches who were accidentally brought back from the dead. Nonetheless, it was a critical box office bomb.

What makes the 1993 film fun for us now is its vapid 90s bouffantness and how seriously it takes itself, even though the film features a trio of women who were hanged in the 1600s. singing a jazzy version of « I Put A Get Out on You. It’s campy. Come Halloween, drag queens worship the thing as « A Christmas Carol. »

“Hocus Pocus 2” is equally awful, but charmless and too low-stakes to hold our interest. Most of the movie is nods to the old: In a meta-moment, Winifred (Midler) watches a millennial couple as they watch the movie on the couch. And the city of Salem is holding a Sanderson Sisters costume contest in which a trio of drag queens from « RuPaul’s Drag Race » beat the authentic item.

We first meet Winifred, Sarah and Mary when they were children in Salem.
Matt Kennedy/Disney

The film begins with a nauseating flashback to Winnie, Mary, and Sarah’s childhood as Salem outcasts that sounds more like a scene from « Nanny McPhee. » One day, they flee to the Forbidden Wood (Winnie: “Go to the Forbidden Wood!” Sarah: “But it’s forbidden!”) and meet a witch (Hannah Waddingham) who offers them her spell book.

Fast forward to the present, where Becca (Whitney Peak), Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) are high school girls obsessed with witchcraft. They are aided in their endeavors at Hogwarts by Gilbert (Sam Richardson), a geeky magic shop owner who summons the Sanderson sisters by creating a new magic black flame candle.

It takes 30 minutes of unnecessary exposure before the main attraction finally arrives.

Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler and Kathy Najimy return as Sanderson Sisters in "Hocus Pocus 2."
Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy return as the Sanderson Sisters in « Hocus Pocus 2. »
Matt Kennedy/Disney

Once that’s done, we get another witch story out of the water. Although they visited the 20th century only three decades ago, the ladies are once again shocked by our modern advancements.

Mary, having no room or vacuum cleaner, flies through the sky on Roombas (one per foot).

At a Walgreens, they are petrified by the automatic sliding door and once inside begin drinking lotions they believe to be kid’s gas potions. “Retinol,” says one. “Funny name for a child.

Hearing an Alexa-like device, Mary says, « Winnie, there’s a little woman trapped in this box. »

Instead of « I Put A Spell On You », this time they sing that old colonial hit « One Way or Another » by Blondie.

Director Anne Fletcher’s film is shtick upon shtick. Put a pointy hat on a pointy hat. Like witches clinging to life, she grows old.

Becca (Whitey Peak), Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) are obsessed with witchcraft.
Becca (Whitey Peak), Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) are obsessed with witchcraft.
Matt Kennedy/Disney

The thrust here, as in the first, is that Becca and Co. want to send the sisters back to the fires of hell where they belong. The problem is that in this chained collection of comic vignettes, there’s little urgency to do so.

There’s also a guiding line of feminism and sisterhood power, which would make sense if this were « The Crucible, » but they’re supposed to be real witches who murder children to maintain their youth. Not quite fodder for a redemption story.

Of course, seeing Midler, Parker and Najimy again is nice. They’re more fun than ever, especially Midler, whose eyebrows are Olympic athletes. However, the effect of slapping them into a broad comedy with a worn plot is actually a lot less funny than the original. Often they degrade clumsily.

« Hocus Pocus » might have beaten the odds – it flopped in theaters – and bewitched us for nearly 30 years. « Hocus Pocus 2, » however, is a mild distraction that won’t last past October.


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