Disney regularly wrings inordinate mileage out of nostalgia, which can easily obscure when the source wasn’t quite as worthy of praise as we like to remember. “Hocus Pocus 2” should benefit from that dynamic, delivering a breezy sequel – 29 years later – that should provide go-down-easy Halloween viewing for families in the less-demanding confines of Disney+.
The costumes and shoes still amiably fit for Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson sisters, who even get to belt out a jukebox-style version of a certain Elton John song, stone cold sober, as an added piece of content to help promote the movie.
Still, what makes this “Hocus Pocus” gel is the nifty mix of old and new, replicating the basic template from the original while introducing a new and more diverse contingent of teens to do battle with the centuries-old witches. Throw in a couple of “Veep” alums (Sam Richardson, Tony Hale), and three-decades worth of technological advances to dazzle and befuddle the central trio (automatic doors and Alexa really are like witchcraft to undiscerning eyes), and you have a blueprint for humor that fits neatly within the original mold, while expanding it ever so slightly.
It takes a bit too much time for the movie’s charms to kick in, as the film begins with a 12-minute Sandersons origin story that’s perhaps most memorable for a cameo by “Ted Lasso’s” Hannah Waddingham. Director Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal”) and writer Jen D’Angelo then shift to introduce a pair of misfit teens (“Gossip Girl’s” Whitney Peak and Belissa Escobedo), who like hanging out at the local magic shop, where the proprietor (Richardson) helps plant the seeds for the Sandersons’ latest reawakening.
As usual, the kids wind up having to do the heavy lifting in fighting off the threat, with the Sandersons again exhibiting a mix of malevolence and ineptitude, starting with their magic’s vulnerability to several grains of salt.
Fortunately, the younger contingent proves a fairly likable bunch, even if the Disney Channel-esque thread running through it – involving an estranged friend (Lilia Buckingham) who has abandoned her old pals for the popular kids – doesn’t exactly reek of freshness.
Then again, this kind of movie hardly needs to reinvent the cauldron, representing more of a cut-and-paste job. To its credit, the film still manages to be clever about weaving in callbacks to the original, like the trio’s goofy synchronized walk, without overdoing them.
While the not-too-scary hijinks are acceptable for kids, those scenes will likely deliver more of a kick for parents who caught the movie way back when, helping turn it into a Halloween favorite. In practical terms, just seeing the principals reprise their roles should conjure enough marketing heat to make this a winner for Disney’s streaming service, without forgoing too much cash by not releasing the movie theatrically.
By that measure, “Hocus Pocus 2” finds what amounts to the streaming sweet spot, feeling just big enough, but not too big. There’s more alchemy than science to that formula, but as Disney’s long history of live-action remakes and revivals go, it does require a certain knack to serve the brew in a way that makes the toil worth the trouble.
“Hocus Pocus 2” premieres September 30 on Disney+.