Group Chat: The Staff of Boston Magazine Watches Hocus Pocus 2

A discussion of the new movie's highs, lows, and opportunities for Tony Hale.

kathy najimy, bette midler, sarah jessica parker

Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Disney

Like everyone else, the staff of Boston magazine was excited to hear about the new Hocus Pocus sequel. Many of us had grown up with the original, and as Bay State residents, we wanted to see how Disney’s update set in one of our most famous towns fared. Four of us watched it over its opening weekend and convened to discuss what we thought of the revival, which saw witches (and sisters) Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy), and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) returning to wreak havoc (and run amok, of course) in Salem for a new generation of kids. Read on to see what staff writer Erin Kayata, research editor Makena Gera, food editor Rachel Leah Blumenthal, and senior digital editor Lisa Weidenfeld thought of the new movie, which premiered on Disney+ on September 30.

Spoilers ahead, for anyone who hasn’t watched it yet!

Thoughts on the original?

Lisa Weidenfeld: As a starter question, what is your relationship to the original movie, and when did you last see it? I saw it as a kid and liked it, but my strongest relationship to it is definitely thanks to Freeform airing it on a loop throughout my 20s, so I have many fond viewings with roommates. But I haven’t seen it in at least a decade, I think.

Makena Gera: I saw the first movie for the first time ever on Friday night….as in three days ago. *cue the gasps*

Lisa Weidenfeld: I appreciate your commitment to this cause, Makena.

Rachel Blumenthal: I watch it most years, sometime in October, and have since it came out. I’m definitely a fan, but maybe not a SUPER fan (I don’t have it memorized or anything like that). I rewatched it a couple days ago in preparation for the sequel, but spent most of my rewatch coming up with punny foods to eat while watching the sequel [Thackery biscuits, “This is ice” cream, This charming young blood do”-ughnut]. I didn’t end up making any of them, though, because I’m lazy.

Erin Kayata: One of my earliest memories is actually watching Hocus Pocus. I have a very blurry memory of it being on TV in the hospital when my brother was born. I specifically remember the scene in the beginning where Thackery Binx is turned into a cat. My brother says this is a false memory since I was not even three and so I wasn’t old enough to really develop memories yet, but it’s still always held a special place in my heart as a result. I watched it last Halloween and showed it to my mom for the first time in full then.

Lisa Weidenfeld: Oh my god, Erin. Breaking out the big guns with the memory here.

Erin Kayata: Yes, I like to think that’s why I’m a great older sister, because I saw what Thackery and Max did for their younger sisters in the movie and was like “OK, so this is what it means to be an older sibling.”

Lisa Weidenfeld: OK, wow, a lot for the new one to live up to!

Erin Kayata: While I have not yet had to fight witches for my brother (or younger sister who came after him), I really love the sibling relationships in the movie and the ending of the first one, where Thackery reunites with Emily, gets me every time.

Makena Gera: Truly shaping your childhood and the trajectory of your life, one might say.

Lisa Weidenfeld: One more question about the old one: What makes it so memorable that most of us have seen it so many times over the 29 years (thanks for mentioning that so often, Disney) since it came out?

Rachel Blumenthal: It’s just so quotable! A little bit campy, a little bit sappy. All the things I want to feel on a chilly October evening, curled up on the couch.

Erin Kayata: Exactly—plus, the fact it’s set in Salem makes it so fitting for Halloween.

Makena Gera: Even though I saw it for the first time a week ago—and sadly was not yet born when it came out—I did recognize a lot of the quotes and I knew the name Thackery Binx. It’s just such a cultural icon of a movie that I feel like everyone mentions it a million times during Halloween, and I felt like I had already seen it before I watched it.

Rachel Blumenthal: Oof, well, now I feel old.

Lisa Weidenfeld: 29! Years!

Plot twists

Makena Gera: I will say that I didn’t think Disney would ever mention the word “virgin” in any of their movies today. So I was quite surprised.

Rachel Blumenthal: Yes, I was going to say, upon rewatching the first movie, there is a lot more virgin stuff than I remember! Did I understand it when I first watched it? I truly don’t remember.

Erin Kayata: If I may jump into the new one, I loved how they addressed that and the fact most kids don’t know what a “virgin” is.

Lisa Weidenfeld: The part that made me laugh the most was the one girl asking why Sam Richardson couldn’t summon the witches himself.

Rachel Blumenthal: Haha, yes, I thought they handled it well in the sequel—mentioning it enough for continuity and joking lightly but not dwelling on it.

Lisa Weidenfeld: It feels like a slightly creepy relic of an earlier era to have virginity be a plot point, but I think they did what they could with it.

