Are You With Us?: Hocus Pocus
By Ryan Mazie
July 16, 2012
Even though Parker and Najimy never receive such great lines as Midler’s, they still embody their characters and have enough of a presence to not get pushed out of the way by Midler’s elephant-sized personality.
Katz is fine as the lead teenage actor, but went on to do nothing else noteworthy afterwards. In fact, Katz only has five more credits on IMDb after Hocus Pocus and the latest one was in 2002. While his performance didn’t set the world on fire, his talent was what you’d expect coming out of the Disney wheelhouse. With most of the jokes poking at his virginity, the dialogue is more troublesome and lacking when it comes to the younger cast. Birch plays his innocent younger sister with the perfect amount of gravitas. Birch later went on to American Beauty and her Golden Globe-nominated performance in Ghost World, but after the early 2000s, Birch has seemed to end up in direct-to-DVD projects. Shaw is sexy and fine as the love interest, but again, has floundered around afterward, with her biggest hit being in the straight-up gruesome horror film The Hills Have Eyes (2006).
Originally written to be a Disney Channel Original Movie, the studio execs over at Disney scooped up the project once they saw theatrical potential in it. Hocus Pocus director Kenny Ortega later went on to helm the mega-successful High School Musical franchise, which was the channel’s biggest hit.
I find it hard to objectively review this film because of the nostalgia value it holds for me. Potentially one of the top five (or three) movies I have watched the most times, I can pretty much give you the plot points by heart. Still, after distancing myself away, the script is charming yet sloppy. The costumes seem like they were purchased at Halloween Adventure, and the film makes the mistake of focusing more attention on the kids rather than the witches. Also, narrative pacing is thrown away in efforts to wring out more laughs, such as a needless-if-it-weren’t-so-damn-funny sequence where the witches meet a costumed Satan (Garry & Penny Marshall), thinking he is the real deal.
After watching the movie in college around Halloween with a group of first-timers (I told you this movie is ageless) and seeing them laugh out loud frequently, it’s clear that Hocus Pocus has that enigmatic magical charm that takes you back to the feelings of Halloween as a child and how goofily scary it was. This is the movie equivalent of a Haunted Hayride. The thrills (or in this case, laughs) are cheap as the mini-candy bars you get on Halloween, but it leaves a memorable impression of fun and delight.
In a “what the hell were they thinking?” decision, Disney released Hocus Pocus July 16, 1993. I know that stores start decorating for the holiday in September, but Disney brought the pre-Halloween preparation to a whole other level of early. Opening in fourth place with $8.1 million, with the small aid of an October re-release that year (smart move, but too little, too late), the film managed to gross $39.5 million ($75.7 million today). With a reported budget of $28 million, the film was a minor success, but ultimately turned into a moneymaker with its yearly Halloween re-sales and TV airings.
Not very dated looking given Halloween costumes and decorations are a similar-looking staple year in and out, Hocus Pocus is definitely with us, being one of those theatrical misses that everyone has managed to see, thanks to video and TV. In fact, the film is still such a seller that Disney has announced the movie will make its debut on Blu-ray this September. No special features are announced, but given the featureless current DVD, it would be nice to see some of the deleted scenes (the trailer has some clips, notably in a supermarket, that are not in the film) and cast and crew commentary (in an interview with BBC in 2008, Midler listed this as her favorite role in her film career).
A film I will always associate with Halloween, Hocus Pocus is like a homemade costume – effective and charming because of the effort put behind it, with the flaws being way more interesting than something perfectly generic bought at a store last minute.
A bewitching good time, Hocus Pocus certainly will “cast a spell on you.”
Verdict: With Us
7 out of 10