Is 'Hocus Pocus' Still The Greatest Halloween Movie Of All Time When You're An Adult?

(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.

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.

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 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.


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.

…Into A Land of Enchantment

They may have been funny, entertaining, and impeccably dressed, but the Sanderson Sisters were real bonafide villains. There was no grey area in Hocus Pocus. The kids are supremely good while the witches are supremely bad. However, in the long tradition of totally awesome Disney villains, there is something particularly alluring about the Sanderson Sisters. There is never any temptation to join the dark side within the story – that conflict lies entirely with the audience. No matter how many children they wanted to eat, I wanted to be a Sanderson Sister.

In particular I wanted to be Sarah Sanderson. She was silly and childlike but also beautiful and enchanting. When she sings her siren song while flying over Salem on her broom, I was in love. She was this goddess, this enigma to me. Sarah Sanderson is a dream. Which is particularly confusing now as an adult, having realized that what made her so fun and childlike was that she is incredibly dim-witted. Even still, when I see that long blonde hair and that gorgeous purple dress, I can't help but be seduced. She was always the one that I wished didn't die at the end. She seemed innocent compared to the others. Creepy and spider-eating as she was, she was a follower, not a leader. I used to hope that she could somehow survive after dawn, preferably without eating a child's soul, and become some magnificent good witch. But alas, despite her beauty and charm she was evil and therefore was doomed to explode into a cloud of purple glitter at sunrise.

Even before I got my hands on Harry Potter, it was really hard to reconcile a magical character being bad. Magic is fantasy and every kid wants to be able to control it. Hocus Pocus was modern fantasy adventure, but instead of good magic vs bad magic, it was good mortal children vs undead evil. Sure evil witches and sorcerers are a common theme in Disney stories, but without a princess or a Prince Charming to root for, it makes it hard to watch some boring normal kids take on centuries old witches. I never realized how well this whole conflict of interest works for the narrative of the film until I sat and watched it with my writer hat on. These kids really are up against an evil so much bigger than themselves, partly because this evil is so much cooler than themselves. When Max runs on stage at the town hall party to reveal that the Sanderson sisters have been resurrected, it isn't, "Oh no! Why won't the townspeople believe him?!" It is, "Oh my god, everyone be quiet – it's the best part!"

If this modern mythological tale were real, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have ended up following the sisters into the pits of hell. I would have been a red-shirt in the story book pages, seduced by the magic, unwilling to believe our heroes' call for aid.

Does the Film Hold Up?

There is certainly no question that the popularity of Hocus Pocus holds up. From the Sanderson Sister costumes, to Hocus Pocus-themed Halloween Decor, t-shirts, and everyone Instagramming their October viewing parties, Hocus Pocus is as much a part of the Halloween tradition as candy and jack-o-lanterns. However, I do have a bone to pick with some aspects of the film.

As much as it pains me to say it, Hocus Pocus totally drags in places. It's biggest issue seems to be wasted time. Most notably the Garry Marshall scene. I absolutely adore Garry Marshall, but I can't for the life of me figure out why that scene exists. The scene is mashed in just prior to the town hall party, which is arguably the film's most iconic moment. Garry Marshall steps out of his house donning a very tacky devil costume, which is admittedly very entertaining in and of itself. The Sanderson sisters are overjoyed at the welcoming site of their "master." Once the sisters are welcomed inside "master's" home, what follows is forced lowbrow humor and awkward interactions that don't align with the rest of the movie.

Overall it falls flat and it honestly makes me a little uncomfortable. I didn't even like that scene as a kid. In a movie for all ages, that scene doesn't work for any of them. As I got older, that scene became the cell phone and Facebook break scene. The "Oh, don't pause it, I just need to run to the bathroom," scene. Having already had several references to their satanic nature, and developed a steady and effective comedic relationship between the three of them, this scene is completely pointless.

garry marshall Hocus PocusHocus Pocus runs only 96 minutes, but even that feels long. I love the enchantment of the film, but I would much rather some of that time be spent exploring more of the lore, or, having just found out that Billy Butcherson is played by none other than Doug Jones, I would love to have had more time with him. It all amounts to missed opportunities to make a nostalgic film a great film.

The movie does such a fantastic job making the Sanderson Sisters seem simultaneously terrifying and enticing that adding in gimmicky humor seems to cheapen the tone. Hocus Pocus would have a lot more punch if its coolest moments were not glued together with space fillers. I love the story and the classic 'kid vs evil' elements, so it is hard to sit here and say that I would want to see any of it go, but fluff is fluff, and the minute a scene comes along that causes your mind to check out and your eyes to wander to your phone, that's time taken away from what could be a fully immersive viewing experience.

There is no amount of griping that can take away the memories and joy associated with Hocus Pocus. Just as easily as I put my writer hat one to view this film critically, I can simply hang it back up and view this movie with the same childlike enthusiasm as I have for the last 20-plus years. Though I may have traded in my bowl of candy for a bottle of wine, I don't see an end to this Halloween tradition. The Sanderson sisters are the spirit of the holiday, they are the muses for the season, and to myself and an entire generation, they are Halloween.