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The 7 Best And 7 Worst Things In Hocus Pocus 2

It took 29 years, but fans finally got a sequel to the 1993 Halloween classic "Hocus Pocus." Instead of simply retreading all the same territory already covered in the first film, the sequel tells a new story that delivers on expectations while expanding the mythology and introducing new characters likely to become valued members of the "Hocus Pocus" family.

This time around, the devious Sanderson sisters (played once again by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker) aren't merely content with remaining young; they want to become supreme magical beings, immortal witches capable of conquering Salem and then the world. Standing in their way is a new coven (unknowing of the power they have) who work together, despite their differences, to thwart the Sandersons' demented scheme.

A solid sequel that doesn't diminish the impact of the original, "Hocus Pocus 2" nonetheless has a few elements that don't quite work. Below, a breakdown of which moments cast a spell, and which went down like a bad batch of witch's brew.

Worst: The musical number

The "I Put A Spell on You" sequence in "Hocus Pocus" has become somewhat iconic. It allowed Bette Midler to perform on stage, and it also repurposed a classic, spooky song by Screamin Jay Hawkins and turned it into a fun, poppy Broadway number. There was no way "Hocus Pocus 2" wouldn't include a musical number of its own — unfortunately, it isn't nearly as inspired.

In the sequel, the sisters need to locate Mayor Traske (played by Tony Hale) to use his blood in their spell. With an entire town to search and limited time, Winifred decides to cast a spell on everyone attending the Halloween festival so they can search the streets. So, she sings the Blondie classic "One Way Or Another," likely because the lyrics (inspired by an actual stalker) are literally about doing whatever it takes to find someone.

While it makes sense within the scene, "One Way Or Another" is already a catchy, fun song. There isn't anything particularly spooky or atmospheric about it, even if the original subject was stalking — the lyrics are changed, cutting out many such references. Also, the enchanted people are super slow ± something upon which the movie even comments. However, it doesn't explain why that is and when they find Traske, the Sandersons are already going after Traske's daughter, so the whole endeavor seems pointless.

Best: The book is a character

The original "Hocus Pocus" was focused on keeping Winifred's spellbook away from her, since without it she could not complete a potion that would allow her and her sisters to eat the souls of children. The book itself was a fun prop that showed a little personality, but felt more like a beloved pet than a character.

In "Hocus Pocus 2," the book has even more agency and personality. One of the first moments this is noticeable is when young Winifred tries to read about the Magicae Maxima and the book slams shut, refusing to let her see it. It does this again when resurrected Winifred attempts it again in 2022. Then there's the scene where Becca searches for the book amongst a bunch of replicas. As she gets closer, the book gets more and more nervous, even beginning to sweat.

The capper, however, is when the book chooses to be with Becca. It may have chosen to be with Winifred in the beginning, but when she becomes too dangerous, it makes the wise choice to be with someone more responsible. This personification makes the world of "Hocus Pocus" both more compelling and detailed.

Worst: Mayor Traske's candy apple

Hale's Mayor is the descendent of Reverend Traske, a vile man who set up an arranged marriage for Winifred when she turned 16, then tried to take her sisters away. Given their past with the Traske bloodline, it makes the Sandersons would still be holding a grudge. What doesn't make sense is the film's treatment of Mayor Traske.

The mayor comes off as out of touch and a little strict, but overall an okay guy. All he wants is for everyone to have a good Halloween and to get himself a specially crafted candy apple. Unfortunately, events of the film conspire against him, resulting in the poor guy settling for a trashy, store-bought candy apple instead of getting what he actually wanted. In essence, he is punished for no reason.

Sure, there are hints he cares more about his campaign than his family, but it's never explicitly shown. Also, he does lose his cool a little when he finds out his daughter is throwing a party behind his back — but, that's a perfectly reasonable response. The film does Traske dirty, and it's not very fair.

Best: Expanded mythology

When doing a sequel to a film almost three full decades after its release, the story is often a simple retread — after all, if it ain't broke, why try to fix it? But "Hocus Pocus 2" avoids such stale plotting by introducing new characters and building on the backstory of the Sanderson sisters. 

This time around, the audience learns that a witch's abilities begin to manifest at the age of sixteen; fans also get to see the moment the book chooses Winifred, and it's explained that more than one black flame candle can exist.

