There aren’t many films that I absolutely must watch at Halloween but Hocus Pocus certainly is one of them. I can’t remember the exact age I was when I first saw it but I was young and it’s been a tradition for me to watch ever since. The nostalgia factor is what’s given this film its incredible staying power after all. The film was a critical flop when it was first released in July of 1993 and opened against Free Willy so it was a commercial flop as well (but I mean, who’s surprised? Free Willy‘s a classic in its own right as well), yet, here we are, in 2018 and it’s impossible for a Halloween season to go by without the film airing on television or popping around you in some fashion. It’s a millennial’s Halloween treasure and after the grueling and grim watch of Se7en, I couldn’t be more delighted to shake off some of that residual tension and discomfort.
While I wouldn’t put them on the same level, just as Young Frankenstein would fall apart without Gene Wilder at the helm, Hocus Pocus just wouldn’t be the same without the Sanderson Sisters played by Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker, and the always stunning Bette Midler. These three ladies are the best part of this whole film. They land the comical moments with such ease and give us the most memorable lines of the film. Who can forget Sarah Jessica Parker’s excited bouncing and exclaiming “amok, amok, amok, amok!” or Bette Midler’s rendition of “I Put A Spell on You” or Kathy Majimy riding that vacuum cleaner as a broom? They might not be characters of particularly great depths but they’re fun and as charming as they are outrageous. Who else could make three murderous and evil witches seem so fun?
As far as the film itself goes though, it’s surprisingly bold for a Disney production. Originally created with the intention of airing as a Disney Channel Original, the film was given a theatrical release instead and its got a half a dozen sexual jokes, a somewhat predatory Sarah Jessica Parker, witchcraft, and witches who overall just delight in being evil. Of course, good wins out in the end in true Disney fashion with plenty of ridiculous situations and lots of laughs along the way, but still….it’s a curious choice for Disney. Yet the family-friendly charm is in part what makes it such a treat to watch. Its got its inconsistencies — Winifred doesn’t know what a paved road is but she knows to ask Max if he has his learner’s permit? Odd. The story stumbles a bit in the latter half of the second act and loses some of its steam, but the final confrontation with the witches ends in a heartfelt conclusion. It’s not a true Disney film if it doesn’t make you feel good somehow, right?
Overall, the film’s such a fun time and full of our modern-day Halloween fun. I don’t know if I could pick a better film to capture the more lighthearted feeling the holiday has to it.