Director: Kenny Ortega
Cast: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw
Screenplay: Mick Garris, Neil Cuthbert
96 mins. Rated PG for some scary sequences, and for language.
Another Disney holiday classic, although Disney rarely touches on Halloween. Hocus Pocus is a unique film for the company, one that grows with its fanbase. As I get older, I find the film’s wit to be dangerously adult, but as a kid, I’d never noticed. It’s a rare thing.
The Sanderson Sisters, three legendary witches, have been a legend in Salem for 300 years, and in 1993, they reawaken when a virgin lights the Black Flame Candle. That virgin is Max (Omri Katz, TV’s Dallas, Matinee), a new boy in Salem who, along with sister Dani (Thora Birch, American Beauty, Train) and potential romantic interest Allison (Vinessa Shaw, Eyes Wide Shut, Side Effects), must find a way to rid the world of the Sandersons once and for all. It won’t be easy, as Winifred (Bette Midler, Fantasia 2000, Parental Guidance), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker, TV’s Sex and the City, Escape from Planet Earth), and Mary (Kathy Najimy, TV’s King of the Hill, Descendants) discover the way the world has changed since they last roamed it, and they aren’t ready to go down without a hell of a fight.
Hocus Pocus is hit or miss for me. Some years I want to watch it, some years I don’t. Regardless, I cannot deny the merits of the film. Hocus Pocus is a damn good Halloween film for families, something that you don’t find often. The villains are frightening yet fun, the leads are likable and relatable, and the parents are crazy and weird. This is the type of movie that appeals to an extremely wide audience.
The screenplay from Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert is full of chilling fun, and that’s where the movie really takes its strengths. Add in Bette Midler who perfectly understands the material and gets right into it. In fact, I can’t fault the film for its performances.
A fault I can find with the film is its pacing throughout Act II. The film gets a little lost in hijinks and shenanigans and loses focus on where it is heading.
And just for the record, the unsung hero of the film is an actor by the name of Doug Jones. You may not know Doug very well, but you’ve probably seen a lot more of him than you’d think. In Hocus Pocus, he plays Billy Butcherson, the quiet bumbling henchman zombie of the Sanderson Sisters, and he almost steals the spotlight from Midler herself.
Hocus Pocus is downright fun. It loses itself a bit toward the end, but its merits far exceed any of its flaws. You’ve seen it, but see it again anyway.
-Kyle A. Goethe