Director: Anne Fletcher. Starring: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica ParkerKathy Najimy, Whitney Peak, Sam Richardson, Doug Jones, Belissa Escobedo, Lilia Buckingham, Tony Hale, Hannah Waddingham. Cert PG, 104 minutes
mumbo-jumbo has quite a life after death. It’s been 29 years since a virgin first lit the black flame candle, reviving a trio of Salem witches and sparking breathless scorn from film critics. A boiling cauldron of garish performances, baroque intrigue and immortal cats, the 1993 Disney comedy was dubbed “an unholy mess.” The New York Times, while venerable critic Roger Ebert said the film “much in need of self-discipline”. But this October, Disney-run US channel Freeform will air mumbo-jumbo 13 times in 31 days. The mess of a studio is the black magic of a wholly owned subsidiary.
On the back cover of these cult-favorite reruns, Disney has given the Sanderson Sisters a sequel, releasing exclusively on Disney+ in time for All Hallows’ Eve. Directed by Anne Fletcher (The application), Hocus pocus 2 sees Bette Midler return as Winifred, the wacky, bossy older sister with a wobbly overbite, along with Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah, the giddy flirt, and Kathy Najimy as Mary, the goofy third sister who always makes do with what’s left remains. However, this sequel is not fascinating.
Millennials—plus the marketing masterminds behind the invention of Freeform’s 31 Nights of Halloween extravaganza—are responsible for transforming the original mumbo-jumbo a cheesy darling, but the sequel is still aimed at kids. The Sanderson sisters are accidentally summoned to 2022 by a teenage girl named Becca (Whitney Peak) who dabbles in the rituals of magic without necessarily believing it’s real.
From there, the film takes the form of a scavenger hunt through the small town of Salem, Massachusetts, which looks more artificial than it did in 1993. The child-eating witches need ingredients — a lover’s head, a rare berry, etc. — for a spell to get their one-night reprieve transforming the dead into immortality. Becca, who was supposed to be celebrating her 16th birthday, teams up with her best friends to stop her. They met high school. The cemetery. The town square. In a sequence that smacks of old-school product placement, everyone spends a shocking amount of the film at Walgreens. (“That was a hoax,” the witches roar when a cream called BabyFace fails to make them young again.)
For nostalgia viewers might be the most satisfying minutes Hocus pocus 2‘s Cold Open, which serves as the origin story for how the Sanderson girls gained their mystical powers. Played as children, the sisters are played by a trio of young actors – Taylor Henderson (Winifred), Nina Kitchen (Mary), Juju Journey Brener (Sarah) – whose imitation of the idiosyncrasies of their older peers is so hilariously accurate, I suspect they are are. I’ve seen the original film as many times as I have. But the central trio of Midler, Parker and Najimy fail to recapture the happy chaos of the first outing. Parker is less awkwardly flirtatious; Najimy is less crazy. Never is OG mumbo-jumbo Director Kenny Ortega’s absence was more felt than in the film’s big musical number, which rivals Midler’s vampiric rendition of “I Put a Spell On You” from last time out.
There are new joys, sure. Hannah Waddingham (Teddy Lasso) appears too briefly as a seasoned witch who remarks that Winifred has the right temperament for sorcery, that is, the wrong temperament for a girl in 18th-century Salem. Becca is also played with charming finesse by reboot veteran Peak, last seen on gossip girl 2.0 A pair of Roomba robot vacuum cleaners are used for an amusing narration. Tony Hale (Buster in arrested development), on the other hand, plays his mayor of Salem like a man who knows he’s the comic relief in a children’s movie.
Hocus pocus 2 doesn’t hit the extremes that made the original a critical flop, but a remake so enduring. It’s less threatening. It lacks the exquisite cuteness that a medium quality Torah birch exudes. There are no talking cats. But that probably won’t matter much to most viewers. With the reunion of the Sanderson Sisters, Disney is bringing its loyal millennial audience an evening of nostalgia that Gen Alpha will likely still be tuning into 29 years from now, when Halloween becomes a season instead of a month-long one.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/hocus-pocus-2-review-bette-midler-sarah-jessica-parker-disney-b2184237.html Hocus Pocus 2 Review: Bette Midler can’t recreate the magic in this belated, confusing sequel