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Hocus Pocus

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1993

‘…a very lightweight film that, if you deem the themes appropriate, should work for kids with a bent towards Halloween fare…’

With changing attitudes to the history of witchcraft very much a thing in 2022, let’s look back to one of the seminal works on the subject; 1993’s ‘witch-hunt’ romp Hocus Pocus, which features the three-witch configuration featured in Macbeth, but played for laughs with a trio of female comics in the leads. And yes, that means giving the ‘Divine Miss M’ Bette Midler centre stage, but also with some added zing in the cauldron in the form of Sister Act star Kathy Najimy and even Sarah Jessica-Parker in an untypically un-Carrie-like Harpo Marx performance. With Hocus Pocus 2 finally arriving this fall, it’s time to figure out why Kenny Ortega’s kids movie is gaining in stature as the years go by…

We starts in 17th century Salem, and three women are done for witchcraft; they are actual witches, so it’s a fair cop, to quote Connie Booth in the Holy Grail. Skip forward to 1993, and Max Dennison (Omri Katz) re-boots the three sisters one Halloween night, and he and his little sister Dani (Thora Birch) are chased all over their Massachusetts town by the evil women. Winnie (Midler) Sarah (Jessica-Parker) and Mary (Majimy) Sanderson find that their cottage has been turned into a museum, but seek a magic book to replenish their powers, with only the resourceful Max and Dani standing in their way…

During the pandemic, with many cinemas closed, re-issues of Hocus Pocus came first and second at the US and UK box-office respectively; clearly there’s something about this movie that kids remember fondly. Yet Hocus Pocus was unloved by critics and audiences at the time, and it’s taken decades for it to become a pop culture item. That quality is largely due to the cast, with Midler the obvious stand-out, singing I Put A Spell on You in her own inimitable style, with choreographer Ortega giving the routine the requisite oomph; it’s shame they didn’t make this a full blown musical at the time, although one suspects it’s on the way…

So, moving forwards, what should we expect from Hocus Pocus 2? More of the same, most likely; this is a very lightweight film that, if you deem the themes appropriate, should work for kids with a bent towards Halloween fare. It may not put a spell on audiences, but it’s likeable, silly fun, and also has a particularly good talking cat; CGI hadn’t quite hit in 1993, and it was the best of times for articulate moggies like the one featured here.

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    • Look up at them, look down at them, just don’t look to them in a crisis. It’s notable how Hocus Pocus takes an idea that Shakespeare couldn’t make work in Macbeth (three witches influencing someone’s life) and makes something far superior; I genuinely don’t know what Shakespeare bothers getting out of bed in the morning…

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