Hocus Pocus 2, by Albert W. Vogt III

This time of year is not my favorite.  My apologies to anyone who enjoy the approach of Halloween, but I stopped liking that event when I got too old to go trick-or-treating.  It seems to me that the only reason many adults celebrate it is because they want an excuse to behave in a wildly inappropriate manner.  I am being a curmudgeon.  More immediately, it is often around this turn of the calendar when the weather likes to give us who live in Florida one last reminder of the awful price we must sometimes pay for six months of meteorological bliss.  For days leading up to last Monday, it appeared that Hurricane Ian was heading straight for the Tampa Bay Area, the place where I live.  The next morning, those who call the beaches their home were ordered to evacuate.  This meant me.  I spent the next week at my sister’s place, hanging out with her family.  As somebody who takes my chosen craft seriously, I looked to the coming weekend with some trepidation.  This is another reason why I do not care for this season: the cinematic choices.  There is some kind of scary movie out called Smile, and my distaste for horror movies is well documented.  And, honestly, what would you expect an avowed Catholic film critic to say about Bros?  Stereotype me all you want.  Thus, with the week winding down and my house back in order after the uproar of the past days, I settled in for one last evening with my sister’s family and some of their friends to watch Hocus Pocus 2.

I was annoyed right off the bat with Hocus Pocus 2.  Actually, this sentiment preceded me seeing it when I found out it was being made, but that is another story.  I know I reviewed Hocus Pocus (1993), but I do not have any recollection of it.  That is probably an indictment of its quality, though, again, I cannot remember it well enough to confirm.  At any rate, my history eye rolled when Hocus Pocus 2 takes us back to Salem in 1653 because we have to see how the infamous Sanderson sisters became witches.  A young Winifred “Winnie” Sanderson (Taylor Paige Henderson) does not want to marry, so her and her siblings flee into the Forbidden Forest because there is always one of those, right?  There, they meet the Mother Witch (Hannah Waddingham), who gives them a book of spells (which also has an eyeball).  This is how the Sanderson sisters become witches, but they are warned to never use the incantation called Magicae Maxima.  It is supposed to grant the person who says it ultimate power, but at a terrible price.  Anyway, I guess we are supposed to remember some things from the first movie because next we jump to the present-day city of Salem, Massachusetts, where the Sanderson sisters have become folk celebrities over the centuries.  Where are the kids from the last one, who would be adults by now, that should have told everyone who awful are these women?  Nowhere to be found.  Instead, we get Becca (Whitney Peak), and her friends Cassie Traske (Lilia Buckingham) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), on their way to school in modern Salem.  They, too, are into witchcraft, though Cassie has a boyfriend who is “too cool” for that stuff, and it puts a strain on the friendship between the three.  With it being Halloween, Becca and Izzy are eager to do whatever ignorant teenagers who are into the occult do on that day (more on this later), while Cassie is trying to convince them to come to the party she is hosting against her father’s wishes.  At Becca’s insistence, neither her nor Izzy plan on attending Cassie’s gathering, preferring to go to the magical trinkets store run by Gilbert (Sam Richardson).  Plot convenience dictates that this is the same building in which Sanderson sisters lived.  It goes further.  Apparently, he is the only one in town that remembers when these seventeenth century sorceresses first terrorized the town.  Despite nearly destroying everything to stay young, he is super into them and tricks Becca and Izzy into conjuring the sisters into the twenty-first century.  I was about to write that Winnie (Bette Midler) wastes no time in getting down to witch-like stuff, but that would be a lie as we are “treated” to Becca and Izzy taking the Sanderson three into a Walgreen’s.  They have convinced the resurrected sorceresses that the lotions sold there are actually potions that can stop them from aging.  The “comedy” here is supposed to be the Sandersons drinking these things and not realizing their actual function . . . and yet Mary Sanderson (Kathy Najimy) knows to say “cowabunga?”  At any rate, the Sandersons make it to Gilbert’s shop where they reunite with their book of spells, and immediately Winnie decides to perform the off-limits ritual.  She enchants Gilbert to help with this, and the rest of the town to find the descendant of her mortal enemy from the seventeenth century, town mayor Jefry Traske (Tony Hale).  Becca and Izzy learn of Sanderson’s plan, and decide to put aside their differences with Cassie in order to stop the Sandersons.  Along the way, Becca learns that she has magical powers.  This comes in conveniently handy when she has to face the combined might of the Sanderson sisters.  Only by combining the power of their friendship (I guess), along with a little timely help from the book of spells, are they able to defeat the Sandersons.  They are also aided by a sudden fit of remorse on Winnie’s part when she realizes that her successful spell has physically destroyed her beloved sisters.  She then asks Becca to reverse what she has done, and she, too, fades into nothing.

