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Movie review: 'Hocus Pocus 2' is a cute witch comedy sequel

1/5
From left to right, Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker return in "Hocus Pocus 2." Photo courtesy of Disney
From left to right, Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker return in "Hocus Pocus 2." Photo courtesy of Disney

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- Hocus Pocus 2, on Disney+ Friday, shows it's never too late for a legacy sequel. After 29 years since the release of Hocus Pocus, the sequel has new fun with a modern perspective.

In 1653 Salem, the young Sanderson sisters discover their spellbook, which includes the Magica Maxima spell. It would make the witch who casts it all powerful, but at such a cost that the Witch Mother (Hannah Waddingham) forbids it.

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In the present, it's Halloween in Salem and also Becca's (Whitney Peak) birthday. Becca and Izzy (Belissa Escobed) plan their usual Halloween birthday night, but this time without Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), who seems to want to get back in their good graces.

Thanks to a candle gifted to them by magic shop owner Gilbert (Sam Richardson), Becca and Izzy inadvertently bring Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah Sanderson (Sarah Jessica Parker) back to Salem, 29 years after they last returned. The Sandersons set out to cast the Magica Maxima spell.

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Hocus Pocus 2 is a big broad kids movie. Its depiction of 17th-century Salem is full of family friendly caricature of puritans.

In the present, Salem's Mayor (Tony Hale) is extremely out of touch and trying too hard. These are the sort of grown-up foils against whom children should rebel, though kids will also outgrow them shortly after they pass the target age group for this film.

When the Sandersons return, the trio hasn't missed a beat. They do solid physical comedy and resume their sisterly chemistry.

A joke about finding new brooms is particularly clever, even if the flying effect is bad enough to almost ruin the joke. Those new brooms do actually pay off later, so it's both funny and relevant to the plot.

Modern Salem is oblivious to the threat because people believe the legend of the Sanderson sisters is just a tall tale. Especially on Halloween night, everyone assumes they are just another trio of costumed fangirls, so they play along.

That's more of a postmodern take on a witch movie sequel than would have been attempted in 1993, but it's a fun take. The Sandersons seem to have caught up on modern slang in their absence with no explanation, using phrases like "time hack," but that's hardly the loosest this franchise plays with magic rules.

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It is a bit odd that the Sandersons' musical numbers are covers in the sequel. Hocus Pocus had an original song, "Put a Spell on You." In the sequel, they cover Elton John and Blondie.

Jukebox music is just as catchy, so perhaps it was the right call. And director Anne Fletcher, a former choreographer, knows how to shoot fun choreography.

But, the Sandersons still are only vehicles for the young characters to find their power and repair a broken friendship. That part of the story remains sincere with all the slapstick shenanigans going on around them.

Seeing the original is not required to appreciate Hocus Pocus 2. Besides the Sandersons, there is some connective tissue that adds a bit more depth to the franchise.

People who have watched Hocus Pocus regularly for 29 years may be more critical. As a one-off, three decades later, Hocus Pocus 2 seems cute enough.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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