1993 was an important year, for me at least. I had just turned 5, started kindergarten, Jurassic Park was a huge hit and revolutionized special effects and, of course, was the year Hocus Pocus was released. Renting it on VHS waaaaaay back in the day, my family fell in love with the film, watching it every year around Halloween, making a fall staple for us. I thought for years I was the only one who loved this movie, but lo and behold, it has grown into a quite sizable cult. But like any cult, should it be rightfully cherished 20+ years later, or should it drink the spiked Kool-Aid and fade away?
Starting off in 1693, Thachary Binx is a teenager in Pre-Colonial Salem, MA, right around the infamous witch trials. The Sanderson sisters Winifred (Bette Midler, going delightfully over the top), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) are witches, looking to suck the soul out of the local children to stay young and live forever.
They lure Emily Binx, Thachary's sister, to their cabin, to make success of their plan, but not with Thachary putting up a valiant fight. Emily perishes and Thachary is turned into a black cat, made immortal to live with the pain of Emily's death. The townsfolk successfully hang the sisters, and the Binx's mourn the loss of their two children.
300 years later in (then) modern day Salem, Max Dennison (Omri Katz) is the new kid in town, having moved from Los Angeles and is not a believer in.... well,... all the hocus pocus involved shaping Salem. Having a rough adjustment period (Being denied the girl, bullies stealing his shoes, his sister invading his space), his night is made worse by having to babysit his sister Dani (A very young Thora Birch) and be embarrassed in front of his fellow school chums.
Of course he and his sister make up and hit up the next house, which is the home of his crush, Allison (Vinessa Shaw). They chit chat for a bit, talking about the Sanderson sisters, before learning that their home was turned into a museum, but was shut down over superstitions involved with witchcraft. Max, still being bullheaded about the whole thing with witches, he lights up the Black Flame Candle, unknowingly unleashing the sisters in modern times. Teaming up with Binx, now a talking cat, they now must their wits and modern know-how to defeat the Sandersons before they take every child in Salem and become immortal.
Having grown jaded over the past two decades, having to pay bills, having a job, etc, I was weary that I would hate and despise this film, deeming it just a "kid's movie" or "nostalgic feelings that faded long ago", but on the contrary. I actually enjoy this film more than ever!
The plot is pretty much by-the-numbers, predictably going through certain story beats to an upbeat ending of triumph over evil, but there are some fun stops amongst the story. Though the kids are pretty much exposition stops, the witches facing the 20th century is a real hoot, discovering paved roads, television and new modes of transport when their rides are stolen by kids. The performances from Midler, Najimy and Parker are enjoyably over-the-top, with their exaggerated facesand actions beefing up the humor and selling it to the nth degree. The kids performances are very well done, as well. Katz is a good lead, Shaw being a believable love interest and Birch being the standout performer. Though she was only 7-8 when filmed, she had a future ahead of her and is still a terrific actress, though very underrated, unfortunately.
The direction by Kenny Ortega helps sell the main trio's performances, with him specializing in directing musicals, along with being a choreographer, while balancing the story, performances, comedy and special effects rather well. Speaking of the F/X, this was one of the first times I ever saw CGI enhancements and/or a photo realistic recreation of an animal on screen, and while it has gotten way better in 20 years, the effects still stand up and barely noticeable for the most part.
While the camerawork, sets, costumes, music and more are well done, the editing is kind of off in one segment. Late in the film, the kids lure the sisters into the high school, hoping to stop them, but viewing after viewing, I keep asking, "How do they lure them to the school?" or "How did the kids get in?" and several more like it. Overall, the editing is good, but be prepared for this eyesore of a scene transition.
Moving on to the BluRay, let's start out with the picture and sound. The PQ is nothing revolutionary, offering a stable image with accurate colors and decent detail, but comes across as fairly soft, though thankfully DNR-free. The AQ is nice as well, with some surround elements used from time to time, but nothing to show off your new Dolby Atmos setup.
The extras are non-existant. For such a cult classic that has grown bigger and bigger over the years, I expected to see something along the lines of a commentary, a reunion with cast and crew, possibly the deleted scenes show in the trailer, or even the 1994 making-of. Even the trailer would have been nice, but no. Disney cheaped out and just released the film to perfunctory levels and no extras to justify a $15 price point. A DVD copy is included (I don't know if it's the 2002 non-anamorphic release or not) and also has no extras whatsoever.
Overall, this film is fun for the whole family and stands up rather well. This is perfect for those looking for their next cult fix, reliving some 90s nostalgia or just want to be entertained for 90 minutes. The BluRay is worth the purchase for the anamorphic transfer, but with decent PQ/AQ and no extras, catch it on sale for $10 or less.