Title: Hocus Pocus
Release Date: July 16, 1993
Director: Kenny Ortega
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
I was 19-years-old when Hocus Pocus was released to theaters in 1993, so I quickly judged it as “not for me.” But over the decades, the Millennial generation have made it loudly be known that this is a Halloween classic, so I figured I’d give it a try. The movie is very 1990s, sometimes painfully 1990s. And very Disney. And very sitcom-ish. And very 1990s Disney sitcom, although I should note once again it was released in theaters. And yet, despite the cringe moments, I found myself warming to the quirky charm of Hocus Pocus and its absolutely bonkers plot points.
Max (Omri Katz) is a teenager who just moved from California to Salem, Massachusetts and is having trouble fitting in. That the movie depicts the people of Massachusetts as obsessed with Halloween and prone to making fun of Max for being from Los Angeles are some of the most accurate parts of the movie (I’m also impressed that so much location shooting was done in the real Salem!).
On Halloween, Max reluctantly takes his little sister Dani (Thora Birch) trick-or-treating. Stopping at the house of Max’s crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw) the three decided to break into the shuddered historic house museum of the Sanderson sisters, three women executed for practicing witchcraft in 1693. Trying to impress Allison, Max accidentally casts the spell that brings back the Sanderson sisters – Winnifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy). With the help of Thackery Binx (Sean Murray), a colonial boy cursed by Winnifred to live in immortality as a talking cat (voiced by Jason Marsden), Max, Dani, and Allison must stop the Sandersons and save Salem.
This movie is a lot weirder than I thought. Midler is obviously having fun in her over-the-top performance as Winnifred. For my money, though, the MVP is Parker is almost always doing something bizarre around the edges of the shot (I’d forgotten how goofy Parker could be in her career before Sex and the City, although I haven’t seen any of her more recent work). Birch is also excellent in the sarcastic, cute kid role. And the great Doug Jones has a small part as the zombie Headless Billy.
This movie is a lot hornier than you’d expect for a Disney film. A key plot point is that Max is “still” a virgin at 15-years-old and everyone gives him a hard time for it! Also, a bus driver quips that he would be willing to impregnate all the Sanderson sisters. Not for nothing, there are also some scares in the movie, including a child being killed on screen within the first five minutes and a cat getting flattened by a bus. Still though, this is light comic fair for the most part, and I’m not surprised that a generation of kids could enjoy watching this every October on tv.