Anchor Staff Writer
Every October as the leaves begin to dance gracefully off of the New England trees, my family and I sit down on the weekend, almost weekly, to enjoy one of our favorite Halloween films. “Hocus Pocus” has been a classic since its arrival in 1993, when I was just 5 years old. My parents, brother and I saw it in theaters, quickly owned it on VHS, and eventually owned the DVD. Now with the arrival of Disney+, viewing this film is easier than it ever has been before.
So of course, the moment I heard that “Hocus Pocus 2” was due to hit the stream on Sept. 30, I couldn’t contain my excitement. To add to the exhilaration of a sequel to one of my favorites, Rhode Islanders quickly learned that the film in almost its entirety would be shot in our small but beautiful state; Disney was bringing Salem to us. As my family, my students and just about anyone who encounters me knows, I am a huge Disney fan and had school not yet been in session, I would have been on set trying to get cast as an extra. Maybe someday, Disney.
I set my expectations of the film pretty high, since the first is still a cult classic 29 years later. So as I sat down on the release day, I knew that this new movie had extremely large shoes to fill. I was a little sad that the original children of the cast would not be in the film: Vinessa Shaw, Omri Katz, Thora Birch and Sean Murray. But despite this, I knew that with the witches back, magic would soon be happening. Surrounded by my husband, children and my best friend, we began the movie.
The film begins with the introduction of the Sanderson sisters amidst their childhood. For those wondering, the 1600s Salem village was shot entirely at Chase Farm Park in Lincoln. Many of you probably drove by the impromptu set, or may have friends that posted pictures all over social media during the filming. The characters were tastefully chosen; their mannerisms and looks matched those of the elder Sarah, Winifred and Mary that we are all familiar with from the first movie. This sequence of scenes are extremely important to the plot as they tell us how the sisters came to be witches and the background we never got from the first film.
The movie also introduces us to a new set of characters: mainly a trio of teenage girls named Becca, Cassie and Izzy. It is Halloween night and Becca, played by Whitney Peak, is turning 16 and she’s obviously a virgin. After being given a candle by Gilbert “the Great,” an aspiring magician who saw the witches fly as a child in 1993, she unintentionally lights a new black flame candle — thanks Gilbert. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy reprise their roles as the sisters. Becca and her friends must find a way to send the witches back before they use a spell to make their stay permanent.
Overall, the movie was excellent. The acting was flawless and well executed. The overarching messages were positive. The storyline itself was so intermingled with the first; scenes show how certain characters were there for the events of the first film. Using technology, the magic is even more fascinating than the first. Of course, the comedic moments of the witches are just as we all expected. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the revamped brooms: a broom for Winifred, a Swiffer Wet Jet for Sarah and a pair of robot vacuums for Mary. Disney found ways to take the classic story we all loved and modernize it in a way that a new generation could identify wholesomely with the film. I will admit, a few of the songs were a little silly and could possibly have been a little better, but I don’t watch movies solely for the music scores, especially when it comes to Disney.
I am sure I’m not the only one who recognized so many of the downtown Newport (Washington Square) and Providence’s Federal Hill buildings during the festival scenes – the nostalgia was real for this lifetime Rhode Islander. Disney also brought back Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson, making him as much of the plot as he was in the original.
The film does have mixed reviews from critics, but the general consensus over social media has been positive. This film has constant nods to the original, bringing the magic of “Hocus Pocus” to a whole new generation. “Hocus Pocus 2” hit the Disney+ stream on Friday, and is a must-watch for this spooky season. See just how many Rhode Island locations and original “Hocus Pocus” nods you can spot. The sequel is a funny and nostalgic film that’s suitable for the entire family.