‘Hocus Pocus 2’ Review: Sanderson Sisters Return For an Emotionally Charged Flight

Hocus Pocus 2 Spoilers Ahead

Bettle Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker as the Sanderson Sisters in Hocus Pocus sequel
Photo by Matt Kennedy. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc

The Sanderson Sisters are back in hilariously campy and gripping force, making Hocus Pocus 2 an emotionally gratifying flight. As someone who adored the original film as a kid and cried happy tears at her local Target when seeing the VHS on shelves, adult me stopped watching because it somehow got scarier. I couldn’t quite figure out why until a backstory in the 1953 Salem cemented that it’s because, as an absolute chicken, evil witches with no real motives or signs of redemption would keep me awake at night. The same can be said about Roald Dahl’s The Witches. I haven’t watched since the very first time I did so, and I have no plans to. 

But just as the film became a surprising cult classic after its initial release, the Sanderson Sisters became legends for the whimsically bewitched people of Salem. Hocus Pocus 2 understands that to tell a comeback story worthy of the 29 years fans have waited, it needs to dig back and flesh out its characters. Otherwise, what’s the point? Let them be. Let the film stay in its legacy. And some viewers might very well believe that it doesn’t meet the mark, but at the very least, it allows new viewers to see far more depth in the sinister Winifred “Winnie” Sanderson than ever before. 

To begin, director Anne Fletcher knew precisely what she was doing when bringing in the indomitable Hannah Waddingham and Sam Richardson. Although the actors aren’t seen as much as they should have been, they both play critical roles in establishing the narrative and simultaneously throwing wrenches into them. Waddingham’s mother-like figure could also be riveting to explore should the film decide to dive headfirst into a third film. (And if you’ve watched the post-credits scene, that’s more likely than not.) There’s also an arc for Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones) that’s surprisingly hilarious and for crying out loud, someone get Tony Hale’s Jefry Traske the caramel apple he actually wants.

New characters needed to be just as compelling as the originals, and they are. Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo, and Lilia Buckingham are gripping additions and foils to the Sanderson Sisters, carving out a new path while borrowing from the past in complex ways. There’s still plenty that can be said about what the future holds for the three of them, but bleeding in one of my favorite films from the 90s Teen Witch into the Hocus Pocus world was a delightful surprise for which I’m hopeful I wasn’t the only one to catch. Establishing these characterizations and, most importantly, friendships could lead to riveting storytelling for the next generation as they look into different forms of practicing magic.

(L-R): Belissa Escobedo as Izzy, Whitney Peak as Becca, and Lilia Buckingham as Cassie in Disney's live-action HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.
© 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. 

In a nutshell, however, Hocus Pocus 2 is a story about sisters, and it’s a testament to the brilliant work Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker brought to the original film, making it the spooky gem that it is. The three stepped back into this role as though it hadn’t been nearly three decades and took center stage masterfully. They’re hilarious, vivacious, deeply sinister, and yet full of feelings. 

I never thought that any plot point in this film would make me cry, but we got to the ending, and Bette Midler brought to the forbidden forest a performance better than anything else. Midler packed an array of emotions in Winnie’s realization that without her sisters, all the power in the world equates to nothing. It’d lead to the most profound loss, and everything leading up to this moment in the flashbacks made the final act a tremendous gut punch. It’s the detail that all the magic, mayhem, fire, fury, and soul-sucking madness has all been for Mary and Sarah.

The Sanderson Sisters in Hocus Pocus 2
© 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. 

It wasn’t about staying young forever but about staying together through everything.

And the film didn’t need to overtly say those words aloud because Midler, Najimy, and Parker show it to the audience with a sweet, subtly etched adoration into the joy they find together. When their parents died, they became each other’s world, hugely different from one another, yet they’d do anything for one another, flying into everything together. The wickedly infamous sisters’ call becomes far more riveting and haunting while displaying the most valid form of adoration. If Winnie knew that the spell would equate to sacrificing her sisters, then she wouldn’t have done it, and that’s the most delightful detail that sparks through the film, brighter and warmer than the black flame candle.

Hocus Pocus 2 is delightful, nostalgic, and surprisingly refreshing without trying too hard. It succeeds as a great sequel through its emotional beats and understands the importance of telling a story where characters serve the plot. Between the Sanderson Sisters finding home with each other and Becca and Izzy patching things up with Cassie, it’s a film about the lasting bands that make a coven powerful. It’s a story about friendships and sisters—the people who stand beside you when darkness falls, with or without magic. 

Hocus Pocus 2 is now streaming exclusively on Disney Plus.

One comment

  1. I’m 28, so the Sanderson Sisters have been rocking Halloween longer than I’ve been alive and I’ve been watching them every Halloween for almost 2 decades. This sequel made me cry and I loved it for the way it paid homage to the first movie while giving us something new and wonderful. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy are right up there with Maggie Smith as my favorite witches ❤️

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