'Hocus Pocus 2' conjures nostalgia, but does it recapture the magic? : Pop Culture Happy Hour The witchy Disney comedy Hocus Pocus wasn't a huge hit when it came out in 1993. But it found a devoted following and became a Halloween staple over time, so much so that it's finally got a sequel 29 years later. Hocus Pocus 2 brings back the Sanderson sisters, played by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker, as they sing songs, get into mischief and contend with a new world of confusing technology. But does it live up the original?

'Hocus Pocus 2' conjures nostalgia, but does it recapture the magic?

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The witchy Disney comedy "Hocus Pocus" wasn't a huge hit when it came out in 1993. But it found a devoted following and became a Halloween staple over time, so much so that it's finally got a sequel 29 years later. I'm Stephen Thompson. Today we are talking about "Hocus Pocus 2" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Joining me today is NPR producer Mallory Yu. Hi, Mallory.


THOMPSON: Also joining us is writer Kiana Fitzgerald. Hey, Kiana.


THOMPSON: So in the original "Hocus Pocus," a teenager in Salem, Mass., lights a candle and inadvertently summons the Sanderson sisters, three notorious witches whose history dates back to the Salem of the 1600s. Flamboyant ringleader Winifred was played by Bette Midler. Goofy Mary was played by Kathy Najimy. And deeply eccentric Sarah was played by Sarah Jessica Parker. You also had a talking black cat named Binx, a creepy spell book with a roving eyeball, a surprisingly helpful zombie named Billy Butcherson and several young people who do not at all figure into the plot of "Hocus Pocus 2."


THOMPSON: "Hocus Pocus 1" was not a box office hit. It was panned by critics, but it had a deep and lasting cultural impact, in part due to home video and cable and in part due to its status as a Halloween perennial. So thanks to the prolific nostalgia factory that is Disney, it's finally got a sequel 29 years later. In the new film, we meet new teenagers - in this case, Whitney Peak as aspiring witch Becca and Belissa Escobedo as her best friend Izzy. They end up conjuring the Sanderson sisters along the way. We also get a small "Veep" reunion because Tony Hale plays the mayor of Salem, and Sam Richardson plays magic shop owner Gilbert, who gets deeply mixed up in all of these shenanigans. But the real stars here are the Sanderson sisters themselves, as they sing songs, get into mischief, lure the local children and contend with a new world of confusing technology. "Hocus Pocus 2" is streaming on Disney+ for your Halloween and nostalgia needs.

Kiana Fitzgerald, I'm going to start with you. What is your relationship with "Hocus Pocus 1"? - 'cause I think that's key. And what did you think of "Hocus Pocus 2"?

FITZGERALD: Wow. OK. So never did adolescent Kiana think that she would be sitting here in this moment talking about a sequel to "Hocus Pocus."


FITZGERALD: But the original came out when I was 4 years old, and it became a huge staple in my household each year as I got older and older. I was very excited when I heard that they were going to do a sequel because it is such a culturally immersive experience when it comes to Halloween, when it comes to the sisters themselves and everything that goes along with it.

So I loved the original, and I think because I have such a strong attachment to it, I went into the sequel feeling hopeful. And I feel like everything that I wanted to happen in the sequel happened. There were a couple cameos that I was hoping for, but overall, I think that they did a great job in terms of weaving through the fabric of pop culture and making sure that we know that Disney is relevant and that "Hocus Pocus" is relevant and that they can do anything to make magic happen. So yeah, I really enjoyed the sequel, and I hope that in the future I can revisit it as much as I have the original.

THOMPSON: OK. How about you, Mallory?

YU: Like Kiana, I was also 4 when this movie came out. Pretty much since then, it was one of the first, if not the first, spooky movie I ever watched. And I still remember sitting in my best friend's living room, like, clutching a pillow to my chest for dear life, wincing every time Bette Midler showed up because she terrified me as a small child.


YU: Some of my favorite Halloween memories have this movie playing in the background, or it's because I was watching this movie with friends or at a party or whatever. So when I heard that they were doing "Hocus Pocus 2," I was excited because I do still have a deep love and nostalgia for this movie. But I was also a little concerned because I have started getting weary with movies that are specifically for nostalgia purposes. That being said, I did really enjoy this movie. It was like, ah, you got me.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

YU: Like, you've made my cold, dead heart feel something.


