This post covers the story of Hocus Pocus 2 and alludes to the original Hocus Pocus heavily. Spoilers abound. You’ve been warned.
The sequel to the 1993 classic, Hocus Pocus, has been on Disney+ for about half a month and I’m still thinking about it. Hocus Pocus 2 is a fun return, but is lacking in terms of writing. To think through the good and the bad of the script, I want to focus in on the themes of the story (even if they aren’t fleshed out.
1. What Matters Most is the People We Care About
A pretty clear theme set out from the beginning is the importance of “the coven,” the importance of sisterhood to the Sanderson sisters and the importance of friendship to the girls of the modern story. (I do want to take a brief bit to say that the girls playing the young Sanderson sisters did SO WELL– it might be one of the strongest parts of the movie.)
From the beginning, the Sanderson sisters are a sisterhood against the world and the girls from the modern day are straining because of their third “witch” dating a boy. (More on that later.) Only with a full coven, having healed their friendship, could the modern girls defend against the Sanderson sisters. AND, ultimately, the downfall of the Sanderson sisters is that Winnifred Sanderson doesn’t value her sisters enough– something we have seen over the course of the two movies, but is undercut by the Puritan beginning (and the ultimate end).
The course of the plot actually pitches this theme against the next theme.
2. Power Comes at a Price
In the words of Rumple from the ABC TV show Once Upon a Time, “Magics always comes at a price.”
As the Sanderson sisters flee Puritan society, they meet a lone witch in the woods. (What is somewhat irritating is that the original lore included this moment as meeting the devil, but the Sanderson sisters call her “mother” later, also conflicting with original lore.) What is clear is that this witch has done the big bad spell of power before and doesn’t recommend it. She alludes to that her coven is gone, but we can’t make the inference that they are gone because she sacrificed them for power until later.
While the nature of their dabbling in power was likely an escape from Puritans and the oppression of women, the audience who has seen the first movie knows that the Sanderson sisters became Evil– they devour the souls of children! Power morphs them into what we see in both movies.
One of the things we don’t see by the end of the film is power taking a toll on the girls– or do we? We see the mysterious woods woman (in bird form) following after them down the Salem street as they walk like the Sanderson sisters. Are they now doomed to follow a similar path?
Probably not. But who knows? One of the things that I hate about the climax of this story is how much it depended on the girls having magical powers.
3. Men are Dumb
Something that I wish I were joking about is how DUMB all the male characters are in this story. From the boyfriend character (Mike) to the Mayor/Preacher’s characters– the men are comically, unrealistically stupid. These characters ruin a lot of this overall story for how cartoonish their writing and delivery are. Even the main male character, Gilbert, is apparently the smartest MALE in town– but he makes the dumbest decision of the whole story– which will lead us into the next theme:
4. Connections Between Witchcraft and Female Empowerment
Historical analysis on witchcraft has been fascinating. I won’t pretend to even be able to do more than scratch the surface, but witchcraft throughout history was usually a false proclamation of a woman who wasn’t “in her place.”
Modern witchcraft, Wicca, can be studied as practices which are intended to empower (especially women, but I don’t think it’s strictly gendered).
Gilbert appears to be confusing the Sanderson sisters as misunderstood women, protofeminists ahead of their time, and who, if they did a kind of witchcraft, were really just seeking female empowerment.
While the witchcraft depicted by the modern girls, mostly two rituals chanting for good things to happen and carrying lucky stones, is supposed to be empowering. (Possibly, what literally empowers the protagonist, Becca, to become magical.)
This, however, is a foolish way of looking at the Sanderson sisters OR a drastic rewriting. The Sanderson sisters believed in HP1 that their master was Satan, that he gave them Book, and sought to slurp up the souls of children to stay young and beautiful forever. HP2 rewrites this a little with “mother” giving them the book; but they still seek to drink the souls of children.
This second outing, in giving the girls powers, really ought to have made some kind of statement which separated out “good” from “dark” magic or SOMETHING.
But Gilbert’s mistake goes even deeper:
5. The Dangers of Nostalgia
Gilbert was a young boy, around Dani’s age, in 1993, when the Sanderson sisters last resurrected in Salem. His story includes seeing them flying after all his candy being taken and becoming enamored of their power. He went and found Book and started a magic shop, waiting for a young one to light the candle on a Halloween night under a full moon.
Part of his mistake in overlooking the facts of the Sanderson sisters as not just feminist icons becomes MORE problematic when we think about it: he was a KID during 1993 when the Sanderson sisters tried to EAT KIDS’ SOULS. He would have been one of the countless kids in the street confused as to why they were walking toward the Sanderson house.
This event is treated like a known entity in HP2, so he should know what witchcraft is and how they actually were. Or maybe he’s more sinister– he doesn’t even care if they down a few child-souls if they might give him a boon.
But, considering they betray him, we see that there was false trust placed in the Sanderson sisters– that nostalgia for its own sake (especially while looking at the past with a modern lens) isn’t a positive trait. Sadly, the closest we have to closure on this them is a bad apology from Gilbert (underlining his dumb-ness). What is frustrating is that with a well-written dialogue or monologue with him at the end, several of these themes might have been nicely tied up.
Note 1: Characters Need To Be Grounded and Fleshed Out
There are three modern girls in the new movie: Becca, Izzy, and Cassie. While all three of the young actresses did a good job, I had to look up their characters’ names. It’s hard to tell if it’s just because of how much I’ve watched the original, but I feel like the characters names were said more often.
More than that, it feels like this film RUSHED the reappearance of the Sanderson sisters. This really cut off the grounding scenes which would flesh out their characters. Mostly, we know that the girls do witch-y rituals every birthday and that Cassie now has a boyfriend (which frustrates their friendship). That’s it. That’s all that their characters have.
Compare this to the original movie. Max and Dani have recently moved to Salem from California. Max doesn’t believe in all the witch stuff (which actually helps ground the movie even more) and has a crush on Allison. Dani is full of personality and is his pesky sister. Allison is the local girl who is from a wealthy family. AND they didn’t have to have magical power to defeat the witches. (More on this at note 3.)
Note 2: Don’t Add Fan Service– Give Us What We Want
The fan service I’m talking about is especially exemplified in the song the witches performed when they first resurrected. It was extra and didn’t make sense– and it stood out as even worse when they sang their song on a new stage later. Doing it the right way later underlined their mistake from earlier.
All we want as fans is a good story. We don’t need this sort of stuff added for the sake of adding it.
Note 3: Don’t Make Magic the Only Way to Fight Evil
The worst part of the story is that the modern girls began to learn magic. Instead of having to use their head, they were protected by magic and walked through the solution to the final problem by the Book. I would even have accepted “the power of friendship” protecting them (as a kind of magic, not-magic).
It’s one of the aspects of speculative fiction that works best when stealing from Tolkien– have the unlikely hero win. Thankfully, they weren’t some kind of “chosen ones.”
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