Things Hocus Pocus 2 Needs In Order To Succeed

On July 16, 1993, the original "Hocus Pocus" — starring Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker as the back-from-the-dead Sanderson sisters — made its way to theaters. Although it wasn't a smash hit upon its initial release, it has grown in popularity so much over the years that in October 2019, it was announced that a sequel was in development to be released on the streaming service Disney+.

Nailing a sequel can be difficult, especially after such a long gap. The original fans have grown up and had children who, presumably, have also become fans. Who knows, there could be grandkids out there who love "Hocus Pocus." That means a sequel has to please multiple generations of moviegoers who all love the first film for their own, personal reasons.

So how should the filmmakers go about doing that? What elements from the first film should be carried over? And what new elements should be introduced to help the premise feel just as rejuvenated as the Sanderson sisters themselves? Well, come as we take thee away to determine exactly what "Hocus Pocus 2" needs in order to succeed with fans new and old in fall 2022.

Hocus Pocus 2 needs the original cast

A major part of any film's success is its casting. The original "Hocus Pocus" hit the jackpot when it landed the three legends Bette Midler, Kathy Najimi, and Sarah Jessica Parker as its witches. The chemistry between them is undeniable as they play off one another with the natural ease of a long-time comedy trio. Making a new "Hocus Pocus" without them would be pointless. Luckily, as seen on during Disney+ Day, all three have returned for the sequel.

What about the rest of the original cast? We entered this magical version of Salem, Massachusetts, through the eyes of Los Angeles transplant Max (Omri Katz). His relationship with his annoying sister, Dani (Thora Birch), and his desperation to impress his crush, Allison (Vanessa Shaw), are what drove that film. Those three actors are just as crucial as Midler, Najimi, and Parker to what made the original film work.

While it was confirmed that the brilliant Doug Jones – who played Winifred Sanderson's resurrected ex-lover, Billy Butcherson – will be returning, the role he'll be playing is still, at time of writing, a mystery. (Although we're willing to bet he'll be reprising his undead role.) Unfortunately, no other members of the original cast have been officially confirmed yet. As great as it is to have some old favorites back, it would be wonderful to catch up with Max, Dani, and Allison all these years later.

We hope the sequel has strong new characters

If "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" taught us anything, it's the importance of a new cast of characters that can hold their own when standing beside established legacy characters. These new characters serve as entry points for younger audiences and fresh eyes to re-enter the world that longtime fans already love. If "Hocus Pocus 2" is going to succeed, it's going to need to introduce characters that are unfamiliar at first but, by the end, become accepted parts of the world.

The inclusion of comedy greats like Tony Hale ("Arrested Development" and "Veep"), Sam Richardson ("Veep" and "Detroiters"), and singer/actress Hannah Waddingham of "Ted Lasso" prove that the sequel has brought on actors who are more than capable of delivering unquestionably strong performances. If their characters or those to be played by young actors Whitney Peak, Lilia Buckingham, and Belissa Escobedo can be embraced with the same love and affection as Max, Dani, Allison, and Thackery Binx (the black cat from the original), then there's an excellent chance that this sequel will live on just like its predecessor.

It should tell a new story

"Hocus Pocus" is about a kid named Max who's upset because his family has moved from Los Angeles, a place he loved, to Salem, Massachusetts, a place he hates. After being forced to take his little sister, Dani, out trick-or-treating, he encounters Allison, a girl he likes from school. Allison is way into the town's history and mentions her mother used to work at the Sanderson house museum, which is now closed down. To try and impress her, Max suggests they visit the museum, where he, a virgin, lights a mystical object called the Black Flame Candle. This brings the dead Sanderson sisters back to life for one night ... unless they can steal souls from enough children to keep them young.

Retelling that same story with new characters is the wrong way to go. Fans have seen it already. In fairness, basically making the same movie over and over can work. Just look at the majority of "Friday the 13th" sequels. But those movies were cranked out every year, constantly giving audiences their slasher movie fix. Some "Hocus "Pocus" fans watch this movie every Halloween. So if they want to see the same story again, all they need to do is pop in their copy or pull up Disney+. Going to the effort of filming an entire movie that's basically a remake would be incredibly unnecessary.

