When you were a kid, did you watch the same movie repeatedly for weeks or even months at a time? Can you still recite The Lion King? Or Aladdin? I just name those because that’s what my siblings and I watched over and over and over again. Disney’s Hocus Pocus was also one of those movies we made sure my parents were sick of.
I told You Won Cannes superstar editor, Madeleine, that I was considering reviewing the children’s Halloween classic, she gave my her blessing and I think I actually started floating a little. Then I realized that I was already set on giving this movie a positive review based on nostalgia alone. So I decided to fix that and watch this children’s movie like the 30 year old man that I am.
On a secondary note, I don’t know what’s wrong with people/writers/critics today that they have to be a smartass all the damn time while tearing something down. It’s not making something they hate any better, and I can’t help but wonder what they say about things they actually do like. So when even verging on negative with some humor thrown in, please don’t think I’m a douche.
HERE WE GO!
Hocus Pocus begins in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1693, with a pretty good set up. Three witches, Sarah, Mary and Winifred Sanderson, cook up magic potions and suck the life force of local children to stay alive and also become younger. Pretty simple. The townsfolk get all witch-hangy and hang the witches, but not before Winifred, obviously the leader and brains of the Sanderson Sisters, invokes a curse that will allow them to return from the dead when a virgin lights the Black Flame Candle.
Cut to exactly 300 years later, in the fabled year of 1993, and we meet Max. Max is your typical troubled, yet still a good kid, teen. He’s new to town, misses his friends back in LA, and is composed of about 90% teenage hormones as evidenced by his moodiness, frequent emotional outbursts, and the attempts to play it cool opposite his love interest, Allison. The other 10% is familial love, as is required by Disney, and is mostly spent on his little sister Dani. The two spend about 5 minutes trick-or-treating before they find themselves at Allison’s house and all work out a plan to head to the old Sanderson house and check it out, thanks to Max’s disbelief in anything supernatural. From there, it doesn’t take long for Max to accidentally bring the witches back to life and place all of Salem in danger. Max is a virgin, which the movie repeatedly makes clear, and he lights the Black Flame Candle.
Though many of the characters are fairly two dimensional, the actors play them very well. Omri Katz, as Max, is a teenager AND a loving brother! I was tempted to say that Vinessa Shaw’s Allison was smart and pretty, except that I can’t remember her being smart at anything other than witch stuff. A very young Thora Birch plays Dani as a good kid, but also the occasional brat—just like real little sisters tend to be. While there didn’t seem to be any character development through the movie, these characters are not unlikeable and fit their roles just fine. After all, they’re really only there because we need someone to be opposite the witches.
Just to reiterate, this is a children’s movie. So that fact that the Sanderson Sisters are nearly cartoons and act like female versions of the Three Stooges (one even barks from time to time) seriously works for it. Bette Midler plays bucktoothed Winifred Sanderson, the witch in charge, who is evil enough to suck the soul from a child, yet is quite comical when she assumes death is upon her or she is dealing with things they didn’t have 300 years ago. Kathy Najimy, the heavy-set but perky nun from the Sister Act, plays the heavy-set but perky witch, Mary. She’s the glue the binds the three sisters together, is equal parts brilliant and comic relief and has the disturbing power of being able to smell children. Sarah Jessica Parker, in her only attractive role ever, is the brainless but beautiful Sarah. She enchants children and men alike while regarding both as her playthings.
The highlight of the movie is easily the witches and their interactions together. While one is speaking you may find yourself watching the other two’s performances. The plot is simple enough that a child won’t get lost in it, but interesting enough that an adult may watch it without feeling like it’s an obligation to the kids. It all holds up surprisingly well after 20 years, as the only things today’s children may find out of place is the lack of cell phones, Ernie… I mean “Ice”, Ice’s ridiculously dated look and Max’s mother’s Halloween costume (Madonna with the cone shaped bra). Even the special effects, save for a few shots of Zachary Binks, the black talking cat, don’t pull you from your movie watching experience.
It was also pretty cool to note that Doug Jones, of Pan’s Labyrinth, Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer, John Dies At The End, and so many more great films, appeared in the film as Billy Butcherson. Knowing that Mr. Jones is primarily a physical actor I enjoyed watching his character on screen more than I had in the past.
Overall, the characters don’t do much changing or learning. And that’s ok. You don’t need big sweeping changes and self-realization in a kid’s Halloween movie. What you need is FUN. This movie has that. So if you find yourself needing a movie for the kids this Halloween season or you grew up with this one like me, Hocus Pocus is surely worth a watch, a few laughs and a good story. Also, Sarah Jessica Parker is attractive in it! How weird is that? I can’t get over that shit.