YU: And, you know, it did make me laugh. There's this really funny gag where the Sanderson sisters are trying to find a mode of transportation. Winifred grabs the broom. Sarah grabs a Swiffer Wet Jet. And Mary grabs some Roombas. And initially, I have to say, I rolled my eyes. But then this gag comes back, and it really pays off for me. I laughed out loud. I liked that the protagonists didn't have a love interest and that the story was about female friendship at a time when - in your life when female friendship just feels so tenuous and vulnerable.

And of course, Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker are having so much fun that even if, you know, you're kind of like, oh, this part is dragging a little, they're having so much fun that you can't help but watch along with them and want to go along with them. So yeah, overall, it's really fun. It won't be part of my Halloween tradition necessarily, but I could really see it becoming part of, you know, a young friend group's Halloween tradition. And that's kind of the whole point of a movie like this, right?

THOMPSON: Yeah. This is where age differences are bound to come into play and why it is really, really hard to review a movie like this without talking about how you experienced the first one and how old you were when you experienced the first one 'cause I was 20 when this movie came out, and I didn't see it for the first time until eight, nine years ago, when someone, like, sat me down to watch it 'cause it was their favorite movie.

YU: Like, how have you not seen it yet?

FITZGERALD: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: Yeah, how have you not seen this? And the appeal of it was almost entirely lost on me. It seemed sort of cheesy. It's a very early '90s - very cheap, early '90s effects. It already seemed so, so dated that I just didn't have that experience of hooking into it. It's not part of my Halloween traditions. And to me, coming back to this story, you know - I did this as a double feature. I re-re-re-rewatched (ph) "Hocus Pocus" and then watched "Hocus Pocus 2." And to me, because I didn't have the firmament of nostalgia, it just went right by me and just didn't really appeal to me at all. The songs just felt interminable and clunky and forced. I kind of liked the new characters. I thought - the early flashback where you meet the young witches and they encounter Hannah Waddingham, I was like, can I watch that movie (laughter)? Especially because they managed to get - Taylor Paige Henderson plays young Winifred and looks so much like young Bette Midler in this role that I was just like, I can sort of see a future for this franchise. But it's entirely nostalgia-based. I grew up in the '70s and '80s. And I have seen the '70s and '80s regurgitated back at me in the form of nostalgia for a really long time now. And so it only makes sense that they would revisit this property that I don't have that attachment to.

YU: Yeah. And I will say, you know, there's this question of, can this movie live up to the original, right? And when I approach a sequel, I never really think, is "Hocus Pocus 2" going to live up to "Hocus Pocus 1", the original? For me, it was never going to. It's kind of like, because I was 5 and watching this, I wasn't thinking about pacing or whether this was a good movie or not. And it didn't really matter to me back then. So it's kind of like, at this point, all of my nostalgia and my love and the 29 years of Halloween memories have built up this movie in my head where something that I'm watching now, which is shiny and new and has better graphics, doesn't have the same grit that I remember and expect from "Hocus Pocus." Like, it still makes me feel magical. It still makes me feel like I'm a kid watching a Halloween movie. I guess this is where I struggle with nostalgia properties, right? It's like, is it for me? Or is it for someone else? And I would kind of like these movies to be for someone else at this point instead of just catering to my 30-year-old nostalgia.

FITZGERALD: Wow. Yeah. I love that perspective. And it's interesting because I feel like I'm on the opposite side of that. Like, I'm like, cater to me, you know? Like...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

FITZGERALD: I'm like, I want it all. I would love to see - there are certain, you know, films and TV shows that I'm like, OK, leave that alone. There's not going to be that. But for the most part, when I see and hear of things like "Hocus Pocus" having a sequel, I get jazzed up. And I'm like, yo, like, they're coming for us. Like, this is it. And, like, my sister and I lived together. And we, like, got ready. Like, we were going to go out and party. And we just put on our Halloween pajamas and made popcorn and nachos and got candy and, like, really settled in to watch this movie. It was like an event for us.

And the point that's being made here overall is, can a sequel really trump an original in terms of its quality, in terms of its connectivity, etc., etc.? And I don't think that it's that possible for a sequel like a "Hocus Pocus 2" to come through the gates and be like, OK, I'm the top dog in town now, you know? It's always going to be the original when it comes to this film franchise. But I would be interested in seeing something happen with the younger Sanderson sisters. I think they are so much fun. I think that they played the characters impeccably. And I look forward to seeing how they might be introduced in a future film.

