hocus-pocus spell book

(Welcome to Nostalgia Bomb, a series where we take a look back on beloved childhood favorites and discern whether or not they’re actually any good. In this edition: Kenny Ortega’s beloved-by-a-generation Hocus Pocus.)

Hocus Pocus has existed since the dawn of time…or at least that is how I feel. I was only two years old when it came out in 1993 and I have been watching it since then. I cannot recall my first viewing of it, or my second, or my tenth. I was simply too young. Sure, I love plenty of movies that are much older than I am, but for most of those films I was a fully conscious child viewing them. There was a me before the movie. However, like Labyrinth and The Princess Bride, Hocus Pocus is a tale as old as time. There isn’t really a Vanessa BHP (Before Hocus Pocus) only a Hocus Pocus BV (Before Vanessa). I have been watching it since before I knew I was watching it. It was as much a constant in my life as my own parents.

Hocus Pocus

A Halloween Tradition

Hocus Pocus was my first introduction to witches, and even though they were evil, child-eating, followers of Satan himself, I wanted to be them. I mean, I was always glad that the kids won and didn’t get eaten and all that jazz, but come on, those Sanderson Sisters are the epitome of Halloween. Like the grecian myths, the Sanderson Sisters became the muses of the season. Halloween was huge at my house growing up. From dry ice and headstones in the front yard and creepy ‘haunted house’ noises coming out of the windows, to going to the fabric store and buying giant boxes of hair dyes, makeup, and prosthetics so our mom could turn us into whatever we wanted before our dad took us trick or treating (shout out to my parents for being the true magic makers to four very eccentric children), Halloween started well before Labor Day in the Bogart household.

Where my siblings may have Halloween memories that predate Hocus Pocus, I have never known a Halloween without Sarah Sanderson’s lullaby or their rendition of “I Put A Spell On You.” I have been watching Hocus Pocus since before I could read, and I can still remember the heartbreak I felt when I was old enough to realize that the back of salt label didn’t say anything about warding off witches and ex-boyfriends. I remember as I reached elementary school age being very confused about my feelings towards both Sarah Sanderson and the sexy skeleton-faced singer of the party band. I still to this day have never looked up what the actor behind the ghoul makeup looks like for fear of ruining my decades-long fantasy. I can’t be the only one that was totally and completely head over loins in love with that mysterious man, right? Ladies? Gentlemen? Centuries old resurrected witches?

As I entered middle school and high school I realized that my love and connection to the Hocus Pocus Halloween ritual was in no way unique. This movie was more than me and my family – it was an entire generation. It seemed that any kid born after 1990 thought Hocus Pocus was as much a part of Halloween as trick or treating and cavities. It seems that the Sanderson sisters had the special hold on children that they always wanted. Though it may have fallen out of pop culture for a spell, the wonderful world of social media has resurrected Winifred, Mary, and Sarah once again. Meme culture has managed to conjure up the magic of this ’90s treasure and unite myself and my fellow AHP’s (After Hocus Pocus-ers).

Hocus Pocus holds a nostalgic sway over me and my family. Until sitting down to write this, it was impossible for me to watch it without rose colored glasses.

Dani, Max, Allison

Come Little Children, I’ll Take Thee Away…

You never feel more grown up than when you are a kid. I wanted nothing more than to be taken seriously, and as a child growing into a preteen growing into a teenager, you think you have earned that. In the 10 years prior to Hocus Pocus (1993), movies like The Goonies, Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, Legend, and Stand By Me won the devotion of a generation. The ’80s were a celebration of children and young adults coming face to face with evils much greater than themselves and…gulp…their own identities. It was the age when kids’ movies were dark and dreary, but they never failed to find their own light. Hocus Pocus was the tail end of the era of truly exceptional young adult films.

Don’t get me wrong: Harry Potter is one of the most important things in my life, and I wish I had Katniss to look up to when I was 12, but why is truly empowering young adult fiction almost entirely on the bookshelves and not the big screen? Hocus Pocus seems a little more light-hearted, but its themes really do hit that coming-of-age sweet spot. The movie itself opens with a potion of body parts, the death of a little girl, the eternal curse of teenage boy, and the hanging execution of three women. That’s some dark stuff for the opening of a Disney film. I mean, child murder…in the opening of a Disney movie. That’s hardcore.

Movies directed towards a younger audience that manage to have darker themes (that have nothing to do with a dystopic future) are rare gems. Only recently with the release of Stranger Things, which itself takes place in the 1980s, have we gotten to again see kids get to face those challenges of wanting to be taken seriously by adults and the limitations to their own capabilities. It makes sense that we hang on to films like Hocus Pocus, because they were/are as much a part of our upbringing and growth as those super awkward health class power points.

Dani

Our three heroes in Hocus Pocus represent three of the biggest stages of adolescence and all of them are fighting for their chance to be heard. They all want to be leaders, and yet they all end up following each other’s lead. You have Dani, played by a very young Thora Birch, who is completely content being a child. She has attitude and personality and just wants the simple things like going trick or treating on Halloween. She hasn’t reached the age were it has occurred to her to ask for more out of things. She is extremely clever and mature for her age, but also manages to be exactly her age.

With Allison, played by Vinessa Shaw, we get to see a teenager that seems to be completely confident in who she is. She is not afraid to speak up for her beliefs to a boy in class, she is not afraid to put that boy in his place by giving him his own phone number back, and she navigates the conflict and the town of Salem with the air of a fully operational adult. Not to mention the fact that she has the coolest red coat I have ever seen.

Our two confident heroines stand on either side of our messy in-betweener. Max, played by Omri Katz, is riddled with false confidence, low self-esteem, and a constant struggle for the high opinions of others, all while pretending not to care about anything. You know, a typical teenager. He experiences the most growth out of our merry band of young adults and his arc acts as a solid backbone for the entire film. It is Max’s coming of age that we are watching, but through all three characters on this hormonal evolutionary scale, it is our own that we are experiencing. While I may find myself becoming more like Winifred Sanderson as I become a cynical adult, at one point or another, I viewed this film as Dani, Max, and Allison.

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