October’s almost here, and with it comes the changing of the leaves, the pumpkin spice-ing of the lattes, and the return of the quintessential Halloween classic: Hocus Pocus. This year, in fact, there’s even a sequel.
Hocus Pocus 2—starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy in reprisals of their original roles, and now, Whitney Peak, Lilia Buckingham, and Belissa Escobedo—picks up three decades after the events of the first film with even more magic—and slightly better CGI.
What Hocus Pocus is about
The original Hocus Pocus, released on July 16, 1993, follows two stories: that of the Sanderson sisters, a coven of witches hanged in 1693 Salem, Mass., and that of the Dennison siblings, who moved from Los Angeles to Salem three hundred years later.
The two storylines converge under the full moon on Halloween, when Max Dennison (Omri Katz) lights a cursed candle inside the witches’ old cottage in an attempt to impress his crush, Allison Watts (Vinessa Shaw). Max, of course, accidentally resurrects the witches, who must drain the lifeforce of a child before dawn or risk turning to dust. Their sights are set, conveniently, on Max’s younger sister, Dani Dennison (Thora Birch).
Magic and mayhem ensue, as the Dennison siblings are aided by a zombie with a penchant for losing his head (Doug Jones) and a talking black cat named Binx.
Binx was named after Inks, an actual black cat from the childhood of David Kirschner, producer and co-writer of the film. The plot itself arose from a bedtime story that Kirschner told his two young daughters in the 1980s.
In 1984, Kirschner pitched the idea to Walt Disney Studios, pouring candy corn on the table, hanging broomsticks from the ceiling, and putting up hand-drawn pictures of black cats. A dozen writers worked on the script in the years that followed.
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How Hocus Pocus was received
Hocus Pocus was no instant success—due in part, perhaps, to its mid-July theatrical release. (There was talk that Disney didn’t want the film to compete with its other Halloween movie that year, The Nightmare Before Christmas, which came out in mid-October.)
The now-favorite was, by all accounts, a box office flop. With a budget of $28 million, Hocus Pocus brought in about $45 million globally, and was panned across the board by critics at the time.
“Apparently too much eye of newt got into the formula for ‘Hocus Pocus,’ transforming a potentially wicked Bette Midler vehicle into an unholy mess,” wrote the New York Times. “It changes tone as casually as the actors don their masquerade costumes, and has no scruples about breaking its own mood altogether.”
Over the years, Disney Channel and Freeform (formerly ABC Family) integrated the movie into their Halloween lineups, and it gradually climbed up the ratings. After Hocus Pocus was released on DVD in 2002, DVD sales crept up too. Since 2011, the movie has made more than $1 million in DVD sales every October alone.
Slowly but surely, Hocus Pocus became a seasonal staple, especially for those nostalgic millennials who caught it on Freeform’s 31 Nights of Halloween. “When it came out, it laid a tiny little bit of an egg, so we didn’t expect much,” wrote Bette Midler on Reddit. “And now look at it! OCTOBER is HOCUS POCUS MONTH!”
How the sequel came about
Around 2008 or so, over a decade following its release, the original film began to accrue cult status, Vinessa Shaw (who played Allison Watts) told The Wrap. About six years later, rumors began to swirl of a potential sequel in the works, though nothing came to fruition immediately.
When producer and co-writer Kirschner first pitched the sequel to Disney, it took six months of waiting before the studio even passed on the project—so they brought it to Freeform instead. Eventually, Disney+ took over the film.
In October 2019, it became official: Hocus Pocus 2 was happening, and Jen D’Angelo would be writing the script. (Kirschner stayed on as a writer and producer.) At the time, D’Angelo was assigned the job of finding a way to bring back the original witches—Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy—who now reappear in the sequel alongside Doug Jones as the affable zombie Billy Butcherson.
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How the new movie compares to the original
Hocus Pocus 2 serves as both a prequel and a sequel, opening in 1653 Salem on the origin story of the Sanderson sisters. Viewers learn that the siblings, ostracized by the village, seek refuge in the nearby woods, where they’re taken under the wing of the powerful Mother Witch (Hannah Waddingham).
Flash forward 330 years and we meet a group of friends—Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham)—splintered by high school politics. On her 16th birthday, Becca accidentally summons the Sanderson sisters again with yet another cursed candle.
Winnie (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy), and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) are back and campier than ever, in stark contrast to the more dramatic acting by Peak, Escobedo, and Buckingham. But somehow, the same Hocus Pocus magic works: the movie leans into larger than life qualities while still maintaining the spirit of a Halloween classic.
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