The witches are back! I could not have been more excited for their return.
I loved Hocus Pocus when I was younger. I still love the movie today. Every October I look forward to getting cozy and watching Hocus Pocus in the lead up to Halloween. You can read my review of the beloved original by clicking the link below.
It goes without saying that the movie that became a cult classic was always going to be a very tough act to follow. I enjoyed the sequel. I had a lot of fun watching the movie, but beyond the fun that the nostalgia provided, the sequel’s plot left a lot to be desired. I feel that this is a story that had so much potential, but unfortunately it fell flat.
Let me explain why nostalgia is just not enough.
Before I dive into this review, I do want to say that I know this is supposed to be a fun movie for kids and some readers may think I am taking it far too seriously, but I review a broad range of texts here on Katelovesliterature.com, children’s literature included, and I’ve always held the opinion that even if a movie is aimed towards children, the plot can and should still be of good quality.
I will be drawing comparisons to the original movie as that too was aimed towards children, but the original movie takes its audience seriously, and while the original is not a perfect movie either, the plot had so much more heart, and more importantly, the movie actually had some stakes.
Let’s talk about the plot of Hocus Pocus 2. The sequel follows Becca and her two best friends Izzy and Cassie as they must figure out a way to defeat the Sanderson Sisters who have returned once again to Salem.
I have a suspicion that there were many drafts of this script, and I have a suspicion that within the final cut that aired, there were at least three other movie ideas that existed. The plot is messy, and annoyingly lacking. My biggest issue with this sequel is the fact that there are no stakes.
Let’s talk about the new cast, because before I can elaborate on the lack of stakes, first we need to talk about our new protagonists. I do want to say that I think the actors did a great job, but I feel like all of the new characters had untapped potential.
Let’s start with Becca. Becca was played by Whitney Peak, and I think that Peak did a fantastic job, but I really wish she had been given more material. Becca is the main protagonist, and one would guess that she is going to be the Max of this movie. This is another problem, one would assume that Becca is the Max of this movie, as she is the main protagonist, however the movie takes a different route and presents Becca as the Winifred of her trio. This just does not work, because Becca and Winifred are supposed to be the protagonist and antagonist respectively. I will elaborate on this point further on in my review, but first I want to discuss the fact that I feel like we barely know anything about Becca, Izzy, and Cassie.
Becca is headstrong and she has an interest in magic. That is it. That is all we know about her. We don’t meet her parents. We don’t know where this interest in magic comes from. We don’t know what is important to her. Her friends are important to her, but the movie does not set her up as someone who loves her friends more than anything, the movie just sort of tells viewers that she is a good friend. Becca is the leader of the trio, simply because she has more lines than Izzy and Cassie. Cassie is missing for so much of the movie, it is frustrating. It is frustrating because the movie clearly indicates that Becca, Izzy and Cassie are the new generation of witches. Becca is Winifred, Izzy is Mary, and Cassie is Sarah. The girls and the Sanderson sisters are even dressed in matching colour schemes. Becca is wearing various shades of green, Izzy is wearing burgundies along with her hair in a similar half up, half down pony, Izzy is at Becca’s side throughout the entire movie while Cassie has boyfriend troubles, mirroring how Mary is always at Winifred’s side while Sarah is the romantic Sanderson sister. The mirroring is obvious. I don’t mind a “passing of the torch” plot, in fact I think that “passing the torch” storylines can be quite poignant, especially when it comes to childhood classics, the problem I have with this in Hocus Pocus 2 is that the “torch passing” is far too abrupt, and it also doesn’t make any sense.
Izzy is Becca and Cassie’s best friend. She seems sweet. Her mother is named Susan. Izzy is slightly more nervous than Becca, she does not assert herself as confidently as Becca does. That is it. That is all we know about her, that and the fact that she misses Cassie and is willing to admit it, whereas Becca is clearly more annoyed with Cassie than Izzy is.
Cassie is the mayor’s daughter. Her father is overbearing. Cassie has a boyfriend called Mike, and because she is dating Mike, she has grown distant from Becca and Izzy. Mike pokes fun at Becca because of her interest in magic and as he calls it, “witchy stuff”. Mike is not malicious, he’s just a bit clueless. Becca and Izzy just want to be able to hang out with Cassie again like old times, without Mike and his friends. They don’t communicate this properly. Cassie feels like she’s been iced out of the group, she does not realise that she’s been distant with her friends, it was not malicious on her part either. Their friendship just needed more communication. That is it. That is all we know about Cassie, that she is dating Mike and Becca and Izzy don’t like Mike. So Cassie is missing for so much of the plot, and that just can’t happen if the movie wants to present Becca, Izzy and Cassie as the new, modern, trio of witches. Winifred, Mary and Sarah are always together. They are a team, a trio. If the movie wanted to have a story about friends growing apart and coming back together to face adversity, that would have been great. I think the team behind the movie thinks that the movie did in fact do that, but the reason behind the girls falling out is flimsy at best, and Cassie is not in the movie enough to establish herself as an integral part of the trio so when the girls do makeup, I don’t care as much about it as the movie wants me to. Cassie being in the group again makes absolutely no difference to their actions.
