Hocus Pocus 2

★★★★ | I can't wait for Hocus Pocus 3: Tokyo Drift.

Hocus Pocus 2

I never saw the original Hocus Pocus.

Yeah, yeah, get your gasping out of the way. I eventually checked it out this year, but only after I saw the sequel.

I wasn’t the target audience at the time, and over the years I just didn’t get around to it. But, and this is the important part, I enjoyed the sequel so much, that a quick viewing of the original was in order. To my surprise, I liked it just as much.

I mean, they’re effectively the same film. If you like one, you’ll probably like the other.

OK, review done. What’s next?

Hocus Pocus 2 picks up nearly thirty years after the first one. Another generation of youngsters stumble upon the legend of The Sanderson Sisters, and shenanigans ensue. In a brisk 90 minutes of charming gags, Vaudevillian performances, and a surprisingly heartwarming ending, there are the usual lessons about growing up and the importance of friendship. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but it is wholesome, and often surprisingly progressive for a company like Disney.

At its best, Hocus Pocus 2 is a riot. That’s mostly thanks to Bette Middler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker, who feel like they haven’t aged a day. Their chemistry still dazzles, the gags almost always land, and it’s just a joy seeing them on screen. It’s their film, and most of it is just an excuse for flailing, but when it’s this much fun, it’s hard to complain about it.

Not that the next generation is worse, mind you. They’re perfectly fine and charming but easily outclassed by the scenery-chewing performances of the veteran cast. Luckily, the witty script by Jen D’Angelo allows them a touching arc of their own. It’s also nice to see a big-budget family picture that doesn’t demonize paganism. It’s even nicer to see one that celebrates the inherently matriarchal values in them, and questions the accepted history written by men with a severe lack of testicular fortitude.

There are some musical numbers, which happily stand out in a positive way, and a delightfully campy bromance between a would-be-magician and a reanimated zombie. It tempers the scares with goofy undercurrents, and there’s always a sense that everyone knows they’re putting on a show.

Some might find it cloying. I found it delightful. If you’re going to do a nostalgia picture like this, at least have the decency to treat it like a revival. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s when you write a hagiography of your own past that things get ugly. Instead, Hocus Pocus 2 has no qualms about laughing at itself. Which in turn makes it joyous.

There’s not a lot of story in Hocus Pocus 2, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d watch on Halloween with friends. Something that, within a year or two, everyone recites by heart. Like the original, it’s a family picture designed to last from one generation to the next. On that front, it’s a roaring success.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes. And if on top of that, you get a lovely big-screen return of accomplished actors, then all the better. Hocus Pocus 2 made me laugh, often uncontrollably, and it made me misty-eyed by the end. That’s all I ask from films like it, and I can’t wait to see it again with my friends. Preferably in costume, with candy, and then again every year afterward.