Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fast paced, nostalgia for some
Cons: Overacting by witches
The Bottom Line:
With massive cult following
Doesn’t work for me
“It’s Just a Bunch of Hocus Pocus.”
I feel like, as a DisNerd, I should regularly watch Hocus Pocus, especially during the month of October. I’ve seen it once, and I didn’t particularly care for it. I decided to give it a second chance this year and see if I liked it any better. I really didn’t.
The story takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, and opens in 1693. That’s where we meet three sisters, Winifred, Sarah, and Mary (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy). They also happen to be witches who are trying to steal the souls of the town’s children so they can stay young and live eternally. They are caught in the act and executed, but not before Winifred makes sure that one day they will return.
Fast forward to the present day of 1993 (when the movie came out), and we meet Max (Omri Katz), who has just moved to town. He hears the legend of the sisters, but he doesn’t believe it. Still, he’s willing to go check out the house on Halloween night with his sister, Dani (Thora Birch), and his crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw). While there, he accidentally resurrects the sisters. Can the three defeat them once and for all?
I can see why this movie has fans. I really can. It is fast moving. It is the right level of spooky to scare kids without scaring them too much. It is a PG rated Disney film, after all. The three leads are fun and relatable, even if their character arcs are fairly predictable. (This is a PG rated Disney film, after all.) If I’d seen it as a young teen, I have a feeling I would enjoy it for those reasons, and the nostalgia factor would make it a favorite today.
However, I watched it the first time as an adult, and I just can’t quite put on the kid glasses needed to fully appreciate the film. Much of it comes down to the acting for me. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy are all over the top as the witches. I realize it was an acting choice, but to me, it doesn’t quite feel right. It adds to the whole frenetic feeling of the movie, and just puts me off. The acting from the rest of the cast is fine, and I understand what the director was going for, but it just doesn’t work for me.
Part of my hesitation is also the evil feel of the film. With real magic and jokes about hell and Satan, this is digging into territory that doesn’t work for me as entertainment. I know, I know, I can laugh at witchcraft in Bewitched or the 1990’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch sitcom, but the witchcraft presented here in definitely evil, and I don’t find it fun or entertaining.
I was surprised when I was watching it to find it was directed by Kenny Ortega. He seems to have made a career out of directing some major cult favorite Disney films. If you don’t recognize the name, he also directed Newsies, the High School Musical movies, and the Descendants movies. No, this isn’t a musical, although there are a couple of musical numbers.
One thing I appreciated is that the kids do try to get adults to help them, and the movie does a decent job of explaining why that doesn’t work. I mean, it is a kid’s movie, so of course it is up to the kids to save the day, but we do try to get parents to help along the way.
For a movie that is now 26 years old, the special effects hold up remarkably well. And there are plenty of them. The computer-generated lightening that Winifred uses is the only thing that jumps out as especially dated.
Hocus Pocus just isn’t for me. I can see why people enjoy it, but I doubt I’ll be giving it another watch.