Hocus Pocus (1993)

Hocus Pocus is a nice little time capsule of a film. It’s also become a beloved Halloween tradition for many people, especially since it’s not too scary for most little ones – and is a fantastic family film. Hocus Pocus was released in 1993 and has stood the test of time for two decades with theatrical performances given by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najinu as the witches, the movie has been infused with camp by their over-the-top portrayals of a trio of witching sisters, lending it credence as a wildly popular film both then and today.

The camp continued throughout the entire film with the casting choices and even the terminology used in conversation. Hocus Pocus is a byproduct of its time (the early 1990s), and it shows in the decor, clothes, and even the slang (such as ‘yabbos’). But it did deliver solid gold with its casting choices, such as a rather unrecognizable and very young Thora Birch was cast as Dani, the young sister in the film. Birch has gone on to star in other films such as Ghost World, but is probably best known for her turn in American Beauty. Not surprisingly, she contributed a very solid performance for how young she was during filming.

The acting was timeless as well, as over-the-top caricature still plays as well in 2013 as it did in 1993, with childish gags and the complete obliteration of common sense by two of the witches with Bette Midler acting as the straight man of the trio. The special effects in the film are few and far in between, which is a fantastic thing as those effects have not aged well. What truly distinguishes Hocus Pocus is its ham-fisted acting, ’90s-era scene, and childish dialogue. The only special effect that hasn’t aged was the animatronic cat, which is par for the course from movies shot in the 1980s and 1990s – the computer effects haven’t held up, while the non-computer based special effects done in the old school method have held up and actually appreciated in time.

In short, Hocus Pocus is a wonderful non-scary Halloween movie made for children. The bumbling witches, tone & demeanor, and the humor of the film defuses any terror that anybody may actually feel from this film. It’s a feel-good movie that stands up to repeated viewings (good thing too, as it’s been included in the ABC Family Halloween marathons for years now), and what’s more – it never gets awkward to watch the film either. I highly recommend that you make this corny cult classic a part of your Halloween tradition.

Here are some tidbits I was able to dig up about Hocus Pocus:

  • The role of Max Dennison was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio – who decided to drop out in order to act in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Can you imagine a young DiCaprio in this film? I can’t either.
  • Rosie O’Donnell rejected the role of Mary Sanderson (Kathy Najimy) because she didn’t want to be a witch.
  • Since Hocus Pocus was originally released during the summer, it wasn’t very popular at first. It’s grown in popularity over the years due to being released on VHS by Disney and eventually being shown multiple times on television. Once again, one’s left to wonder why a studio would release a Halloween movie during the summer.
  • Fortune Telling: After the kids lock the Sanderson sisters (the witches) in the kiln, the kids celebrated by walking to the park. The house behind Max and Thackery as they chat is the same house that would be later used as Thora Birch’s house in American Beauty (1999).

I saw Hocus Pocus in the theater and then watched it several times on VHS. I must have rented it (at $5 a pop!) at least a dozen times, and it’s always been well worth the money I spent on it. Directed by Kenny Ortega who also directed Newsies, and then the High School Musical movies, it displays Ortega’s talent and affinity for song & dance routines (plus the whole, you know, having Bette Midler as a star demands some sort of song & dance routine in the film). Sarah Jessica Parker’s biggest early role is in Hocus Pocus (she’d go on to do Ed Wood the following year), but it’s rather limited as she plays the nubile nymphomaniac succubus sister of the witch trio. Vinessa Shaw plays Max’s love interest Allison, and hasn’t really had very many appearances since Hocus Pocus. She’s had some supporting work, but a lead role in Corky Romano does not a career make. The lead child actor Omri Katz (Max) didn’t seem to transition too well to adult roles, with his last film credit being in 2002 and only five other credits after Hocus Pocus – he actually retired and now works as a hairdresser. The youngest kid is the only one of the trio of children that actually grew up to have an acting career (Thora Birch).

The general premise of Hocus Pocus is that it adapts a popular tale about witches – a trio of them lived in a small town in Massachusetts in 1693 or so. They were killed by angry villagers, but have been resurrected 300 years later by some kids, who must now rely only on the aid of an immortal black cat to end the witches’ grasp on their town. Just your standard ‘resurrect witch/demonic spirit/infernal spawn and now we must destroy them once again’ tale, but of course with the traditional Disneyification of the entire movie itself. There’s plenty of camp throughout the movie, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously (it’s humorous on purpose). All of these elements put together – the traditional story, the period 1990s dress and lingo, and the casting all combine to produce a fantastic Halloween film for the entire family (a part of the golden period of the 1990s for Halloween films).

MPAA Rating: PG
Cinematically Rating:

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