Perhaps the most intriguing addition, however, is the Witch Mother played by Hannah Waddingham. She is only in the prologue, but tells us all about the woods around Salem being a special place where magic is strongest, that magic brings things together, and her mere existence suggests a whole world of witches beyond the "Hocus Pocus" films. Plus, the mystery surrounding why she was following Becca in bird form hints at a possibility of more stories to come.

Worst: Lack of age diversity

It's probably accurate to say that the biggest fans of the "Hocus Pocus" films are kids — and their parents who remember watching the original as kids. 

That being said, the first "Hocus Pocus" had a little more diversity in the ages of the characters, making it easier for audiences of all ages to see themselves in the film. In that first film, the three main characters are two teenagers and a little girl. Their parents act and speak like actual adults, and the Sandersons are entertaining enough to hold everybody's attention.

In "Hocus Pocus 2," everyone is either a teenager or a cartoonish adult. This robs the film of its all-ages charm, because adults who have no nostalgia for the original will have a hard time seeing themselves in these walking cartoon characters; little kids, meanwhile, have no one their age to watch.

Of course, viewers don't only identify with characters their own age, but since the first film was so effective in presenting a wide array of ages (even if some were minor roles), it makes the lack of it in the sequel more egregious.

Best: The prologue

Before the main storyline in the sequel begins, the film delivers a prologue set in 1653 Salem. 

It's Winifred's 16th birthday, and she begins acting differently (taking the Lord's name in vain, etc), so Reverend Traske attempts to take Sarah and Mary away from her; the sisters flee to the forbidden woods, meeting the Witch Mother and discovering the truth.

Aside from setting up the themes of the movie and establishing just how committed to her sisters Winifred is, the sequence is unabashedly entertaining. One reason it works is that the three actors director Anne Fletcher cast to play the young Sanderson sisters are all uniformly excellent. The standout is Taylor Henderson as Winifred, who eerily channels the essence of Midler in every movement.

Nina Kitchen, similarly, nails the nervous, excited energy Kathy Najimy brings to Mary, and there are moments when Juju Journey Brener sounds exactly like Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah. If there's a third film, hopefully, these three will return to play slightly older versions of the Sandersons.

Worst: Softer edges

Even though the plot of "Hocus Pocus 2" is about three witches attempting to gain enough power to conquer the world, there's little sense of danger. 

At no point do viewers get the impression that anyone's actual life is at risk — even when literally everyone's life (to a certain extent) is at risk. The overall tone is so playful that nothing feels particularly threatening, and it's hard to get invested beyond the humor and spectacle.

It's almost as though the edges of the first film had been sanded off for increased appeal with squeamish audiences. The first film had macabre touches throughout that made the Sandersons menacing, even if they were buffoons — it opens, for instance, with them eating a child's soul. 

While there are references to such things in "Hocus Pocus 2," none of it bubbles up to the surface. 

Best: Tony Hale as Mayor Traske

Even if he didn't get his candy apple, Mayor Traske is a joy to watch because of the fun, innocent performance of Tony Hale

The former "Arrested Development" star imbues Traske with a naivete that makes him both mundane and extraordinary all at once. After realizing how (rightfully) heartbroken he is over having to settle for a subpar Halloween treat, it's hard not to smile and think, "Is this guy really this boring?" The answer is yes, he absolutely is.

From the excitement in his eyes when he sees Becca and Izzy to the little dance he does to celebrate Becca's birthday, Hale excels at taking tiny movements and using them to add shading. Clearly, Traske doesn't understand that one of his daughter's best friends isn't five-years-old anymore, but he's so jazzed tit makes the joke worthwhile. Ditto for the concern that falls on his face when he finds out his daughter had a mascara emergency.

In less able hands, the character easily could have become a tyrant, reminiscent of his ancestor Reverend Traske — instead, Hale goes entirely the other way, and the film is all the better for it.

Worst: not enough returning characters

While it's a great pleasure to see the Sanderson sisters return and to have Doug Jones back as Billie Butcherson, it really stinks that viewers don't get to catch up with Omri Katz return as Max or Vinessa Shaw as Allison. Thora Birch originally planned to come back as Max's little sister Dani, but a scheduling conflict made it impossible. 

On the one hand, it makes sense to keep the returning characters limited to ones associated with the supernatural — after all, Max, Allison, and Dani likely would have left Salem behind years ago. Billie Butcherson can come back because he never went anywhere — he's been sleeping in the same grave for decades. The same is true for the Sandersons, who only came back because Becca and Izzy were tricked into lighting a black flame candle. 

