Absurd, wacky, and utterly loveable, Hocus Pocus has become a festive favorite of 90’s era young folks. Originally released in July of 1993, the Kenny Ortega film barely made its budget back at the box office. It wasn’t until the early 2000s when the film gained popularity (much like Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas) during October airings on Disney Channel and ABC Family (now Freeform).
While Hocus Pocus isn’t Disney’s greatest masterpiece, it excels because it is fun. A couple of kids get into some mischief on Halloween night because the new boy to town is trying to impress the cute girl from school. It isn’t a complicated plot, but the narrative doesn’t take itself seriously. The kids, Max (Omri Katz), Dani (Thora Birch), and Allison (Vinessa Shaw), are loveable. Their performances feel genuine. When they get excited, you get excited. When they get scared, you get scared.
Of course, Bette Midler stole the show by taking a campy witch and turning it into the iconic role of Winifred “Winnie” Sanderson. Bette Midler’s wit and chutzpa shine. Winnie is a character that can make you laugh one moment, and be scared of the next. And of course, her greatest enchantment in the role comes from a stupendous rendition of “I Put a Spell on You”.
Midler is accompanied by Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker, in the roles of Mary and Sarah Sanderson, respectively. Both Najimy and Parker bring vibrant performances to the table. Najimy’s Mary is the dumb, klutzy sister, and Parker is the young naïve one. All three witches are a quirky caricature, but still make room to be slightly spooky.
The film also works so well today because of nostalgia. Young adults today grew up watching the film every Halloween. It transports viewers back to the day when the only way to give a girl your number was to write it down on a piece of notebook paper and give it to her at school. Like most 90s films, you can laugh at the hairstyles and outfits, only to be reminded your parents dressed you the same way.
Hocus Pocus also is able to capture the charm of Salem, MA in the fall, and share it with viewers. In October 2015, I took a trip to Salem. I immediately felt as if I walked into the set of Hocus Pocus. There were really people dressed up as witches walking around the streets, and the scenery was even more gorgeous than in the film. Any movie that can authentically capture the vibe and aesthetic of a real place earns bonus points in my book.
While there have been murmurs of a potential sequel, thankfully, they have been shut down. When a studio tries to bank on the success of one film, it can sometimes taint the beauty of the first (here’s looking at you, Alice Through the Looking Glass). Hocus Pocus works because of the right people working together on a fun script at the right time. Most of the lovable campiness of the film stems from the fact that it was made in the early 90s, and that charm is almost entirely unobtainable in film or television today.