If you're going through the effort of making a sequel, make sure it's a new story.

Hocus Pocus 2 needs to expand the mythology

In the original "Hocus Pocus," the only way the Sanderson sisters are going to survive Halloween night is if they properly complete the spell that will allow them to devour the souls of children. However, they've been dead for 300 years and Winifred, the eldest, can't remember the spell off the top of her head. They need her book, the one with an actual eyeball in it, as it contains all of her spells. The only problem is, the kids who brought them back stole the book and have no intention of letting the witches get their hands on it.

That book must contain a lot of history and spells that fans would find fascinating. A sequel would be an excellent time to dig into that book and find out what other secrets are hidden within — not just because it would be neat but because it helps expand the world.

Great sequels like "The Empire Strikes Back," "The Godfather: Part II," and "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" all made strides to build on the world and internal mythology that we already knew. Showing us more of Salem's history and filling in more details regarding how magic works in this universe would only deepen and enrich the mythology, thus justifying the sequel's existence.

A bigger and better musical number

Just about halfway through the original film, the Sanderson sisters find themselves in a gymnasium full of costumed adults partying on Halloween night. Winifred and her sisters perform a fun and elaborate musical number here. The song they sing is Winifred's own interpretation of the twisted Screamin' Jay Hawkins classic "I Put a Spell on You," with lyrics referencing what's going on in the story.

Not only was this a chance for director Kenny Ortega (of "High School" musical fame) to get legendary stage performer Bette Midler to do her thing, but it serves a narrative purpose. By the performance's end, all the adults are under her spell, hypnotized to dance all night, thus keeping them out of her way.

The scene is a real standout and is so memorable that in 2020, Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker performed it again virtually, in character, for the New York Restoration Project. It's part of the film's DNA. Not including a similar sequence in the sequel would be like an action film without a car chase. 

However, it can't simply be the same sequence all over again. It needs to be a new song that's just as catchy and spooky, with choreography that's even bigger and better to really wow the audience. Make it worth our time by creating something audiences are expecting to see in a way that surprises them.

It's got to have that Halloween atmosphere

The origins of Halloween may stretch back centuries, but the traditional images that many modern audiences associate with the world's best holiday often come from beautiful autumnal imagery. Green leaves changing to orange and red, foreboding gusts of wind signaling the approach of winter, pumpkins carved into scary faces and lit by candles — these are all present in the original "Hocus Pocus" and then some. Streets are full of candy-hungry kids in costume, houses are perfectly decorated, and Salem's history is present in almost every scene  This film looks, sounds, and feels more like Halloween than the actual holiday itself, which is one of the, perhaps underestimated, elements that also makes it timeless.

Living up to that is going to be difficult. However, if the sequel has any hope of comparing to the original, let alone surpassing it, the filmmakers must make creating a tangible Halloween atmosphere one of their top priorities. Even if it's a brand new, compelling story with wonderful characters we instantly take to our hearts, without an atmosphere that seems to envelope the audience, something about it will feel off. Fill those frames with jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treaters, old architecture, and gorgeous fall leaves, and many a "Hocus Pocus" fan will feel right at home.

Limited callbacks, please

If there's one thing that will take an audience out of a follow-up to one of their favorite movies faster than a mediocre rehash of the original plot, it's an overabundance of callbacks. Constantly referencing a movie they already know and love robs them of a brand new experience set in the same world. Filmmakers, do you really want to keep reminding people that at any moment they can stop watching your new movie and just go watch the original again?

Some callbacks and references make sense — it's the same world, after all. People reference events that happened in their past all the time. So if Sarah Sanderson (Sarah Jessica Parker) makes a joke about Max no longer being a virgin, that's fine. What you don't want is Sarah running around saying "amok, amok, amok" over and over again. Nor do you want to see plot beats redone with a joke twist.

Callbacks like that, especially when overly relied on, prevent the new film from standing on its own. Again, if fans want to hear their favorite lines, they can just watch the first one.