THOMPSON: What did you guys think of the new characters that were introduced for this movie? You know, this movie does not pick up the plot of the kids who were in "Hocus Pocus" circa 1993. Omri Katz stopped acting 20 years ago. Vinessa Shaw isn't back. Thora Birch isn't back. What did you think of kind of the new connective tissue they created for this story?

YU: I liked that they weren't related to the original cast, and that this was a whole new set of kids because I think that opens up this world a little bit more. It makes me think, if Becca is a witch, then what other witches exist in this world? And could she come into contact with them? Are there good witches and bad witches? Like, were the Sanderson sisters always fated to be a bad witch? I guess it just, like, makes me think about all the lore. I liked Whitney Peak as Becca. I think she was really fun to watch. And Belissa Escobedo - so fun as, like, the best friend. I was immediately into her character because that's the role that I have played in my friendships a lot. Like...

THOMPSON: You're friends with a lot of powerful witches.

YU: Well, not...


YU: Not powerful witches, but more like bossy, sassy people. And I'm less of that. I really liked the characters. They reminded me of me and my friends. And they reminded me of, like, young girls that I see running around at the mall, you know, who are younger than me and just having fun. I don't know, though, if I needed all the lore of the Sanderson sisters. It sort of felt like, if you're going to give me how the Sanderson sisters got book and how they became witches and everything, then I need to know a little - like, how Becca became a witch. Like, is she related to someone in the Salem witch trials? Like, what's her story here? And I don't know if we ever get enough of that, but that's nitpicky. And...


THOMPSON: Yeah, I'm not sure nitpicking and "Hocus Pocus" go together super well.

FITZGERALD: Yeah. I mean, I really enjoyed the new characters. I appreciate that there's a more diverse cast, you know? I felt like that was extremely necessary. And I appreciated that it was focused on the friendship, as opposed to, you know, like, who's going to fall in love with the virgin or what have you.

YU: Right.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) Yeah, there's less of a focus on virginity this time around.


YU: Yeah.

THOMPSON: This is not a movie from the '80s and '90s. And we're a little bit less interested in that today.

YU: Yeah. But also, like, does this movie feel a little weirdly de-sexed compared to the first one? Because I feel like in the first one, there are a lot more jokes. Sarah Jessica Parker's Sarah gets to flirt with the bus driver. And she sits in his lap. And she's always talking about boys. And in this one, it's sort of like there's a lot less of that sexy, campy weirdness of the first one that I think made it such a cult classic. And I'm wondering if this sequel, could it reach a cult status? I don't think so. To me, it feels like it's not as underground as the first one felt. It feels a little less subversive or a little less controversial than the first one. What do you all think?

FITZGERALD: Yeah. I think this film is more intentional about being palatable to more people, as opposed to, you know, like, the parents of 4- and 5- and 10-year-olds from, you know, 30 years ago. So, yeah, I feel like there's definitely some things that we could have seen or some things that could have happened in terms of, like, oh, let's, like, push the edge a little bit because we know that some of our target audience is a bit older. Maybe we could have allowed characters to be a bit more flirtatious or rambunctious or whatever word you want to put in there. And I don't know if that contributed to it, you know, not having the same wow factor or the same gut-punch impact. But, you know, I think for what it was, it served its purpose, and that is to essentially cater to the people who saw the original and the people who now have kids and they want to introduce them to the same universe that they fell in love with.

THOMPSON: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. I think this is a movie a lot of fans of the original are going to share with their kids. And as such, there may be a wave of nostalgia for this movie in 29 years that - we'll be so old, we won't...


THOMPSON: ...See it coming at all. Well, we want to know what you think about "Hocus Pocus 2." Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/pchh, or tweet us @pchh. Up next, What Is Making Us Happy This Week.

Now it's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, What's Making Us Happy This Week. Mallory Yu, what's making you happy this week?

YU: What's making me happy is a new book. It's called "Thistlefoot." I actually had a piece on All Things Considered about it this week, which you should check out - shameless plug. "Thistlefoot" is the debut novel from author GennaRose Nethercott - great name. And it's a really interesting reimagining of the Baba Yaga myth. If you don't know who Baba Yaga is, she's a figure in Slavic and Eastern European folklore. She's this, like, supernatural crone who might return a lost item to you, or she might curse you forever. Oh, and she lives in a house that stands and walks on chicken legs.

