What should we think about, when we think about Hocus Pocus 2? Almost three decades from the release of the original Hocus Pocus, Anne Fletcher’s film is a very straightforward sequel, re-uniting the three original cast-members who played the witchy women of Salem, the Sanderson sisters. That means Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimi are all back for some music and comedy, although Hocus Pocus 2 skips the magic of cinema and drops directly into our front rooms via the Disney+ streaming service.
‘New world, same story,’ one character comments, and that’s about right for these ‘Gothic Golden Girls’; despite references to the ‘patriarchal fear of female aging’, it’s the usual genie-in-a-bottle 80’s narrative about kids unleashing a force of nature and struggling to regain control and save their community. Whitney Peak and Belissa Escobedo play Becca and Izzy, two Salem teens who accidently conjure up the Sanderson sisters in present day Salem; there’s several long preambles in which we see the Sandersons as girls back in 1653. This sets up the idea of the oppressive rule of Reverend Traske (Tony Hale) whose equally idiotic descendant (also Hale) is now running for mayor. With the Sandersons’ seeking their revenge on the Salem community, it’s up to the resourceful girls to stop them with a little help from Cassie (Lillia Buckingham), Traske’s daughter….
‘How long ago was 1993?’ questions a passer-by as the usual chaos ensues; on this evidence, not long, since the star trio barely seem to have aged a day under their make-up and wigs. It takes a good half-hour of stage mechanics before our stars finally appear, but they certainly blow away the cobwebs when they do, belting out Blondie’s Hit One Way Or Another and performing some old-school comic routines that are well-timed and choreographed. The highlight is undoubtedly a product-placement-tastic visit to a Walgreens chemists, in which the witches find that their notions of secret potions have largely been out-dated by the passage of time and progress.
There’s a few other bonuses here; Doug Jones as perennial victim Billy Butcherson, a Beetlejuice-style skeleton, and the always welcome Hannah Waddingham from Ted Lasso gets a single scene as The Mother Witch who sets the plot in motion. But the big draw is the witchy women; Najimi looks like she’s having fun riding a couple of Roomba vacuum cleaners instead of a broomstick, and Parker is pretty funny as a genuine airhead. But Midler is the top-billed star here, and rocks the movie whenever she appears; given that she released her first album 50 years ago, the Divine Miss M has still got it. It’s fun to see these girls shake things up in Salem; although Hocus Pocus 2 remains a safe, family franchise, these witches are still worth the hunt.