Movie Review: The Witch oh the witch oh the witches are back — “Hocus Pocus 2”

The Sanderson sisters are back, summoned by a couple of modern day Salem teens who cast a “help our intentions manifest” spell.

But the ladies require supplies for whatever they get up to in “Hocus Pocus 2.” Eldest sister Winnifred (Bette Midler) barks at the girls (Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobido) who lit a candle, spoke an incantation and brought them into our world.

Quick, she says. Take us “to thine apothecary!” Winnifred and dizzy sisters Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy) gape in wonder at the modern version of an apothecary’s shop, at doors that open by themselves. It must be a place of great evil and magic.

“OBSERVE sisters, how it glooooows from within with a SICKENING light!”

That’s florescence for you, they’re told. “Wait, didn’t we used to know a Florescence?”

You will never look at Walgreens the same way again.

If there’s nasty on-set gossip from the making of “Hocus Pocus 2,” which reunites three queens of ’80s and ’90s screen comedy for a new kid-friendly romp for Disney, I don’t want to hear it. We see unguarded moments of giggling and affection as well as the odd improvised bit. These three look tickled to be back together.

Lock up your children!”

And the movie surfs on that wave of good vibes. Midler takes the lead as the unholy trio cover Elton’s “The Bitch is Back” re-written as “The Witch,” vamp through Blondie’s “One Way or Another,” and cackle and threaten and tease, seemingly delighted at revisiting these characters in a sequel to their poorly-reviewed but kid-popular hit from 1993.

Teens Becca (Peak) and Izzy (Escobido) want the original Sandersons around for reasons that aren’t the clearest. They’re feuding with their pretty and popular ex-pal Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), who has a cute jock boyfriend and who also just happens to be mayor’s (Tony Hale) daughter.

Magic shop owner Gilbert (Sam Richardson, always at home in light comedy) has a lot of the 17th century possessions of the Sandersons in his shop, chief among them a living book, “The Manual of Witchcraft & Alchemy.” The sisters are going to need that if they’re going to cope with America in the age of Walgreens.

For one thing, returning to Salem at Halloween means they’re dropping in on the Halloween Festival, where Salem’s most infamous witches are the most popular costume.

“Why are these children dressed like us?”

Don’t even try to explain bobbing for apples to these three.

“Look! You’re drowning a man! How charming! And he’s got an apple in his mouth. Are you roasting him on a spit?”

The witches want to ensure that they get to stick around in this world, and are willing to destroy anyone who isn’t on board with that. Only the young girls have a prayer of stopping them.

One grand touch in this just-funny-enough script is a prologue that shows the Sandersons as young girls, battling the campy and pious town preacher (Hale, again), who wants to straighten out young Winnifred (Taylor Henderson) by marrying her off to a local oaf. She isn’t having it.

“She cannot SPEAK that way to a man!” the locals hiss. And yet, she persisted.

That’s the day these three “weird sisters” went into the forest, met a witchy mentor played by Hannah Waddington, and secured their future as feared conjurers.

Teen actresses always have the best time impersonation the Divine Miss M.

It’s all kind of adorable.

As with the original film, there isn’t a whole lot to this — some good jokes, some jokey tunes, and two very funny women generously taking a back seat to the brassy, sassy redhead who breaks out the cackle and dons the buck-teeth one more time.

I’d say Parker, Najimy and Midler all did a great public service coming back to these characters and deserve the thanks of a grateful nation for giving this their all, giving us a few laughs and a lot of grins and giving legions of little girls Disney role models who aren’t princesses waiting around for some prince to get a clue.

Rating: PG

Cast: Bette Midler, Sara Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Tony Hale, Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobido, Lilia Buckingham, Taylor Henderson, Nina Kitchen, Juju Journey Brener and Sam Richardson.

Credits: Directed by Anne Fletcher, scripted by Jen D’Angelo. A Disney release.

Running time: 1:43

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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