Hocus Pocus 2 review: Charming but lacking

(L to R) Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson in Hocus Pocus 2
(Image credit: Matt Kennedy)

If you watch Hocus Pocus 2 on Disney Plus tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 30), you may do so because of how sequels of beloved films always tend to cast a spell over their audiences. You? Well, for some folks, the answer is already decided, much like the predictable whims of the Sanderson sisters upon their return to present-day Salem. 

As we know by now Mary (Kathy Najimy), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Winifred (Bette Midler) always choose chaos. I'd say they "choose violence" — but this is a Disney Plus joint.

And in Hocus Pocus 2, the sisters are back in the habit of trying to take over Salem, and it's (you guessed it) up to those who lit the Black Flame Candle to stop them. As I'll explain in this Hocus Pocus 2 review, some of the film works like a magical charm. While some other parts may have needed more time in the cauldron.

This is a spoiler-free review, so don't beware!

Hocus Pocus 2 review: What works

(L-R): Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson in a Walgreens in HOCUS POCUS 2,

(Image credit: Matt Kennedy)

Middler, Najimy and SJP aren't reinventing their characters, but they're having fun and I imagine that's all that matters for audiences.

Hocus Pocus 2 is good, and that's largely part to the returning Sandersons. Middler, Najimy and SJP aren't reinventing their characters or getting to add a ton of depth, but they're having fun and I imagine that's all that matters for audiences. This especially worked during a costume contest, and when the Sandersons interact with the public in the first half or so of the film.

The other great boon is co-star Sam Richardson (The Afterparty, I Think You Should Leave). While his Gilbert — a magic store clerk — doesn't have a huge role, his character feels the most fleshed out out of all the new arrivals. He doesn't have a huge backstory, though. He simply fits the mood.

Sam Richardson as Gilbert in HOCUS POCUS 2

(Image credit: Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

Watching Hocus Pocus 2, I kept remembering that one Homer Simpson quote when I found myself thinking "what are the Sanderson sisters and Gilbert doing right now?" whenever they weren't on screen. Which is both a testament to those performances, and a sign of what I'll explain in the section below of what I didn't like.

Two other new cast members — Hannah Waddingham and Tony Hale — enhance the scenes they're in. The former is on-screen for much too short a period of time, while the latter isn't overused.

Certain comedic bits where the Sandersons are confused by 2022's technology work better than others, but they're all at least a little funny. A moment involving an Apple HomePod is both clever for the scene and surprising because I never expect to see Apple product placement outside of Apple TV Plus shows.

Hocus Pocus 2 review: What doesn't work

(L-R): Belissa Escobedo as Izzy, Whitney Peak as Becca, and Lilia Buckingham as Cassie in Hocus Pocus 2

(Image credit: Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

A better question is "why was Hocus Pocus 2 made?" Since the story of Hocus Pocus 2 doesn't feel entirely strong, it feels like the likely answer is "to help fill the Disney Plus schedule."

The Sandersons' return to Salem is triggered by wanna-be witches Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), who are sort of the main characters of the film. They have a personal drama with their kinda-friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), and while the actors do their best with the material, this story is the film's weakest link. 

I won't go into why they're having problems, but I will note that Cassie's kinda dim-witted boyfriend Mike (Froy Gutierrez) is the funniest part of the whole thing. He's astoundingly dumb, but I guess that's high school jocks in TV shows. Their internal drama is resolved so easily, with a small conversation, that it feels more meaningless.

(L to R) Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson in HOCUS POCUS 2

(Image credit: Matt Kennedy)

Lastly, and this is a little sad to say, but the musical numbers in Hocus Pocus 2 aren't exactly slappers. None especially stuck with me, and each felt a bit rushed.

Outlook: Should you watch Hocus Pocus 2?

Many have likely made up their minds once they heard Hocus Pocus 2 was coming out, much less that they don't have to pay extra for it (remember Disney Plus Premier Access?). 

So, to those about to watch, I only suggest you temper your expectations to match the fact that this movie is not a paid extra. It's a fun movie, and not a terrible way to spend a couple of hours as we ramp up for spooky season. That said, Disney Plus didn't make you pay extra for Turning Red or Chip N Dale, and both were better than Hocus Pocus 2.

A better question is "why was Hocus Pocus 2 made?" Since the story of Hocus Pocus 2 doesn't feel entirely strong, especially in the case of the teens, it feels like the likely answer is "to help fill the Disney Plus schedule." Which is a disappointment. But at least you're not paying extra — just with your time.

Henry T. Casey
Senior Editor

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.