If only I could dissolve the memory of Hocus Pocus 2 from my brain. . . .  While watching it, I got the impression that is what Disney executives wished they could have done.  However, since that is technically not possible, and they had already spent money on its development, they went forward with it.  This is a somewhat long way of explaining why it went straight to streaming.  I also have a feeling that all the money for its production went straight into the pockets of Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays the unmentioned Sanderson sister Sarah, to be in the film.  Whatever was left over from that budget went to Tony Hale.  That left few funds for anything else, particularly the script writers or other aspects of the production.  I do not typically comment on such things, but the special effects look like something out of early 1990s Goosebumps.  It makes me wonder what kind of effort was put into making the film.  I felt this for much of the first third of the film when it seemed like it was utterly devoid of a point.  And why were the anachronisms necessary?  How could people from the seventeenth century know about words like “cowabunga” and knowing the song “One Way or Another” by Blondie.  This all leads me to the ultimate question: why was this movie made at all?  There could be something I am missing in terms of people’s desire for such content.  Have so many been watching the original on Disney + that it dictated that the sequel be made?

You can call me a nervous nelly if you like, but when I watch Hocus Pocus 2, I worry about little kids emulating what they see on the screen.  As the credits began rolling, I gave a pretty stern warning to my nieces and their friend that was also present to not get into witchcraft.  Now, I realize that this Catholic reviewer has given the Harry Potter franchise a pass, hence condemning Hocus Pocus 2 could be construed as hypocritical.  The difference between the two is that the former is set in more of a fantasy world (I understand that the United Kingdom is a real place), whereas the former brings the fantasy to reality.  Indeed, this is a big reason why people attempt witchcraft in the first place.  When there is something beyond our control, there are those that look to bend those powers they believe controlling them to their will.  Put differently, they seek do what God does.  Even before God came to us in the form of Jesus, Faith has been pretty clear that certain things should be left to God.  The reason why I gave my nieces and their friend the warning that I did is because witchcraft deals with forces that cannot be controlled.  The enemy uses sorcery to distract us from the truth: that God is real and only He can truly help us.  We need to let go of our conceptions of what our lives should be like and rely on Him to take care of everything.  That does not mean He will do our homework, wash our clothes, or necessarily bring us the caramel apple Mayor Traske sought.  Faith is about accepting things as they are, and using what God gave us to change what we can.  Such movies upset that order, and it is my biggest problem with them.  I worry about the young seeing such things because they do not have the maturity to understand the serious consequences of these kinds of actions.  The movie underscores this point.  Even though Becca and Izzy are tricked, they were still toying with something that is essentially a loaded gun.  That is not hyperbole.  The film itself suggests that people will die if Winnie is allowed to get her way.  How can that be good?

After Hocus Pocus 2 ended, the kids wanted to know what I truly thought of it.  That is because I uttered my frustration a few times, and wore a look of consternation the rest of the time.  I told them that my opinion did not matter, only that they were entertained.  They were, but my hope is that their youth will lead to them forgetting about it quickly as the young are wont to do.  Again, I may be overreacting here, but I do not see any real worth in this film.

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