Twenty-nine years after the Sanderson Sisters last terrorized the people of Salem, the child-eating witches have returned to wreak havoc in Anne Fletcher’s Hocus Pocus 2. While the world may have changed drastically during their absence, Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy), and Sarah’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) desire to maintain their beauty by devouring young souls remains the same.
Taking viewers back to where it all started, Fletcher’s film reveals that the Sanderson Sisters were not always a fearsome coven. In fact, they were merely girls whose ideals went against the patriarchal order of their society at the time. The most independent of the trio being Winifred (Taylor Henderson), who on her 16th birthday adamantly refuses to agree to an arranged marriage that Reverend Traske (Tony Hale), the hypocritical religious authority in town, has planned for her.
When her objection results in the threat of her siblings being taken away, the sisters make a daring escape into the forbidden forest where villagers fear to tread. There they encounter The Witch Mother (Hannah Waddingham) who bestows them with a powerful book of spells and informs them of the special connection the woods have to a witch’s powers.
Decades later the magical energy of the forest is unknowingly used to bring back the Sanderson Sisters when Becca (Whitney Peak), on her 16th birthday, the age when a witch’s power reveals itself, and her friend Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) accidently conjure up a spell while performing their annual birthday ritual. Interested in the mystic arts since they were kids, Becca, Izzy, and their friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) used to take pleasure in pretending they had the power to cast spells. However, now as teens, the girls’ relationship has become increasingly strained since Cassie, whose father is the town Mayor (Hale), seems more interested in hanging out with her dimwitted boyfriend than with them.
While testing the bandwidth of strained teenage bonds presents the film with a whole new avenue to venture down, Hocus Pocus 2 never seems that concerned with Becca, Izzy, and Cassie’s relationship. Rather than using the girls’ arc to draw parallels to the young Sanderson Sisters’ plight or setting them up for a Charmed style franchise spinoff for this generation, Fletcher’s film is more concerned with swimming in the pool of nostalgia. Despite its opening moments, which attempts to give more depth to the central characters, much of Hocus Pocus 2’s plot involves finding ways to recreate the iconic moments from the 1993 original.
This blast from the past includes an epic dance number by possessed town folks, gags about characters finding substitutes for brooms, and the return of Winifred’s alleged true love Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones). While some will enjoy this trip down memory lane, the overreliance on recycling the past overshadows the bright spots of the present. Hocus Pocus 2 is most entertaining when playing with fish out of water tropes. One cannot help but chuckle observing the sisters navigate a store like Walgreens. Unfortunately, there is not enough of these moments in the film to overlook the thinness of the overall story.
Though it is nice to see Midler, Parker and perpetual scene-stealer Najimy interact with the comedic talents of Hale and Sam Richardson, who plays local shop owner and Sanderson Sisters historian Gilbert, the film is merely content with being propped up by the past, rather than standing on its own feet. As a result, character arcs feel stunted as accountability is thrown out of the window in favour of convenient ways to advance the plot.
Fans of the original will no doubt find several nostalgic moments to enjoy. Unfortunately, there is not enough substance in Hocus Pocus 2 to cast a lasting spell.