The heart of the film is the bond between Winifred, Mary and Sarah
By Alex Torres
Years ago, movie critics put down the 1993 classic, “Hocus Pocus,” for being unfocused, campy and downright terrible. However, in my years as a longtime movie watcher, I’ve learned that the fan’s views on a film weigh more than a movie critic’s. After learning of its long-awaited sequel that premiered on Disney+, I did a “Hocus Pocus” double movie marathon with my mother for fun and to remind ourselves why this film was so beloved by fans. So while some of the visual and special effects were questionable for today’s movie viewers, this Halloween cult classic didn’t take away the comedic, spooky, fun and heartwarming tale audiences have come to know and love today.
The Sanderson Sisters, Winifred, Mary and Sarah, wreaked chaotic havoc and fun (in their delightfully twisted way) in their pursuit to live forever by stealing children’s souls before Halloween night ends. While I can’t condone their malicious goal, I can’t help but admire the commitment these wicked ladies put into their quest for eternal power and youth by going through insanely over-the-top hurdles of being ancient witches living in the modern world. The fish-out-of-water trope has been used in various forms of media for as long as any of us can remember, and normally that trope had been told from the perspective of the hero/heroine of the story. Villains–or in this case, villainesses–rarely had the chance to be centered in this common trope, and watching this played out by the Sanderson Sisters gave it a refreshing and more hilarious take. I laughed and laughed every time at Sarah’s initial panic of standing on a “black river” (road), Mary’s first time using a television remote, and Winifred’s twisted observations from the “witch hunters” (firemen) to the “torture chamber” (the Marshall siblings’ kitchen).
The Sanderson Sisters’ wacky and villainous performances wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the incredible talents of Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy. Disney has a long history of portraying a romantic couple as one of the main focuses in their films, but before movies like “Lilo and Stitch” and “Frozen” portrayed powerful sisterly dynamics, “Hocus Pocus”’s Sanderson Sisters held the sibling crowns in the 90s.
Aside from the stealing of children’s souls, spellcasting on innocent citizens and attempting to murder teenagers, their sibling love is like every other in real life. Like all siblings, they bickered and had fights (occasionally physical, i.e. with Winifred), but at the end of the day, nothing is more important than family. Win or lose (which they did in the film’s conclusion), they’ll always stand together, which is one of the best qualities that made fans love the evil trifecta.
Plus, these women can sing! Their take on “I Put a Spell on You” still rings in my head today! Sibling love is the main core of the OG film, as it’s also presented in Thackery Binx’s and the Dennison siblings’ subplot. The film begins with Thackery Binx, played by Sean Murry and Jason Marsden (the latter of which provided the voice acting), who failed to protect his sister from The Sanderson Sisters and lived for centuries cursed as a black cat filled with guilt.
After the sisters resurrect from the dead, he then teamed up with Allison and the Dennison siblings Max and Dani, played by Omri Katz and Thora Birch. Max struggled with moving away from the only home he’d ever known, along with being a good brother to his more open-minded little sister, Dani. Their familial love was proven strong throughout various obstacles, from peanut-sized brain bullies to maniacal witches. Because of them, Thackery was able to let go of his guilt, have his curse broken, and reunite with his beloved sister. This Halloween film delivers all the laughs, horrors and heart that fans of the past, present and future will treasure for years to come.
Now for the sequel! Has it lived up to the original? Honestly, it may not have the same vibes as the first film, but it still provided the spooky and goofy antics we loved about the first movie, with the added depth of the strong sisterhood between the Sanderson Sisters. The sequel opened with a brief backstory about how the sisters were banished from Salem. Newcomer actresses Taylor Henderson, Nina Kitchen and Juju Journey Brener played the Sanderson Sisters in their childhood years, nearly torn from each other and then exiled into the enchanted woods by small-minded villagers and a pompous, self-righteous reverend who saw them as vile for being different. This newfound history of the Sanderson Sisters shed a sympathetic light on how they came to be the evil witches we know today, along with a strong sense of female empowerment, with the trio standing together against a rigid society and intolerant people.
Their return was full-on epic and bigger than their first, as they began with a catchy rendition of Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back”. The sequel showed the sisters’ new goal for ruling Salem is to find ingredients for a Power Spell (which is said to be forbidden for any witches), and they had to go through new obstacles in our present era and once again battle teenagers. Their fish-out-of-water trope hilariously played out, with the sisters observing modern technology, consuming beauty products and witnessing citizens dressing up as them for Halloween. And of course, the sequel wouldn’t be complete without these sinister superstars singing a spellbinding musical number: another rendition of Blondie’s “One Way or Another.” It may not have been as impactful as “I Put a Spell on You,” but it was still fun to watch, and these ladies didn’t miss a single beat as they put their own vicious spin on the popular tune.
Giggles and musical numbers aside, the true heart of the film was the bond between Winifred, Mary and Sarah. The actresses spectacularly reprised their roles with the familiar,crazy sisterly bond we loved about the Sanderson Sisters.
No doubt they had a lot of fun reprising their wicked roles, with Winifred still the focused leader, Mary the lovable goof and Sarah dim and free spirited. The sequel also presented a new spin to the sister’s usual dynamic, with Sarah briefly standing up to Winifred’s abuse, and Winifred–the most power-hungry of all the siblings–giving up her powers and life to be with her sisters after learning the heavy cost of the Power Spell. The film’s use of special and visual effects has greatly improved with today’s technology.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for our new teenage protagonists, Becca, Izzy and Cassie, played by Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo and Lilia Buckingham. Though they gave strong performances for their characters, the “friends who drifted apart in high school” subplot failed to connect with the film’s main story and fans of the original movie.
Overall, though the sequel didn’t capture the same magic as the original, it did present comforting nostalgia, an exciting new Halloween story and the compelling theme of sisterhood, both familial and platonic. If you loved the first movie as much as I did, I definitely recommend watching the sequel. Also (spoiler alert!), stay tuned for the post-credits scene!