Quick, lock up your children. The witchy Sanderson sisters are back and hungering for more young souls. It’s been nearly 30 years since the cackling coven – Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy – last cast a spell, but they’re up to old tricks in "Hocus Pocus 2.” You know the drill: the witches have until sunrise following Halloween to restore their youth by sucking the life out of children.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because “2” is pretty much the same as “1,” with some fluffing and dusting, of course. And that’s not a knock. The sequel is a wicked good time, with a big musical number rivaling the original, the return of fan favorite “good zombie” Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones), plenty of salt circles, black cats and creepy cemeteries.
Director Anne Fletcher ("27 Dresses," "The Proposal") and screenwriter Jen D’Angelo (“Workaholics”) pay appropriate homage to the original, blending fun callbacks with loads of laughs, mild scares and lessons about loyalty, friendship and sisterhood.
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The film opens with a pre-title sequence showing the origin of the siblings in 1620s Salem, where they are run out of town when 16-year-old Winifred (Taylor Henderson) refuses an arranged marriage. Winnie and her younger siblings, Mary (Nina Kitchen) and Sarah (Juju Journey Brener), land deep in the woods, where they encounter a Witch Mother (Hannah Waddingham from “Ted Lasso”) and her devious one-eyed spellbook. Sorcery ensues.
Skip to 2022 and – abracadabra – it’s Halloween in Salem, and the city is decked out in orange, black and purple for the annual ScareFest. Becca (Whitney Peak) is ready to celebrate her sweet 16 with BFFs Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham). Except Cassie ditches them (again) for a boy. Later that night, during the “birthday ritual,” two of the girls accidentally light the cursed black-flame candle that springs the Sanderson sisters back to life. Instantly, they want to steal the souls of Becca and Izzy.
Fletcher conjures up enough spooky-kooky chaos, special effects and amusing situations to keep things moving. It’s a hoot to watch these 17th-century witches interact in the 21st century, taking selfies and playing with an Alexa. Winnie (Midler), Sarah (Parker) and Mary (Najimy) fly through the night sky on broomstick, Swiffer and a pair of robot vacuums. They visit Walgreens and become convinced it’s an enchanting place because the front doors open automatically, or as Winnie puts it, the “gates parted.” They believe the anti-aging lotions, potions and serums are full of coveted children’s souls. “Retinol, what a nice name for a child.”
Midler, Parker and Najimy deliver fabulous, scenery-chewing performances as the OG witches. In Winnie’s signature red wig and buck teeth, Midler seems to be having a blast casting spells and terrifying tots. Parker’s dimwitted, boy-crazy Sarah is used to being pushed around by Winnie, but she’s become a bit more assertive. Najimy’s bumbling Mary can still sniff out a kid like nobody’s business.
Newcomers include “Veep” alums: Tony Hale as the mayor of Salem and descendant of the evil family who crossed the women centuries ago; and Sam Richardson is Gilbert the Great, owner of the magic store that used to be the Sandersons’ cottage.
The original “Hocus Pocus” bombed with critics and at the box office, gaining popularity as a Halloween favorite long after its theatrical run. Those fans who elevated the movie to cult-classic status will certainly be spellbound by the nostalgia. And this being a Disney offering, their kids won’t have to sleep with the lights on.
‘Hocus Pocus 2’
Rating: PG for action, macabre/suggestive humor and some language
Cast: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Whitney Peak, Lilia Buckingham, Belissa Escobedo, Doug Jones, Sam Richardson, Tony Hale
Director: Anne Fletcher
Writer: Jen D’Angelo
Running time: 104 minutes
Where to watch: Streaming on Disney+ starting Sept. 30
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Reach Dana Barbuto at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: 'Hocus Pocus 2' review: MIdler Parker Najimy still cast a spell