Makena Gera: “A virgin is… someone who has never lit a candle before.”

Erin Kayata: Also, now that you’ve mentioned Sam Richardson, Lisa, I think it’s important to note that I was not expecting a Veep reunion in the cast of this movie, but was pleasantly surprised nonetheless.

Lisa Weidenfeld: I kept waiting for a villain turn from Tony Hale to be like his ancestor, but actually he was as presented: an overprotective dad who loves candy apples.

Erin Kayata: Same!

Rachel  Blumenthal: I really, really felt his pain when he didn’t get that candy apple.

Erin Kayata: That was one of my favorite parts.

Makena Gera: I felt so bad for him! He was just so, so sad.

Erin Kayata: “This could be a caramel covered matzo ball for all I know, but I’m going to eat it and I’m going to like it!” I loved Tony Hale in both Veep and Arrested Development and he brought the same joy in this film for me. I was so happy to see him.

Makena Gera: Erin, I can feel you holding yourself back from writing an entire ode to Tony Hale right now.

Erin Kayata: My exact note from watching was: BUSTER FROM ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT!? GARY FROM VEEP!? The gasp I let out!!!!!!

Lisa Weidenfeld: Rachel, as a food writer and a Jew, can you endorse that food? In my opinion, it would be exceedingly hard to candy something so mushy.

Rachel Blumenthal: Hmmm, I think the salty-sweet interplay could work, but yeah, texturally? Maybe not so workable.

It’s tough to be a new kid

Lisa Weidenfeld: I have a question related to something Erin brought up earlier, which is that the parallel sibling relationships in the first one are the emotional heart of the movie, and I found the very light friend conflict in this to be a little too tenuous as a plot thread for the kids to work with. What did you all think?

Erin Kayata: I think they didn’t give us enough to work with here. It felt like the news kids were just a vehicle to bring back the Sanderson sisters and they didn’t give us enough story behind them to really get invested.

Lisa Weidenfeld: They kept mentioning Susan and her cookies, but then we never met her.

Rachel Blumenthal: Yeah, we got a whole Sanderson backstory! But very little on the kids.

Lisa Weidenfeld: And then it turns out the breakup of their friendship was all a misunderstanding!

Makena Gera: Although this misunderstanding did feel VERY real to me.

Erin Kayata: I think in this movie the Sanderson sister relationship was the real emotional heart, which makes sense because most people are watching out of nostalgia for them.

Lisa Weidenfeld: Oh yes, I felt like Sam Richardson’s casting and character were very much nods to elder millennials who grew up with this.

Erin Kayata: Oh, Richard Splett.

Rachel Blumenthal: I think the whole existence of the movie is one big nod to our generation, ha. Very curious to see the reception from kids who are the age now that we were then.

Makena Gera: I do see a lot of references to Hocus Pocus from my generation! The people still love it!

Lisa Weidenfeld: I think I just wanted the younger kids to have a little more to work with. Friend conflict is a big deal for teens!

Erin Kayata: Yeah, and the friend ditching you for a boyfriend is real. But the boyfriend was so terrible, I couldn’t even sympathize.

Makena Gera: Me either. It was very hard to understand why she left her friends for him!

Lisa Weidenfeld: Although this does lead me to one very specific gripe: Was she planning to host and then clean up after a party all during her dad’s visit to the Halloween festival??

Rachel Blumenthal: Right?? I was wondering that too. He only came home a little early!

Erin Kayata: She underestimated how long it’d take him to get a candy apple.

Makena Gera: I mean, he was waiting in that line for a WHILE.

Lisa Weidenfeld: How did everyone feel about the new Sanderson sister backstory?

Rachel Blumenthal: I was delighted by the kids cast in the young Sanderson roles, especially Winnie.

Lisa Weidenfeld: Yes, really working with those teeth.

Erin Kayata: Oh, I wrote she was impeccable in my notes from watching.

Makena Gera: Little Winnie was hilarious! I couldn’t stop laughing. The actress nailed it!

Villains as heroes

Lisa Weidenfeld: I did like the idea that the throughline is the sisters’ family connection—it was a good way to say something positive about them even though they are objectively monsters.

Rachel Blumenthal: Yeah, I’m a little torn about their pseudo-redemption arc. They’re still, you know, kid-eating monsters.

Lisa Weidenfeld: I think Disney was sort of stuck with the concept that they’re the draw for the original, but they’re not the protagonists.

Makena Gera: I felt so much empathy for Winnie at the end for about 5 seconds, and then I remembered who she was for two straight movies and decided I did not feel bad for her anymore, lol.

Lisa Weidenfeld: OK, a big question: this was filmed in Rhode Island. Did it still feel Salem-y to you?

