I must confess that Hocus Pocus was one of my favorite Disney movies as a child. It didn't pander to kids, and the danger felt real. The comic rendition of "I Put a Spell on You" got played quite a bit in my house, too. Nearly twenty years have inexplicably passed since the film's original release, and Hocus Pocus remains as enjoyable - interminable to some - as ever. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy leave subtlety in the dust as the Sanderson sisters, three Salem, Mass., witches looking to regain their youth by sucking the life out of children on Halloween. Max Dennison, the new kid on the block, accidentally arouses the sisters from their deathly slumber, and must protect his younger sister, Dani, and more-developed-if-not-older crush, Allison, from harm. What more is there to say? It's Hocus Pocus. Halloween is coming up, so you might as well enjoy it!
The Sanderson sisters hang for their witchcraft in 1693 but not before ensuring their return should a virgin light the black-flame candle in their shack. Cut to the 1990s, when Max (Omri Katz), Dani (Thora Birch) and Allison (Vinessa Shaw) visit the sisters' house for some Halloween spooks. Max lights the candle, which apparently hasn't been moved for 300 years despite the house previously housing a museum, and the sisters return. Feline Thackery Binx (voiced by Jason Marsden) is pissed, having spent 300 years trying to keep said resurrection from happening after the sisters killed his sister and turned him into a cat. The girls have one evening to finish a spell that will grant them youth and doom the children of Salem.
The highlight of Hocus Pocus is, of course, Midler, hamming it up hard as Winnie Sanderson, the group's ringleader. Midler brings her larger than life stage persona to the screen, whooping and flying about in search of children to corrupt. Najimy is the ugly sister, Mary, and she has quite a few funny lines. Parker is the bimbo, Sarah, and her past indiscretions with Winnie's lover led to that man's early demise. The trio clearly had fun shooting Hocus Pocus, and this excitement translates to some decent laughs, even for adults. I noticed several other reviews criticize the overacting in Hocus Pocus. But isn't that kind of the point?
Perhaps I liked Hocus Pocus so much as a kid because it never feels like a children's movie. There's some crazy talk about virgins, Sarah banging half the town, and Allison's yabbos, and all the parents are pretty irresponsible, choosing to spend their Halloween getting hammered at a huge party. When Max and Dani show up terrified of the pursuing witches, their parents are too tanked to care. Tough shit kids, let your mom and daddy get back to drankin'. The party gives Midler and the gals the opportunity to belt out a song, and damn if I didn't remember all the words. Also, people actually die and get hurt in Hocus Pocus; two things Disney shies away from these days. I learned a lot from Hocus Pocus. Mainly, if you go around touching things that don't belong to you, some women dressed like hookers might try to touch you inappropriately.
I hate to overuse the word "charming," but it nicely describes Hocus Pocus. I like the film's refusal to make the Sanderson sisters completely immune to 21st century lingo, and they quickly drop their "what's a bus" act and reveal themselves as gals with a sense of humor. Max and Dani's brother/sister dynamic is a nice anchor, too, and Allison never feels like a third wheel. Sure, it's a bit silly, but Hocus Pocus is miles better than most live-action garbage aimed at kids today. In 1993, Disney wasn't afraid to get a little crazy, and now we have a Blu-ray to revisit all the memories.
Disney didn't do a lot of restoration on the film elements, so the 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer looks just OK. The film has a very soft appearance, especially during early scenes, and detail and texture are middling at best. Colors are decently saturated and black levels acceptable, and I suspect some of the murkiness hides the mid-level effects. Thankfully, Disney has not artificially sharpened the image, and the print is free of defects.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is not a particularly nuanced mix, but at least there is some surround action. Dialogue is always clear, but the surround and rear effects can be a little loud and occasionally lack separation. The subwoofer springs to life for a bit, and the music is nicely integrated. A French 5.1 Dolby Digital track and a Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital track are also available, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Nothing save a DVD copy of the film.
Twenty years later, Hocus Pocus remains an enjoyable film for the family to revisit around Halloween. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy overact deliriously as witches looking to remain young by draining the life out of Salem's children, but the ruckus is all part of the fun. Throw in a stage performance, a talking cat and a chain-smoking cameo by Penny Marshall, and you've got yourself a winner. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.