HOCUS POCUS – Film Review

After moving to Salem, Massachusetts, teenager Max Dennison (Omri Katz) explores an abandoned house with his sister Dani (Thora Birch) and their new friend, Allison (Vinessa Shaw). After dismissing a story Allison tells as superstitious, Max accidentally frees a coven of evil witches (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy) who used to live in the house. Now, with the help of a magical cat, the kids must steal the witches’ book of spells to stop them from becoming immortal.

Back when I was in middle and high school, we used to shake things up a little bit if we had school on Halloween Day. Usually, the teachers would dress up in various different school-friendly costumes, some teachers would hand out candies and chocolates at the end of classes, and the school would be decorated with pumpkins and festive banners. But for me, the best part of it all was that some classes would put on kid-friendly Halloween movies for us kids to watch. They basically just gave us a little bit of time off to focus on a fun film instead of having to do schoolwork as per usual for the class that day.

Of course, it would have been a blast if they had put more PG-13 movies on during my time at school, but I completely understand why they didn’t. It’s a school, after all. They have to play tame movies. Movies without blood and gore or intense themes that would be much too dark for kids to handle. Typically at school, teachers tended to put on Hocus Pocus and all the kids went crazy for it. As soon as that title was announced by the teacher, the classroom turned into a frenzy of kids excited to watch one of their all-time favorite movies.

Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

But for some reason, I never ended up watching it with the class. Instead, I just put in headphones and just took the time to catch up on any homework I hadn’t yet completed, or just did a little bit of reading while the film was on. This year, however, I was looking through some Halloween-themed movies I had not yet seen and I came across Hocus Pocus on Disney+ and realized that even after all these years, I still have not seen it.

As soon as I realized this, I figured that I have waited far too long and that today would finally be the day I see what all the hype is about. After watching it for the first time, I am ecstatic to report that I adored Hocus Pocus. As far as family-friendly Halloween movies go, this is about as wonderful as they get.

Right from the opening few scenes alone, director Kenny Ortega lets you know that this isn’t the most serious film in the world. Far from it. This is one of the goofiest, most over-the-top stories ever told in film. A story of three witches coming back to Earth after a curious teenager lights a mysterious candle may not seem too interesting or fun on paper, but in actuality, the film is told in a heartfelt and endearing way that really makes you feel a connection to our lead heroes.

While we don’t necessarily spend a ton of time with the main witches, it never actually bothered me too much. The witches themselves are fun to watch, don’t get me wrong, even if they do get a little bit annoying towards the end. But I genuinely found myself deeply invested in the adventures of Max, his younger sister Dani, and his love interest Allison. They have to work as a team in order to save themselves and others from these witches, and watching their various efforts to do so was equal parts charming and exciting.

The movie as a whole feels so comforting to watch. This is the perfect movie to watch on a late night in October when you’re feeling bored. It’ll not only put you in a significantly better mood, but it will also remind you of what makes Halloween so much fun to celebrate year-round.

Every once in a while, the film loses a bit of focus as to what the main story is and it can get a little convoluted in the third act and the titular witches can be somewhat annoying later on, even if the actresses portraying them are a delight to watch. However, none of this detracts from the delight that Hocus Pocus brings to so many people all around the world. Cuddling up in a blanket by the fire and drinking a cup of pumpkin spice latte would go perfectly with Hocus Pocus.

Hocus Pocus is a magnificently heartfelt and surprisingly atmospheric blast from beginning to end thanks to its endearing story and eccentric lead performances.

Overall Grade: A-

MPAA Rating: PG for some scary sequences, and for language

Cast: Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker, Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw, Charles Rocket, Stephanie Faracy, Sean Murray, Kathleen Freeman, Doug Jones

Directed by: Kenny Ortega

Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures

Release Date: July 16, 1993

Running Time: 96 minutes

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