By the time the witchy Sanderson sisters become enchanted by the electronic doors at a Walgreens drug store, you realize just how wickedly off course “Hocus Pocus 2” has gone.
The 1993 Halloween cult classic starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy was a mostly forgettable dud with some safe and fun kid-friendly high jinks. Compared to the terribly unnecessary new sequel (★ ½ out of four; rated PG; streaming now on Disney+), the OG “Hocus Pocus” might as well be a classic from the Universal monsters canon. Directed by Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal”), the follow-up fails in every way, as a retread of the beloved ‘90s vehicle and as a youth-centered setup for future installments.
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Although it has its faults, the original “Hocus Pocus” (directed by a pre-“High School Musical” Kenny Ortega) found a novelty with the Sanderson sisters – bucktoothed leader Winnie (Midler), barking oddball Mary (Najimy) and lovable dimwit Sarah (Parker) – introduced as horror villains by way of the Three Stooges. Three centuries after being hanged by Salem’s residents, they were brought back to life (thanks to a teen virgin lighting a magic candle) to run amok, amok, amok on the town, sucking the life force out of children so the siblings can remain young.
Even though it seemed they permanently poofed into colorful dust at the end of the ’93 movie, “Hocus Pocus 2” runs the plot back, with young wannabe spellcasters Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) inadvertently unleashing the witches again. They get help from their friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), who has been spending more time with the popular kids than her longtime pals, when her mayor dad (Tony Hale) becomes an unexpected target for the Sandersons’ vengeful shenanigans.
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The potion-brewing siblings are the latest, after the subjects of “Maleficent” and “Cruella,” to receive a Disney villain “they’re not that bad” origin tale, as their childhood backstory is forced into the “Hocus Pocus” sequel. On one hand, it’s a timely bit of girl empowerment (and one of the only aspects of the movie that kind of works). Yet it also renders the Sandersons toothless.
While in the first film they were goofy women with a penchant for out-of-nowhere musical showstoppers, the sisters actually felt dangerous, since they were straight up murdering children for youthful makeovers. In the sequel, the Sandersons are mere filler, rather than killer, in their attempt to be all powerful, more inept than ever and, in Mary’s case, riding Roombas. They even sing a switched-up version of Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back" (and you can guess which word is changed).
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The witches are done dirty, yet the youth movement also isn't well served. There are so many Easter eggs and callbacks to the original “Hocus Pocus” piled on that the teens don’t have the focus they need to be fleshed-out heroes of the story. Placing the sisters front and center in the sequel takes away from the younger characters' development, although two guest stars make the most of their time: Hannah Waddingham (“Ted Lasso”) plays a witch the Sandersons meet in 17th-century Salem, and Sam Richardson is owner of the magic shop frequented by Becca and Izzy. (From “Werewolves Within” to “The Afterparty,” Richardson usually makes everything he’s in better, but he can save only so much of this travesty.)
With its well-trodden fish-out-of-water and teen-movie tropes, “Hocus Pocus 2” succeeds in showing that not every popular movie needs a starry sequel decades after the fact. (Tom Cruise’s new “Top Gun” is the rare exception.) Midler, Najimy and especially Parker gave a needed spark to the mediocre original that’s missing in the sequel, an accursed undertaking that lacks any of the spell it cast on nostalgic fans.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Hocus Pocus 2' review: Disney sequel does the Sanderson sisters dirty