Hocus Pocus Execution (Opening scene)

…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.

Max and Dani

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 Pocus

Hocus 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.

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