‘Hocus Pocus 2’ Review: Bette Midler Puts a Spell on Us, and It’s Totally Fine

‘Hocus Pocus 2’ Review: Bette Midler Puts a Spell on Us, and It’s Totally Fine

In the 1993 cult movie, aging was the witches' deadliest enemy, but in this direct-to-streaming reunion, it doesn't matter.

"Hocus Pocus," a so-so comedy turned campy cult favorite starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as Salem witch sisters, is receiving a sequel over 30 years after its 1993 premiere.

The original grossed $39.3 million US and became a Halloween standard, but the sequel exists because it tapped into preteens' interest with witchcraft before Harry Potter.

 It's no surprise that the new flick borrows so much from that franchise, adding eye of newt, dead man's head, and "The Craft" for good measure. "Hocus Pocus 2" is less about scaring kids away from magic than fulfilling their post-Potter junior wizarding fancies.

Young'uns don't need to see the earlier movie to understand it, but it's available on Disney+ if they're curious.

Becca (Whitney Peak) is fooled into lighting a black flame candle on Halloween by Gilbert (Sam Richardson), the owner of the magic shop in the Sandersons' old home, where much of the earlier film took place.

Before this simple spell happens, director Anne Fletcher ("The Proposal") takes us back to early Salem to offer an origin story for the sisters (playing teenage Winifred in the prologue, Taylor Henderson has fun channeling the Divine Miss M's more flamboyant mannerisms).

It implies that accusations of witchcraft are one technique the patriarchy uses to keep independent women in line, while simultaneously permitting the women to be bona fide witches.

In the woods, they meet the Witch Mother ("Ted Lasso" star Hannah Waddingham), who recognizes their potential and bequeaths the book that enables all their mischief and contains a spell that can make them all-powerful at enormous personal cost.

The animatronic eye on the cover has been replaced with CG, which is a shame. In Fletcher's hands, this book catalog of spells feels less like a prop than a character.

Becca and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) realize that Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), a childhood friend, is having a Halloween party without them.

 (Her dad, played by a daffy Tony Hale, is also in the dark.) The movie misses the chance to show the minor splits that drive old friends apart, instead focusing on loyalty and egotism.

"Hocus Pocus 2" mixes Midler's hammy diva character with nuances that feel too gloomy for a kids' movie (but have since been normalized by the likes of Neil Gaiman and Tim Burton).

This mashup must have made the original so popular. Midler, Parker, and Najimy vamp through reams of mock-Victorian dialogue, full of words like "thee" and "doest." They're meant to be menacing, but are cartoonishly broad:

Winifred (Midler) with her puckered lips and beaver-like overbite, Mary (Najimy) wide-eyed and talking out of the side of her mouth, and Sarah (Parker) a dumb blonde cliché.

Becca and Izzy get the women to loot the beauty products section at Walgreens, where they consume lotions thinking they contain children's souls.

It's hard to be scared by three ladies who constantly erupting into musical numbers, including a cover of Elton John's "The Bitch Is Back" (with "witch" swapped in for "bitch").

How long before a musical? All involved endeavor to recreate the prior film's campiness. "Hocus Pocus 2" is the better film, even if it's a stealth remake.

Strategic decisions about the present-day and old-Salem witch trios allow for additional sequels, whether or not its main trio returns.