Ultimately, new characters need to stand on their own. Had they brought back the original cast, it would have shifted the focus entirely to them. So maybe it's all for the best — but still, it sure would have been nice to see them face off one more time against Winifred.

Best: Roombas have a mind of their own

Bravo to the filmmakers for setting up a ridiculous plot convenience that pays off stupendously. When the sisters realize they need to get around town, they each pick a different mode of transportation. Winifred gets a broom, Sarah has a Swiffer, and Mary rides around on two Roomba vacuums (similar to the broom, mop, and vacuum in the original). She has trouble steadying herself, however, because the Roombas have "a mind of their own."

Later, at the Halloween festival, the Roombas are trying to clean up some spilled popcorn. Sarah walks by and says, "They have a mind of their own," in her playful sing-song voice. Just when you think this running gag is going nowhere, the sisters get trapped by salt, and who comes to save them? The Roombas, of course. 

Ultimately, it's a joke that doesn't make any sense whatsoever; thanks to an effective set-up, it works.

Worst: The Broken Friendship

When viewers first meet Becca (played by Whitney Peak), she is heading to school where she meets up with her friend Izzy (played by Belissa Escobar). Shortly after, Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) arrives. While Becca and Izzy are obviously very comfortable together and excited to talk about their Halloween plans, everything gets awkward the second Cassie shows up. This is because there has been a divide in the friendship due to Cassie dating a bully (who doesn't know he's a bully) named Mike.

The arc of the film has them failing to fix the rift, yet more unified than ever because of it. Although that's a sweet and honest story, it doesn't really work because the reason for their feud is so weak. Perhaps if the movie had shown how close they were before Mike came along (instead of just references) and actually witnessed the breaking point, it would have had more dramatic weight.

As it is now, Becca and Cassie come off as so petty and immature that they refuse to have a simple conversation to clear the air. Granted, they're teenagers, but this conflict is pretty thin, even for a pair of high school kids.

Best: Sam Richardson as Gilbert

Just like Mayor Traske, the Gilbert character could have been insufferable. Thanks to a solid performance by Sam Richardson (Hale's costar on the HBO series "Veep"), however, he is one of the best characters in the film.

Gilbert has taken over the Sanderson house and transformed it into a magic shop, where he entertains customers with legends of the Sandersons (although one guy is really trying his patience). Even when a child asks him what a virgin is, he deflects like a pro, telling the kid a virgin is someone who has never lit a candle before.

The conflict within Gilbert comes via his idolization of the Sandersons; like the mayor, however, he's a really nice guy. So, he tricks Becca into lighting the black flame candle (because she is someone who "has never lit a candle before"), thereby bringing the Sandersons back to life. He didn't mean any harm, and basically spends the rest of the film paying for this mistake. 

Richardson does a great job, deftly leaning into the conflict to show his character isn't a villain, so much as a dope.

Worst: It wasn't filmed in Salem

While the original film was largely shot on location in Salem, Massachusetts, "Hocus Pocus 2" was not. And you can tell. 

Even if you've never been to Salem before, the first "Hocus Pocus" gave viewers a pretty good idea of its look, feel, people and general vibe. Halloween seems to spread all over the town, which is why there are so many memorable shots in the town as Max walks home from school.

Most of the exteriors for "Hocus Pocus 2" were instead filmed more than 75 miles away, in Rhode Island. Local news network WPRI reported that the exterior and interior of the high school were filmed at La Salle Academy in Providence. Sorry, but the ocean state just doesn't carry the same weight compared to the mood-establishing shots of Salem in the original. 

This noticeable difference takes away from the film's atmosphere, robbing the viewer of any feeling for the physical locations the characters inhabit — after all, it has to double for somewhere else.

Best: The witches are back

Go through and nitpick any film's faults, but what really matters is the overall experience it gives you. "Hocus Pocus 2" leaves the audience with a warm, grateful feeling, and it's a hard film to hate.

It's great to see Winifred, Mary, and Sarah Sanderson back at it again for the first time in 29 years. Maybe they're not as menacing as they once were, but it's hard to deny they still have excellent chemistry.

The performances of Midler, Najimy and Sarah Jessica-Parker work so well that it sometimes feels as if they just finished filming the original "Hocus Pocus" a few months ago and moved right into production on the sequel. This is a testament to the actors, but also an attention to detail from crew members, ensuring these sisters haven't missed a step. 

Hopefully, it won't take another 29 years to see the sisters again. After all, Gilbert does have another black flame candle.