The original movie’s plot worked because the movie spent time setting up who Max is, and who is important to him. We know about Max. He is the new kid in town, he misses his old home, he’s not into Halloween the way everyone else is so he is the odd one out in class, he loves his little sister even though she annoys him sometimes, and he has a crush on Alison.
This information is easy to showcase and it sets up Max’s actions throughout the entire movie.
He wants to impress Alison because he has a crush on her so he agrees to go to the Sanderson house because Alison loves Halloween and the legend of the Sanderson sisters. Max is cocky, and he does not believe in the story of the Sanderson sisters, so he dismisses all warnings and lights the black flame candle. The rest of the movie follows Max as he has to face the consequences of his actions, he has to undo his mistake and defeat the Sanderson sisters, and he is motivated to do this because despite all annoyances, he does love his little sister and he wants to keep her safe. Max, Dani and Alison are our trio. They are guided through the night by Binx. Binx is a boy who was turned into a cat by the Sanderson sisters after he failed to save his little sister from them so the mirroring in the original is shown through Binx and Max. Max mirrors Binx because he is determined to save his sister, just like Binx was, and Binx is determined to help Max because he couldn’t save his sister so he is determined to ensure that the Sanderson sisters do not win again.
Becca, Izzy and Cassie are not guided by anyone. They kind of just have to figure things out for themselves, which would be fine except there is no real goal. There is Gilbert who owns the magic shop, and originally I thought that perhaps he would play the guiding role, as he is the one who would know the most about magic, but instead Gilbert is a character who is all over the place.
It is revealed that Gilbert created a new black flame candle and tricked Becca into lighting it, because he is obsessed with the Sanderson sisters and wanted to bring them back. It is revealed that he was one of the children in the original movie and he saw the sisters the night Max defeated them, and since then, he has been obsessed with finding a way for them to return.
In the original, Winifred is obsessed with stealing Dani’s soul and Mary and Sarah loyally follow her through all of her plans. Winifred could have followed through with her plans had she gone after any other child, but Winifred is petty and revenge driven and she felt personally offended by Dani, so she makes it her mission to go after Dani specifically. Max, Alison, Dani, and Binx must find a way to outrun, and defeat them until the sun comes up.
There is a goal on both sides. Winifred is determined to get Dani, and Max is determined to keep Dani safe.
In Hocus Pocus 2, this goal does not exist. The movie introduces so many ideas, and there were so many moments where I though “ah okay so this is the story… wait no, now there’s another thing to consider”.
The movie begins with a flashback to the childhood of the Sanderson sisters in Salem. I really liked the opening shot of this movie. It is a tracking shot of the Salem woods, and this opening shot mirrors the opening shot of the original movie. I loved this. The nostalgia hit immediately and I was excited. In this flashback, we meet young Winifred, Mary and Sarah. It is Winifred’s sixteenth birthday and the reverend wants to marry her off. Winifred refuses. Winifred talks back to the reverend and refuses to bow down to him. The reverend banishes her. Winifred and her sisters flee to the forbidden woods as they know the townsfolk won’t follow them. In the woods, the three girls meet a witch. This witch senses that Winifred is powerful. The sisters are gifted a spell book – the iconic book from the original movie. The witch makes Winifred promise to never do a certain spell, a spell that even Book dislikes. Winifred promises to never do this spell, and the witch tells the girls that a witch is nothing without her coven. The newly powerful Sanderson sisters return to town and wreak havoc by setting the reverend’s house on fire. The sisters, especially Winifred, watch on in delight as the house goes up in flames.
Title credits and then we are in the modern day.
When the Sanderson sisters return in this movie, they plan to steal Becca and Izzy’s souls so that they can stay young, but Becca pretends to be older and she leads the sisters to a Walgreens to show the sisters modern anti-aging products to kill some time. The sequel repeats the original gag in which the Sanderson sisters are baffled by modern technology and products. It is funny, but at times it is a little try-hard. I will say though, it is very obvious that Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker were having the time of their lives filming this sequel, and I did love whenever the Sanderson sisters were onscreen. I did laugh at the sisters being baffled by automatic doors, and assuming that Becca must be powerful, because “the doors parted for her”. These are the kind of cheesy jokes that made the original so charming and I did enjoy these jokes again in the sequel, even though there was an undeniable element of the movie saying “look, here is your favourite joke from the original, we did it again.”
It goes without saying that the jokes and antics of the sisters were not as original as they were the first time around. It was clear that the writers saw what went down well in the original and tried to recreate it, and this just doesn’t work because the success of the original is largely due to the fact that the movie was not trying so hard.
