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This article contains spoilers for “Hocus Pocus 2.

It was a dreary, cold Saturday morning. I was sick, my throat aching and my nose running, and was trying to find solace in a London Fog from Perk on Main. I had been planning to go out to the movies, but instead decided to settle in with my boyfriend and watch “Hocus Pocus 2,” the twenty-nine-years-later sequel to the iconic 1993 Halloween movie “Hocus Pocus.” It was the best medicine I could have asked for. The moment my eyes and ears were met by the singing and dancing Sanderson sisters, my illness was cured, my grades all improved, and my spirits were lifted as high as a flying Swiffer.

In parallel to its predecessor, the film, directed by Anne Fletcher, opens in late 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts. We are introduced to a young Winnifred (Taylor Henderson), Sarah (Juju Journey Brener), and Mary (Nina Kitchen) Sanderson as Winnie is throwing a tantrum about being forced to be wed by the deeply puritan Reverend Traske (Tony Hale). It is here that we learn how the Sandersons became witches in the first place, as a mysterious witch in the forbidden woods (the incomparable Hannah Waddingham) literally smells the potential of the trio. Waddingham’s character gives Winnifred the iconic Book, and, lo, the Sanderson witch coven is born.

Fast forward to Salem, 2022. We meet our protagonist, Becca (Whitney Peak), and her best friend, Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), preparing to celebrate their usual ritual on Halloween—which also happens to be Becca’s 16th birthday. After learning that their ex-best friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) is standing them up for her own Halloween party with her meathead boyfriend, Becca and Izzy resolve to practice Becca’s birthday ritual by themselves. They visit a Sanderson-sisters-themed tourist trap housed in the witches’ cottage and are given a special birthday candle by the shop’s owner, Gilbert (Sam Richardson).

When the pair go into the woods for Becca’s ritual, they light Gilbert’s gift only to find that it is—drumroll please—a fabled black flame candle! Lit by a virgin on Halloween under a full moon, the candle revives the Sandersons as head-bopping music plays from an unknown source.

The now-adult Sanderson sisters Winnifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) are thrilled to be up and kicking again, with Winnie shouting, “Lock up your children! Yes, Salem, we’re back!” They perform “The Witches are Back”—a parody of Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back”—for what they assume is an audience of no one, and once again vow to wreak havoc on the town of Salem.

Becca and Izzy are initially able to trick the trio into thinking that the teens are actually 40-year-old witches who just aged very well. They distract the sisters for a short while, letting them loose in a Walgreens where hilarity ensues. Eventually, when their fiction is uncovered, they’re chased back to the Sanderson cottage and learn that Gilbert was a witness to the events of the original “Hocus Pocus” and has been trying to bring them back ever since.

Winnifred arrives and declares her intent to cast the ominous spell “Magicae Maxima,” an enchantment that would make her the most powerful witch in the world. She forces Sanderson superfan Gilbert to help her gather some ingredients, going after the chief element herself: the blood of her greatest enemy. Conveniently, it turns out that the Reverend from her first life is the ancestor of Mayor Traske (who, even more conveniently, is Cassie’s father, also played by Tony Hale). Now, Becca and Izzy must try their best to stop the Sandersons before they can enact their wicked plan.

Throughout the film, the Sanderson sisters engage in their usual ridiculous hijinks. Mary uses two Roomba vacuums as jet-pack shoes instead of a flying broomstick, the trio is convinced that they can consume Walgreens skincare products instead of human souls, and they even participate in (and lose) a Sanderson sisters look-alike pageant.

(Side note, but this is where we get cameos from RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants Ginger Minj, Kahmora Hall, and Kornbread “the Snack” Jeté, a moment that made my boyfriend and I jump and scream.)

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a “Hocus Pocus ” installment without a mind-controlling musical number. The sisters overtake the pageant’s stage and, performing their own version of “One Way or Another” by Blondie, enchant the townsfolk into searching for the mayor with a performance that would’ve had me clapping and dancing along to their evil schemes, too.

Going into the movie, I worried that the sequel would either be a direct copy of the original “Hocus Pocus” or an unrecognizable deviation. I was more than pleasantly surprised, as the film carefully blended its nostalgic callbacks with its fresh plot and a newer cast of characters. 

Becca, our fearless, witchy, and witty protagonist is a smart foil to Winnifred on the writers’ part. Both are leaders of their own personal covens that struggle with keeping their sisterhoods together (in Winnie’s case, because she literally dematerialized Sarah and Mary by accident), eventually reconciling and reuniting.

And, as we learn at the end of the film, both are truly powerful witches, with Becca tapping into magic she didn’t know she had and accentuating it through her friendship with Izzy and Cassie. In the end, the three teenagers learn that “magic has a way of uniting things that ought to be together,” reconciling with each other and vowing to be closer to each other.

All the while, Winnie realizes that all the power in the world can’t make her feel complete if her sisters aren’t with her and chooses to vanish into the nether world and be with them forever (or so we think). The audience learns at the end of the film that Gilbert made another black flame candle, so perhaps we’ll be seeing more of the Sandersons however many years down the road.

Is the movie cheesy? Yeah. Does it have some deep, complex theme to it? Not really. Will I watch it again every Halloween? Absolutely. While it’s not nearly as funny or charming if you skipped its predecessor, “Hocus Pocus 2” is a delightfully happy haunted watch and will be added to my annual rotation of spooky movies. The film’s nostalgic charm, wholesome message, and iconic characters all worked together to make it one witchin’ good time.

Sam Hilton can be reached at shilton@wesleyan.edu.

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