It should take place in Salem

Part of the fun with the original film is knowing that it takes place in a real location with real history, as opposed to some whimsical fantasy world. Salem, Massachusetts, is, obviously, a place with a deep history related to witchcraft. Although that past is dark and truly horrible things happened to perfectly innocent people, the town has embraced its history. Instead of denying what happened, they acknowledge it and condemn it while celebrating those who identify as witches

None of this is discussed in too much detail in "Hocus Pocus," but the beauty and history of the town is almost another character in the movie. Much of the film was shot on location all around Massachusetts, with Salem serving as the epicenter. Not only did choosing to film there add a Halloween atmosphere, but it also added a relatability to the film it may not of otherwise had. Unlike Haddonfield in "Halloween" or the eponymous "Halloweentown" from the Disney Channel franchise, you can go and visit the real town. In fact, there are a number of tours that will take you around to the film's locations. 

Although "Hocus Pocus 2" will utilize locations in Rhode Island, it would be a mistake to not at least get some modern-day footage of Salem.

Hocus Pocus 2 needs John Debney

The musical score is the soul of a film. Just hearing a recognizable snippet from a theme to your favorite movie can put you right in the action of the story without the need of any images. Who hasn't heard the opening notes to John Williams' "Raiders of the Lost Ark" theme and felt like they could take on a dozen Nazis with a bullwhip? 

The same holds true for composer John Debney's score for "Hocus Pocus." It has the enchanting vocals you might expect from Danny Elfman and the swashbuckling excitement and adventurous spirit often delivered by Williams and Alan Silvestri. The theme played over the opening titles alone is enough to transport you back to Salem in 1993.

When someone as talented as Debney clearly puts their all into a piece of work like this, you walk away with something that would've left the original film feeling hollow if it weren't there. While there are a number of excellent film composers out there who are doing truly extraordinary things, Debney needs to come back for "Hocus Pocus 2." It just wouldn't be the same without him.

David Kirschner's involvement could ensure a new classic

Without producer David Kirschner, there would be no "Hocus Pocus." As discussed during an excellent interview with "The Big Seance Podcast," Kirschner explains that "Hocus Pocus" began as stories he would tell his daughters. He then worked with writers like Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert to turn the idea into what we know and love today, but it originated in his brilliant, Halloween-loving mind.

Kirschner has been responsible and partially responsible for so many of the films and television many of us grew up loving. For example, he was the president of Hanna-Barbera, and he created the animated masterpiece "An American Tail." Plus, it's not only his longevity in the entertainment industry itself that proves he's a valuable asset to "Hocus Pocus 2" but his long association with the "Child's Play" and "Chucky" franchise as a producer/executive producer. Along with "Child's Play" creator Don Mancini, Kirschner has made sure that those films, and the current series on Syfy, is always moving forward and never getting stale. 

According to IMDb, Kirschner is serving as an executive producer on "Hocus Pocus 2," but we hope he's really, intimately involved with the film, as that could ensure the sequel is worth your time.

Hocus Pocus 2 needs a whole lot of heart

Yes, "Hocus Pocus" is a funny, slightly spooky Halloween romp with campy antagonists, a big musical number, and holiday ambience galore. However, none of that would've meant anything if it didn't have a beating heart at the center of it.

When you really think about it, the original "Hocus Pocus" is a film about siblings. The witches are sisters, Thackery Binx was turned into a cat as punishment for trying to save his sister, and then there's Max and Dani. It's their relationship the film is trying to repair. The move to the West Coast has disappointed Max so much that he's gone full teen-angsty and wants nothing to do with the new town or his annoying sister. Yet there are moments where we catch a glimpse of how supportive and loving their relationship used to be. By being an idiot and lighting the Black Flame Candle, Max has put his sister (and every child in Salem) in danger. He realizes what a selfish and distant big brother he's been and spends the rest of the film making up for it.

We don't necessarily need another sibling story for "Hocus Pocus 2" to succeed, but we do need heart, although, not some ironic, self-aware heart where characters are commenting on how sentimental they're being. Commit to it. Make a film that makes us laugh, gets us out of our seats with excitement, and makes us feel a little sappy, just like the first one did.