Hocus Pocus Review

Posted: October 30, 2013 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: July 16th, 1993

Running Time: 1 hour and 36 minutes

Written by: Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert

Directed by: Kenny Ortega

Starring: Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker, Omri Katz

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

I was a Disney kid growing up.  Actually, I guess you could say I was a triple agent of sorts, because I divided my time between Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.  And, oh, how the mighty have fallen; all of those channels are unwatchable now.  To those of you like me, boy, did we have it good back then.  Anyway, since I was also a kid of the 90’s, Hocus Pocus was definitely part of my childhood. Once I discovered it in either kindergarten or first grade, it became a regular viewing every Halloween season until my age hit the double digits; I haven’t seen this movie in full since the late 90’s. So, does it hold up? In a word, yes. Sure, it’s goofy and very PG-rated (this IS Disney, after all), but it’s also still funny and charming in the way that only these types of 90’s Disney films can be.

Hocus Pocus opens during the time of the Salem Witch Trials, where the Sanderson Sisters — Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) — have just stolen a young girl from a nearby village with the intention of feeding her a potion that will allow the three witches to suck the youth out of her for their own gain.  However, Thackery Binx (Jason Marsden in voice, Sean Murray — yes, McGee himself — in physical form), the brother of the abducted girl, does his best to stop the ritual, only to be cursed and turned into an immortal talking black cat.  Not long after, the now younger Sandersons are hanged for their crimes, but before they are, they vow to return from the grave “one Hallow’s Eve when the moon is round when a virgin will summon us from under the ground!”  Flash forward three hundred years later, where the new kid in Salem, Max (Omri Katz), hates Halloween because he thinks it was invented by the candy companies and so refuses to take part in any festivities or believe any of the folklore.  Him resenting having to move there from California isn’t helping his mood any, either.  But Max soon changes his tune when, accompanying his little sister Dani (Thora Birch) trick-or-treating, the two run into Max’s crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw).  Together, the three decide to pay a visit to The Sanderson House, now a museum, where Max lights The Black Flame Candle as a joke.  The Black Flame Candle is the magical artifact said to summon The Sanderson Sisters back from the afterlife, and since Max just happens to be a virgin, three guesses how that turns out.  The witches return with the intent of completing their plan to attain everlasting youth.  But first, they must get back Winifred’s spell book, which has the recipe for the potion, which Max and the girls have stolen.  And so begins a night-long game of Cat and Mouse.

While watching Hocus Pocus, you can tell that everybody involved in this production had a great time making it, and fortunately that fun bleeds into the whole viewing experience. The movie still has its fair share of eye-rolling corniness and movie tropes that are overdone, such as there being two knuckle-headed bully characters, but Hocus Pocus is clever and fun enough when it’s not partaking in any of that, that those elements feel insignificant in the grand scheme.  However, I will admit that people who grew up watching it are more likely to enjoy it now than anyone coming into it fresh, but I still recommend it nonetheless.

Why? Mainly because Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy are a blast to watch, especially in how their characters react to all the updates of the modern world. In a way, these three are almost like a female Three Stooges, just not as slapstick heavy. Sure, they indulge in their fair share of hitting, kicking, and ear-tugging, and I know that sounds discouraging to some of you, but it works because all of the comedy relating to them is about much more than that physicality.  The good news is that most of the comedy has aged well.  There’s enough gusto in the performances of Midler, Najimy and Parker that some of the more broad jokes are able to click due in large part to that giddy gusto.  Even if their big musical number about an hour into the film feels like it’s there just to take advantage of Midler’s singing abilities, their energy makes it work as a fun little diversion.  I’m not saying all of the humor works because a few of the jokes are too broad, but enough of them work.  Omri Katz, Thora Birch and Vinessa Shaw are serviceable in their straight-arrow roles despite maybe one too many leanings on 90’s clichés on the script’s part.  The comedy is really the main selling point of a movie like Hocus Pocus, and that’s really where it works the most.

By the way, since this a Disney movie, I kind of feel like I need to ask why the writers felt the need to emphasize the virgin joke so much. Yeah, the witches were freed by a virgin. We get it. Move on. I realized on this viewing how much adult humor there is sprinkled throughout that I never got before. In addition to that virgin plot hinge, there are also boob jokes and other subtle sex-fueled asides.  To quote The Nostalgia Critic: “You know…for kids!”  I’m not exactly saying that’s a bad thing, but just imagine the questions parents are going to get, or probably have gotten: “Mommy, what’s a virgin?”

Hocus Pocus can also get exciting at times and has a very nicely paced 96-minute running time, so it’s a pretty breezy watch. The film relies more on set pieces toward the end, and they’re fun, namely the climax, and they integrate laughs into them pretty fluidly.  In terms of the special effects, they’re okay, but man did I find the effects on Binx the Cat pretty bad and distracting.

All in all, Hocus Pocus holds up pretty well.  It may show its age in a few spots, but at its best, this is a good ol’ helping of 90’s cheese, and you know what I’m in the mood for every once in a while? A good ol’ helping of 90’s cheese!


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