Review: The witches return in lively ‘Hocus Pocus 2’

The nostalgia for “Hocus Pocus” has always been a bit of a mystery to me.

There is nothing new about kids loving mediocre films and carrying that soft spot into adulthood, but I was in the right demographic when “Hocus Pocus” came out in the summer of 1993 (age 9, approaching third grade) and remember it being just OK.

This is not a testament to my taste at the time, when I thought “Grease 2” was one of the best movies ever, but more so indicative of the undeniable averageness of “Hocus Pocus.” I don’t think it was just me, either. Aside from Sarah Jessica Parker’s “Amok! Amok! Amok!” entering our vernacular, it was not a movie any of my peers were eager to watch again. And yet, much to my bewilderment, “Hocus Pocus” became a thing over the years. My best guess is it was some combination of its relentless availability crossed with a lack of PG-rated Halloween content. Plus, there is the intro-to-camp factor of Parker, Bette Midler and Kathy Najimy as singing sisters bent on eating children to preserve their youth.

Regardless, a straight-to-Disney+ sequel made 30 years later seemed like a cynical endeavor at best. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that “ Hocus Pocus 2 ” is actually pretty fun. Set in a Stars Hollow-like Salem, it’s the perfect Disney+ movie — seasonally appropriate entertainment that, for at least one night, may save a family from the doom of endless scrolling and indecision.

With a lively, witty script by Jen D’Angelo, “Hocus Pocus 2” finds the Sanderson sisters Winifred (Midler), Sarah (Parker) and Mary (Najimy) unleashed on their present day town once more. This time it’s some coven-curious teenage girls Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) who accidentally resurrect them and then try to outwit them where they can, leading to an amusing sequence in a drug store in which the always vain Sandersons sample the serums in the beauty aisle.

Midler, Parker and Najimy are all once again game to ham it up for the audience (and sometimes no one but themselves) with spells, songs and dances. But they are only part of this strangely amusing brew, with well rounded teen characters, and a very strong comedic supporting cast including Sam Richardson, as the owner of the local occult shop; Tony Hale, as the mayor and a witch trial era reverend; and Doug Jones as a “good zombie.” Hannah Waddingham from “Ted Lasso” also has a far-too-short cameo as another witch.

Special mention should be made of the three actors who play the young Sanderson sisters, Taylor Henderson as Winifred, Nina Kitchen as Mary and Juju Journey Brener as Sarah, who do a lovely job of embodying their adult counterparts in a brief origin story.

But the heart of the film is the teen girls, who have their own issues aside from stopping the Sanderson sisters from becoming all powerful — Becca and Izzy are grappling with a life in which their third, Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), has turned her attentions away from their amateur-witching and to her jock boyfriend. Peak, who played Idris Elba’s daughter in “Molly’s Game,” is a standout.

Directed by Anne Fletcher, “Hocus Pocus 2” goes down easy — though by the time the entire town breaks out into a dance to “One Way or Another,” you may be ready for the film to get where it’s going. Still, it’s a fun enough ride for a fall night.

“Hocus Pocus 2,” a Disney+ release streaming Friday, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association for “action, some language, macabre/suggestive humor.” Running time: 104 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

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MPA Definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.

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