The long-awaited follow up to cult classic Hocus Pocus, Hocus Pocus 2 reunites Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson sisters almost three decades after the release of the original movie. Following a group of teens who inadvertently summon the trio of witches on Halloween in Salem, Hocus Pocus 2 sees the Sanderson sisters pick up where they left off in their pursuit of eternal life and supernatural power. Aside from Midler, Parker, Najimy, and Doug Jones, none of the other members of the original Hocus Pocus cast returns, with Tony Hale, Sam Richardson, Whitney Peak, and Belissa Escobedo rounding out the new cast.

Hocus Pocus 2 doesn’t get off to the strongest start, particularly in comparison to the original. Where the 1993 film featured a shared focus on its teenage and preteen cast members, Hocus Pocus 2 follows an older crowd of teenage girls, seemingly narrowing its target demographic. There’s very little to appeal to a younger audience, and that’s perhaps the sequel’s most obvious failing when compared to its predecessor. The establishing scenes make Hocus Pocus 2 feel more like a teen drama than a Halloween-based fantasy-comedy, and that leads to a subtle tonal disconnect early on.

However, with the return of Winnifred, Mary, and Sarah Sanderson, Hocus Pocus 2 begins to get back on track. Sam Richardson adds some much-needed comedy to proceedings, and though Doug Jones’ Billy Butcherson is used sparingly, he also helps the sequel to recapture a little of the original’s magic. However, at its heart, Hocus Pocus 2 very much focuses on the bond of friendship between its teenage leads, and that serves as both a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, this shift in focus breathes new life into the franchise and avoids the sequel obviously emulating the original. However, it also makes for a tonal departure that alienates the sequel from the spirit of the original, and that ultimately hurts the overall quality of Hocus Pocus 2. It is worth noting that these differences do afford the sequel an opportunity to explore interesting themes, although the way in which these are delivered upon leave much to be desired in a narrative sense.

One of the most overarching ideas explored in Hocus Pocus 2 is sisterhood – obviously in the Sanderson sisters but also in its teenage trio. The strained relationships between the groups create much of the film’s conflict, and though this in itself reinforces modern feminist ideals that were absent in 1993, the final payoff is ultimately pretty weak. Hocus Pocus 2 simply ends with a colossal change of heart that’s largely unexplained, and that cheapens the interesting ideas that it seemed to propose.

Hocus Pocus 2 is a passable Halloween movie. It doesn’t quite recapture the magical nature of the original, nor does it truly communicate the same sense of supernatural peril, but it does have a few things going for it. It falters a little in its overall execution, though – it’s generally well written and well acted, but it’s also far less engaging than its predecessor, and it scuppers its franchise potential by needlessly switching up its target demographic. Though Hocus Pocus 2 is far from a bad film, it simply doesn’t live up to the promise of the original or the years of anticipation for its release.

Rating: 50%

Summary: Hocus Pocus 2 fails to live up to its potential, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. It has a sound message for its younger audience and it loosely caters to nostalgia for the original.

Highlights: The bizarre and inexplicable relationship between Sam Richardson’s Gilbert and Billy Butcherson was unexpectedly fun (albeit short-lived).