So the Sanderson sisters originally want to get Becca, because Becca tricked them, but then Winifred decides she is going to perform the forbidden spell – this spell will make her the most powerful witch of all. Winifred needs ingredients for this spell, and she bewitches Gilbert into gathering all of the ingredients for her, but then while he is off doing that, Winifred learns that Cassie’s father is a descendant of the reverend, so she becomes determined to get him and get revenge on the family.
There are so many things going on which leads me to the biggest problem of this sequel – There are no villains.
There will be spoilers below as I am discussing the movie’s ending.
Hocus Pocus 2 is a movie without villains, without threats, and without any real stakes.
In the original movie, the Sanderson Sisters were iconic because they posed a real threat to Max and his sister. They were villains. They lured children into the woods so they could kill them and steal their young souls so that they may live forever. They were evil – funny, but evil.
In the sequel, their goal changes so much that at times it is unclear who they are chasing or what they will do when they have caught their target. The forbidden spell is also unclear because aside from Winifred declaring that the spell will make her the most powerful, she never states what she will use this forbidden power to do. As viewers, we can guess that she and her sisters will continue to steal the lives of the children in Salem, but the movie does not present this as a real threat.
I would have been fine with the movie making Cassie’s father the villain, because the movie clearly attempts to push this idea of standing up to the patriarchy. The flashback to the young Sanderson sisters in Salem clearly wanted to paint a picture of how these three young women were targeted by men in power and outcast because they did not comply. One can think about how historically, this likely did happen. Sadly it is a fact that many innocent women were most likely called witches and persecuted because they did something that was deemed “unconventional” by the town leaders and this kind of plot point can invite audiences to think about who the true villain really is.
The flashback is rather dark. The idea that a sixteen year old teenager is “of age” and ready to be married off to someone she does not wish to be with is a dark idea and I am surprised that Disney included it considering there seems to be a trend of erasing villains happening in movies at the moment, including in Hocus Pocus 2 itself. The reverend is an arrogant bully and he takes pleasure in setting an angry mob on the young, orphaned Sanderson sisters simply because Winifred defied him. In my opinion, it would have made more sense if Cassie’s father was more menacing than bumbling. He is the mayor, and he is clearly a descendant of the reverend. So in my opinion, it would have been better and it would have made more sense if he was this movie’s villain. He could have hated Halloween, he could have been the one to cause a rift between Cassie and her friends because he disapproved of Becca and Izzy’s interest in magic. The plot would have taken an interesting turn if Cassie had to team up with Becca and Izzy but be torn because she has to go against her father. She would have to make the choice that her father’s hatred of magic and difference is wrong and she would be the one to break the patriarchal cycle of her family.
If the mayor was determined to beat the Sanderson sisters and they were determined to get revenge on him and his family, then two direct opposites would have had clear goals, and there would have been a key theme of puritan, outdated control vs magic.
Becca, Izzy and Cassie would have fallen into the area of “Look Dad! Not all witches are bad.”
Cassie’s father would have had to learn that not all magic is evil and blanket banning and hatred is not the answer. Becca would have to learn that power comes with responsibility and being obsessed with having all the power is how you end up like Winifred, so she would have to promise to always use magic for good, even though using it for selfish reasons is likely very tempting.
The Sanderson sisters would have still been evil, and they are an example of what happens when you become consumed by evil, by power and by revenge.
This did not happen. Unfortunately.
The mayor is bumbling and nothing happens to him at any time, so the obsession the Sanderson sisters have with “getting him” falls flat.
The movie’s climax is Winifred performing the forbidden spell with her sisters. What is the catch? Winifred refused to read Book’s warning about the spell – what is the warning? That Winifred will sacrifice what she loves most in order to become the most powerful witch of all.
What does Winifred love most? We should ask whom does Winifred love most? Mary and Sarah.
Becca, Izzy and Cassie realise that Winifred is about to unknowingly sacrifice Mary and Sarah so they attempt to tell them. This could have been really interesting. Winifred has always been the most obsessed with power, she has always been the one to proclaim she is the best, and her sisters are idiots. She has always proclaimed to be the prettiest, the all knowing one and she always dismisses and mocks her sisters.
There is a brilliant moment where Sarah stands up to her and tells Winifred that she is not a fool, she is a good and loyal sister and always has been. This great moment is undermined when Sarah utters out a frantic “yes Winnie” two seconds later.
The movie also leans into lore and the idea that a witch gets her powers on her sixteenth birthday, and Becca shows signs of having actual magic powers throughout the movie and it is Becca’s magic that helps her and her friends hold the witches off towards the movie’s climax. This is fine, but it kind of detracts from the charm of the original in my opinion. Max and co had to fight the witches off without powers. They relied on lore, they relied on things such as witches not being able to stand on hollowed ground and salt circles to keep them safe. Becca and co do use salt circles, but it is Becca’s powers that leads to the girls standing a chance against Winifred as opposed to the girls having to figure things out without any magic.
