Every fall season there are a few facts one can be sure of: The weather gets a bit cooler, candy becomes a hot commodity, and you’ll likely find yourself one night trying to figure out a fun movie to watch—and one certainly like ‘Hocus Pocus.’
The timeless classic is still a fixture in modern pop culture, and so much so that Disney has brought back the Sanderson Sisters (and the original actresses who play them) for ‘Hocus Pocus 2.’ Taking place now in modern-day Salem, some of the original pieces of the puzzle still fit into this sequel storyline. For one, Bette Midler (Winifred), Sarah Jessica Parker (Sarah) and Kathy Najimy (Mary) have returned to reprise their leading roles. And rightly so, it would be hard to imagine the story being told without them.
“I think there was something in this film, maybe ‘Wizard of Oz’-ish where a generation shows it to their children, who shows it to their children, who shows it to their kids…So, it becomes this part of the history of the family,” explains Najimy at a global press conference when talking about how this story has lived on for the past 29 Halloween seasons.
And remembering the first 1993 film was also a fixture in director Anne Fletcher’s mind as well. Fletcher, who has worked on hits in the rom-com world (such as ’27 Dresses’ and ‘The Proposal’) as part of her filmography is now tackling the campy cult classic’s sequel. But the original magic still had to be there.
“The mission, in general, is the story and honoring the first movie— and making sure I’m honoring these characters for the fans and bringing them into a new generation,” explains Fletcher.
Part of honoring the original is including musical numbers, although, “I didn’t feel like I could compete with ‘I Put A Spell on You,’—so I didn’t try,” the director finishes. “We stayed really focused on trying to stay more towards the story and we had so many fun options of songs to choose from and we landed where we landed…And who doesn’t want to see Bette Midler sing?”
‘Hocus Pocus 2’ strives to have its own footing, and the story is now told through three best friends: Izzy (Belissa Escobedo,) Becca (Whitney Peak,) and Cassie (Lillia Buckingham.) It’s with this trio that the absence of other original central characters (like Omri Katz as Max, Thora Birch as Danni and Vinessa Shaw as Allison) is somewhat fulfilled.
“Cassie was really fun to play…I think she is—and we all truly are— just real teenagers, with real emotions. They are understated in the sense that they are very real,” says Buckingham when asked about her character’s friendships. “And they just have this love for each other and this friendship…Every teen knows what it’s like to go through a rough patch with your friends, and to have your first boyfriend or girlfriend and to do all that. [Cassie] is just a very good example of mis-stepping and trying to figure it out by communicating with her best friend, and that’s just the most real thing I’ve heard.”
Escobedo had a similar experience with her part, but it’s the genre that stuck out to this actress when choosing the role. Having worked on other horror projects (but with the likes of Ryan Murphy on programs such as ‘American Horror Story,’) she’s seen both sides of the subject matter.
“I just have always loved spooky Halloween movies because I feel like it can be extremes on both ends—you see the campiness and how it can be fun, like [with this,]” Esobedo explains. “You have one end of horror, and then you have this end, and they all bridge together in the same genre collectively to celebrate this holiday.”
Just like in it’s predecessor, the Sanderson Sisters are once again accidentally freed on Halloween Night to wreak havoc on the children of Salem. As the owner of the Olde Salem Magic Shoppe, aka the former home of the Sanderson Sisters and the “Black Flamed Candle”, another new character is introduced, played by Sam Richardson.
As Fletcher explains, Richardson, who’s recently starred in hits such as Apple Tv+’s ‘The After Party’ agreed to the role instantly without even wanting to meet with the director. And why? “Because I love Hocus Pocus,” Richardson remembers. “Just the sort of world that was in that film and the performances, even as a kid, nobody was taking it for granted. It was true, grand performances, but narrowed in and so laser-focused.”
Other new characters come in the form of Richardson’s ‘Veep’ co-star Tony Hale joining the sequel alongside ‘Ted Lasso’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ star Hannah Waddingham.
But, there are some old favorites returning—such as Billy Butcherson. In the first film, the ex-boyfriend of Winifred Sanderson, whom she poisoned after she caught him cheating on her with her youngest sister, Sarah is brought back from the dead. And with 29 years now gone by, the now 62-year-old Doug Jones said the part came back to him easily.
“Billy came back and when I looked in the mirror, I thought wow, two minutes have passed and I lost 29 years. It came back right away [though], the voice and everything,” he explains. “I don’t know how that happened, but it was magical.”
Whatever changes have been made, ‘Hocus Pocus 2’ does bring it’s own spin on a classic while still honoring the original the best it can. If anything, The Sanderson Sisters have returned, and that’s something we’d all light that candle for.
“I think these three characters, in a strange way are quite positive for women,” finishes Bette Midler. “First of all, they’re very funny, which women are not allowed to be or supposed to be funny. And they’re intensely loyal to each other…there’s a very broad range of emotions that they live through. But I think in a funny way, their bond is very, very strong. In any situation where women are together, a bond and sisterhood is really important.”
‘Hocus Pocus 2‘ drops on Disney+ Sept. 30.