Wayback Wednesday: Hocus Pocus (1993)

I smell children…and they’re being outshined by Bette Midler.

For the first Wayback Wednesday review of October, as well as the first one EVER, we’re looking back at Hocus Pocus!

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Credit: historiccrafttheatre.org / Buena Vista Pictures

So, total honesty, this was my first time watching Hocus Pocus.

Ever.

I was definitely aware of its existence, the general plot, and how it’s considered a classic Halloween staple among anyone born in the 90s, but for whatever reason, it’s just never been part of my Halloween repertoire. In our house, the Halloween viewing lineup included the likes of Ghostbusters (1984), Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998), Van Helsing (2004), and that three-part Archie’s Weird Mysteries (1999 – 2000) special where Veronica saves the town from vampires. Side note, it’s totally on YouTube, give it a watch. I promise you, it’s hands down more entertaining and believable than anything Riverdale (2017 – present) did last season.

But after sitting down and watching Hocus Pocus…holy shit, I suggest we form a calming circle.

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Credit: Buzzfeed, Inc / Buena Vista Pictures

I mean, right off the bat, the cast alone sold me on this movie: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy essentially playing cartoon characters for an hour and a half? I’m on board. And once I was on board, you know what upgraded me to a first-class cabin? Bette Midler giving the most over-the-top, campiest, animated performance I’ve ever seen from a two-time Academy Award nominee. Wait, do you think she thought this was an animated movie when she signed on and then when she found out it wasn’t, was like, “fuck it, I’m Bette Midler, I’m committing to what I did in the audition.” Regardless, yes, it’s a lot, but that level of enthusiasm and fun is exactly what I want from a Disney movie about three bumbling witches returning from the dead to suck the youth out of children. It’s Bette Midler’s level of commitment to a role that is so unapologetically cartoon-like that sells the fantasy of the whole movie and will make you question if rooting for the Sanderson sisters would really be so horrible.

While Kathy Najimy perfectly peppers scenes with her own brand of endearing incompetence as middle sister Mary, it really is Sarah Jessica Parker, as ditzy, youngest sister Sarah, who steals the show with quotable one-liners and a lovable airheaded-ness.

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Credit: wowamazing.com / Buena Vista Pictures

I really wish Sarah Jessica Parker were able to bring this level of delightful charm to all her movie roles. Unfortunately, I just don’t think she’s ever given the “all clear” by a director to embrace that wonderful silliness she’s clearly able to pull off.

Speaking of directors, let’s talk about Kenny Ortega. He brings the same level of expertise and craftsmanship to children’s camp that Alfred Hitchcock brought to realistic suspense. It’s a bold comparison but I stand by it. Ortega is unafraid to embrace ridiculousness and fun for the sake of turning out a stellar genre film that oozes charm and style. For evidence, look no further than his directorial credits on the High School Musical trilogy (2006 – 2008).

That much is evident in the way he masterfully handles the tone of this movie. Ortega performs a juggling act, effortlessly switching from the comical stylings of the Sanderson sisters mistaking a costumed Garry Marshall for Satan, to the genuinely thrilling way they sneak inside Max and Dani’s house. The way that one long nail slowly rips into the blinds, the way Sarah surprises the kids by jumping from the bed…bitch, I jumped too.

Oh, right, I haven’t talked much about the heroes of the movie, Max, Dani, and Allison, played by Omri Katz, Thora Birch, and Vinessa Shaw respectively. By the way, it took me until the credits started rolling to realize that Allison was NOT being played by a young Hilary Swank. As it turns out, her not being played by Hilary Swank is the most interesting thing about Alison. Sorry, she doesn’t get that much to do.

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Credit: eonline.com / Buena Vista Pictures

Max, Dani, and Alison are perfectly fine as protagonists, although I take real issue with Max complaining about how terrible Salem is. Bitch, my bags are packed, that town has everything: Creepy legends, a lit Halloween party at town hall, and townspeople that basically attack you for not loving Halloween, a holiday of which I am a strong, spooky proponent. Max and Alison’s teacher who berates him for not loving Halloween? My idol.

Across the board, the kids in this movie are pretty dull but let’s be honest, you’re not watching Hocus Pocus for the sensational child actors. Although, I could watch Dani dramatically throw herself on to a hale bay about 18 times in a row.

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Credit: ew.com / Buena Vista Pictures

Oh my God, the actual hero of this movie is Thackery Binx, both in human and cat form. He proves himself to be a great character in the opening scene as he rushes to save his little sister Emily from the clutches of the witches, that sense of urgency hitting close to home for anyone tasked with looking out for their younger sibling. Spoiler, he fails to save Emily and gets turned into a pretty adorable black cat. Who talks. Look, you throw a talking cat into your movie and it’s going to steal the focus from the main characters, that’s just a fact. On that note, the effects used to make Binx talk, as well as the other effects, are on par for Jurassic Park (1993) in the sense that they totally hold up.

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Credit: cuteness.com / Buena Vista Pictures

While it hasn’t yet hit Broadway, I was unsurprised to learn that there is an unauthorized stage adaptation of this movie. It comes as no surprise for one simple reason: The Bette Midler cover of “I Put a Spell on You” is a BOP. I like the fact that the movie went, “I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense, or takes time away from the story, we have Bette Midler and we’re doing a damn musical number.” Kenny Ortega knows what I want before even I do.

Hocus Pocus really is a perfect blend of family fun, silly physical comedy and frightfully delightful Halloween scares. This trio of scene-stealing witches put a spell on me, earning themselves a spot on my Halloween lineup, right next to Veronica and her vampire-slaying exploits. No, seriously, check it out.

What do you guys think of Hocus Pocus? Was it one of your Halloween favourites?

Let me know in the comments, or reach out on Twitter and Instagram!

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