The Sanderson sisters having magic is what made them so threatening in the original movie. They could not step on hollowed ground? Not a problem, Winifred used to her magic to bring Billy Butcherson back from the dead so now Max and co have to contend with a zombie too.
Becca having magical powers is just another reason on the list of why this sequel is so sloppy. Becca had no inclination of having powers prior to the events of this movie, aside from stating she has an interest in magic, there is no suggestion that she has practiced spells. Her powers arrive and even though she has no idea how to use them, she is a match against Winifred who has been practising dark magic for centuries. Becca is a new witch, with no knowledge about her new powers or how to use them, she should not be able to go toe to toe with Winifred just like that.
I have another suspicion that somewhere in the drafts archives, there is a script in which Sarah and Mary turn against Winifred because they are sick of being disrespected. Winifred would have become the most evil one of all because she is so obsessed with power that she is willing to sacrifice her sisters and that would have been the last straw for Mary and Sarah.
In my opinion, it would have been interesting if Mary and Sarah were forced to join forces with Becca and co in order to defeat Winifred, and then the “passing of the torch” moment would have made more sense. Becca’s magic being able to go toe to toe with Winifred’s would have made more sense if she had Mary and Sarah on her side, because despite always being mocked by Winifred, Mary and Sarah are powerful witches who have been practising the dark arts for just as long as Winifred.
This did not happen.
What did happen? Let’s talk about it.
Winifred, Mary and Sarah perform the spell without knowing the price that must be paid because Becca and co do not get there in time.
The Sanderson sisters are overjoyed with their new powers and Winifred is happily gloating about her next move when Sarah and Mary begin to disappear.
Becca reads the warning to Winifred, explaining that she has sacrificed her sisters because they are who Winifred loves the most.
Winifred gives a heartwarming, albeit unbelievably out of character speech about how much she loves her sisters – the theme of the movie becomes clear – a witch is nothing without her coven.
Winifred pleads with Becca and Book. She asks is there anything that can be done.
There is one solution. Becca, Izzy and Cassie perform a spell that sends Winifred to her sisters. Winifred is overjoyed to reunite with them and Becca performing this spell undoes all of the spells that Winifred performed, so Billy Butcherson is able to rest in peace at last etc.
The movie ends with Gilbert apologising for the mess he caused, and Becca, Izzy and Cassie are happily friends again. They skip down the road with Book, they even do the famous and iconic “Sanderson Sisters walk” – If you know you know.
Credits roll and a post credits scene reveals another black flame candle – hinting that another movie could be possible.
I am not opposed to a movie being about the power of friendship, but Hocus Pocus 2 is not the movie for that. I don’t want to see Winifred Sanderson begging for help and reminding our new protagonist to always hold her friends dear. I want to see the evil, petty, obsessed with revenge Winifred Sanderson. I want her to be a real threat. I want the Sanderson Sisters to be villains. They are iconic characters because they are villains, but instead of allowing them to be wonderfully and comically evil for evil’s sake, Disney had to make them nice.
I’m getting increasingly tired of classic villains being undone because for some reason movies cannot just have a completely evil villain now. I am all for nuance and grey areas, in fact I adore grey areas where right and wrong is not easy to establish, however I do not like the fact that pure villains are being removed. It is fun to have a pure villain, it is fun to be scared, it is fun to have real stakes in a movie and just because a movie is aimed towards children, that does not mean that baddies cannot and should not exist.
Gilbert has a line where he says the Sanderson Sisters are evil “because they had to be but everyone loves them now” and the movie leans into, and is aware of the public love for the Sanderson Sisters – to this I say yes everyone loves them now, but everyone loves them because they are evil.
They were fantastic villains in the original movie and unapologetically so, and I am very disappointed that they have been reduced to slapstick caricatures of their original selves with no real threat behind them whatsoever.
With all of that being said, I did enjoy the movie. I had lots of fun. I loved seeing the Sanderson Sisters sing again, and there were so many times where I said “okay if this is what we are doing, I’m okay with it because it is fun”, but despite the fun, the plot is lacking in so many ways and I feel like classic characters have been diminished.
Hocus Pocus 2 is a movie that could have been fantastic, but the plot is messy and there are too many new characters who have such great potential that sadly was not reached. This is a great example of why nostalgia alone just is not enough and in my opinion, a brilliant example of why it is important that we don’t erase villains. We need villains, we need stakes, and most importantly, we need to return to a time when movies for kids weren’t afraid to be a bit scary, because that is what made them so fantastic. Real stakes, real threats, and real triumphs, that is what we need to recapture in our movies.
Have you watched Hocus Pocus 2?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.