So in this book "Thistlefoot," GennaRose Nethercott reimagines Baba Yaga as a Jewish woman living in an Eastern European shtetl in 1919, a time of civil war and pogroms. The book goes back and forth between her life and what happened to her during this time and also two of her descendants, who inherit this sentient house, and also the memories that haunt it. I really loved this book. It's heavy, but it's not dour. And it's just a lovely exploration of the ways that folklore helps us understand and remember and process real-life horrors in a fantastical, frankly beautiful way. This book is called "Thistlefoot" by GennaRose Nethercott.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Mallory. Kiana Fitzgerald, what's making you happy this week?

FITZGERALD: What's making me happy this week is a hip-hop artist named GloRilla. And she's from Memphis, and she went viral a couple months back for a song called "F.N.F." And the song blew up on TikTok. Everybody thought she would be a one-hit TikTok wonder, and she has turned around and produced two back-to-back singles called "Blessed" and "Tomorrow" that are really getting the the hip-hop community riled up in terms of their excitement for her. And I'm particularly excited about her because I saw a football team, Jackson State, played her song "Blessed," and they got absolutely turned up.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

FITZGERALD: And it was just a really beautiful moment to see a woman be celebrated in a space like this. So let's hear a little bit of "Blessed."


GLORILLA: (Rapping) My yellow bumping [expletive] - I'm feeling like a speed bump. All these labels watching, looking at me like, I need her. My cousin in a toxic situation, need to free her. See me at the top. A [expletive] can't pay me s*** to meet up, on the gang.

FITZGERALD: And I was like, wow. Like, this is just incredible to see a group of, you know, young men, a lot of young Black men - because I think it's an HBCU.

THOMPSON: Yeah, it is.

FITZGERALD: Yeah - just, like, going all the way up for a song made by woman because typically in these locker room environments, you'll hear, like, Future or Drake or something like that. And you hear GloRilla just blasting out of the speakers, and they're giving their lives. And I was like, this is the future. Like, we're going to see more hip-hop women starting to be played in these cultural spaces that are typically not inviting to them. So, yeah, shoutout to Glorilla. I'm very excited to see her rise. And, yeah, that's what's making me happy.

YU: Hell yeah.

THOMPSON: Nice. Speaking of early '90s nostalgia, the coach of Jackson State...

FITZGERALD: Deion Sanders. Yeah.

THOMPSON: Deion Sanders.

YU: Ooh.


THOMPSON: All right. Thank you, Kiana Fitzgerald. So what is making me happy this week? Speaking of late '80s and early '90s nostalgia, it is a piece of nostalgia mining that you can stream on Disney+ that keys into some pop cultural artifact from the late '80s and early '90s that I did not experience or enjoy. So it is a perfect thread between this and "Hocus Pocus 2." I am talking about the movie "Chip 'N' Dale: Rescue Rangers," which came out this past May to, I think, very little fanfare. It is a kind of reimagining of the, like, 1989 animated TV series "Chip 'N' Dale: Rescue Rangers."

The movie is a kind of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"-style mix of live action and animation that picks up these characters where they might have picked up 30 years later. They're voiced by Andy Samberg and John Mulaney. It is full of just kind of these layered meta jokes that key into jokes and references from the original series but also the entire history of animation kind of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"-style. You will see visual gags and references and intellectual property from the last hundred years of animation. I wasn't a "Chip 'N' Dale: Rescue Rangers" guy at all, and so a lot of the references flew right past me. But the joke density in this movie is very, very high, and the more keyed in you are to this property but also a zillion other pop culture properties, the more you're going to enjoy this movie. You'll know right away if it's for you. It was very, very much for me.

That's "Chip 'N' Dale: Rescue Rangers," streaming now on Disney+. That is what is making me happy this week. If you want links for what we recommended plus some more recommendations, sign up for our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. That brings us to the end of our show. Mallory Yu, Kiana Fitzgerald, thanks so much to both of you for being here.

YU: Always good to be here.

FITZGERALD: Yes. Thank you, Stephen.

THOMPSON: This episode was produced by Candice Lim and Hafsa Fathima and edited by Mike Katzif and Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides our theme music. Thanks for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Stephen Thompson, and we will see you all next week.

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