This is a tale of three witches, the Sanderson sisters (played by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker). They are your standard, evil witches. In an attempt to stay young forever, they need to drain life force from children. And that gets them in trouble. It gets them a death by hanging. Except death isn’t always the full stop for witches that it is for us mere mortals. Many years later, a young lad who is new in town (Max, played by Omri Katz) decides that it would be good to see what happens when a virgin lights the black flame candle. And what happens is exactly what is said to happen – the witches come back. And they have one night to gain immortality or be turned to dust by sunrise. It’s up to Max and Allison (played by Vinessa Shaw) to stop them, helped along the way by Dani (Thora Birch, playing the little sister to Max) and a talking cat (voiced by Jason Marsden).
There's fun to be had here, especially in any scene that has Midler front and centre, relishing every line that she delivers in her amusingly over the top portrayal, and Hocus Pocus is still one of those movies that I believe serves as a nice introductory "horror" for kids who like some spookiness in their viewing selections. If you can overlook the dated CGI, there's the talking cat to enjoy, an inept zombie, a lively spellbook, lots of fun confusion as the witches encounter the modern world, and a fun rendition of "I Put A Spell On You".
As well as all that, however, you also get the levels of annoying overacting that serve to remind you that this is a typical Disney movie. Not all live action Disney movies suffer from this, but most do. Katz, Shaw, and Birch are all okay in their roles, with Birch easier to excuse as the youngest of the three, but all have their moments. Midler and co. are easier to tolerate because of the characters they're playing. The worst of the offenders are Sean Murray, who plays a young man named Thackery, and Marsden as the voice to the cat (Thackery was transformed as part of a curse, both actors portray the same character), but Tobias Jelinek and Larry Bagby give pretty poor performances as a pair of local bullies, and Doug Jones is stuck with having to overplay things as he pursues the kids in zombie form.
The direction by Kenny Ortega is acceptable, I guess, but there are one or two great moments that show how much better this could have been, with just a little more thought and care for the style of the whole thing, and the script, by Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert, ranks about the same. There are some very good lines, but also so many scenes that you know could have been filled with a lot more of them. This was a premise full of potential, and only some of it is realised.
There will be people who read this review and hate me, despite the fact that I don't hate the film. A lot of people still absolutely love it. I cannot bring myself to dislike it, despite it not holding up for me so much nowadays, but it's one I would only recommend to anyone wanting to introduce younger viewers to it. You'll still be able to enjoy it for yourself, but watching them enjoy it is an added bonus.
You can buy the movie on this shiny disc here.
Americans can buy it here.