Oct 18, 2014

Review: Hocus Pocus (1993)

I never saw Hocus Pocus growing up and it would seem like I really missed out on something. At least that's what it sounds like. For a film which didn't do that well at the box office, it's a bit surprising just how well it did in terms of VHS/DVD sales as well as TV viewership over the years. Now part of ABC's 13 Nights of Halloween programming, it's the most watched movie of the entire lineup with a record 2.8 million viewers in 2011.

There's always the risk of running into one of these cult-following movies and coming away disappointed. A lot of the time I find myself siding with the critics, who weren't so impressed with Hocus Pocus when it was released. With a 33% score on Rotten Tomatoes, it's not very reassuring.


Genre: comedy, family, fantasy
Directed by: Kenny Ortega
Produced by: Steven Haft, David Kirschner, Ralph Winter, etc.
Written by: Mick Garris, Neil Cuthbert
Music by: John Debney
Running time: 96 minutes
Production company: Walt Disney Pictures
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures, American Broadcasting Company, Buena Vista International, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $28,000,000
Box office: $39,514,713 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw, Jodie-Amy Rivera, Larry Bagby, Tobias Jelinek, Stephanie Faracy, Charles Rocket, Doug Jones, Karyn Malchus, Sean Murray, Steve Voboril, Norbert Weisser, Kathleen Freeman


Max Dennison (Omri Katz) and his family have just moved from Los Angeles to Salem. It's Halloween and the residents all make a big deal out of it. Max is skeptical about all of it and is finding it difficult to adapt. He's getting bullied and to make matters worse, he has to take his little sister Dani (Thora Birch) out trick-or-treating. They arrive at Allison's house who Max secretly has a crush on. She invites them to check out a cottage that used to belong to a trio of evil witches hundreds of years ago. Part of their story involves a candle that if lit, will bring them back to life. Wanting to prove that none of it is true, Max lights the candle.


Hocus Pocus is decidedly a children's movie. It touches upon the difficulties of moving to a new place, family, dealing with bullies and even love interests. Not that any of it is done that in any real depth, it's only so kids watching it can relate. There's nothing wrong with that though because Hocus Pocus isn't about exploring childhood difficulties. It's family friendly entertainment pure and simple.

With Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker as the three witches, they bring a ton of energy into the movie. That especially goes for Bette Midler who looks like she's having the time of her life. They speak in silly old English with lots of "thy" and "thou" and they of course all have their own different malevolent magic powers. They're all amusing in their own ways and they bring quite a few quotable moments.

Since Winifred, Mary, and Sarah are from three hundred years ago, this presents some pretty good fish out of water scenes. You'd also be surprised at the level of raciness from what is a Disney movie with all this talk about virgins and sex innuendos. I have no problem with any of it, but it's just funny to see how times have changed.

The comedy in general I suppose can be called cartoony. There's lots of physical humour which is great for kids of course. There's still enough for an adult to be amused with Hocus Pocus as well though. Special effects haven't aged well at all unfortunately. It's OK though because they're never the main part of the movie. They're just there as support, so it's easy to forgive.

With some fun sets, lots of energy courtesy of Bette Midler and more than enough funny moments, Hocus Pocus is a pretty good family Halloween movie. Special mention to Thora Birch who really has some great presence despite just being a kid. Hocus Pocus pure and simple is just fun.



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