Rachel Blumenthal: It felt Salem-y-ish, but a little too big maybe? Or maybe I’ve just been to Salem enough times that it didn’t match it perfectly, so it didn’t feel familiar.

Erin Kayata: Yes! But I wish they’d focused more on the town and its people more. They missed out on doing another big party dance scene (I know they sort of did, but the fair didn’t have the same feel as the town party that conveniently tied up all the adults for the evening.)

Lisa Weidenfeld: Yes, true! I liked that they touched on the notion that people now dress up as the Sanderson sisters in Salem, a thing that happens constantly, and I thought Sam Richardson’s witch shop felt right, but otherwise they could have done more with it.

Bold-faced names

Erin Kayata: OK, I’d like to pose a question about the casting.

Lisa Weidenfeld: Please do.

Erin Kayata: So, I am a younger millennial (I won’t date myself, but I am about the same age as the movie) and my first exposure to Kathy Najimy, SJP, and Bette Midler was this movie. Since then, I’ve watched Sex and the City, Veep, etc. and I want to know if other people had a hard time unseeing some of these women in other roles.

Makena Gera: I knew SJP from Sex and the City first, and I kept imagining Carrie Bradshaw in a lot of makeup and a fun costume.

Erin Kayata: Same with some of the new characters, like Tony Hale and Hannah Waddingham (she came on screen and I immediately went “Rebecca?!”)

Rachel Blumenthal: I loved her! But yeah, my brain was stuck on Ted Lasso.

Makena Gera: She was so distracting, but I loved her!

Lisa Weidenfeld: If you’re going to bring in Hannah Waddingham, keep her around for a bit!

Makena Gera: I was really hoping she’d come back later on (and not just as a bird following the three new teen girls as they’re trotting off the screen).

Rachel Blumenthal: Setting up for another sequel maybe?

Erin Kayata: I was hoping we’d see her take the girls under her wing or something.

Lisa Weidenfeld: Except that would mean training them to do murderrrr.

Rachel Blumenthal: I’d watch that! Ha.

Lisa Weidenfeld: Really dark threequel coming to the Hocus Pocus-iverse.

Makena Gera: Before I watched this movie, I thought it was ALL fun and games. I thought they were funny, happy, silly witches. Not child-eating monsters.

Lisa Weidenfeld: Makena, we’re going to do a separate post that’s just all the things you thought you knew about these movies before watching them.

Advance press

Erin Kayata: Wait, I’m curious—did you guys know anything about this one going into it? Like the premise or anything?

Lisa Weidenfeld: Not too much beyond the witches coming back, and that the protagonists were all girls this time.

Erin Kayata: I knew nothing except it was filmed in Rhode Island.

Rachel Blumenthal: I think I saw a teaser trailer at some point? But I didn’t read much about it ahead of time, wanted to go in unknowing.

Lisa Weidenfeld: Same. I never watched a full trailer.

Rachel Blumenthal: I was hoping they’d be able to bring back more of the original cast in some capacity. Seemed Thora Birch wanted to, but was busy with another project.

Erin Kayata: Yeah, I think if they’d connected it more to that, it would’ve been cool.

Makena Gera: I thought that the children were going to be the kids of Max and Allison. Like the two of them got married, and then the kids had to fight the witches.

Erin Kayata: Same, Makena.

Lisa Weidenfeld: Wow, a real generational curse there.

Erin Kayata: Or I even wish the girls had been like…trying to recreate that night from the first movie or something. It seems like the Sanderson sisters’ previous appearance had an impact on the town. Yet only Richard Splett seemed to remember it.

Lisa Weidenfeld: Yeah, it’s sort of strange to have Sam Richardson, whose character name I clearly haven’t learned, as the audience stand in, but not the lead. I think it may be notable that we have all retained one single character name from the sequel: Winnie.

Makena Gera: I just had to Google the names Max and Allison because I already forgot….

Erin Kayata: In my head, the sequel was about all the characters from Veep moving to Salem after the fallout of Selina’s campaign.

Airing of concerns

Lisa Weidenfeld: Any other questions you wanted to raise?

Rachel Blumenthal: My question: What happened to Ice and…what was the other bully’s name? When last we saw them, I think they were still in cages, right?

Erin Kayata: Plot twist: Ice is the father of the bullying boyfriend in this movie.

Makena Gera: I just want to raise one note that there were many plot holes that bothered me. Like at one point Mary mentioned that she felt like she was “surfing” on her little Roomba vacuums. She was only in the ’90s for 12 hours! How did she know what surfing was???

Erin Kayata: I loved them swapping out the regular vacuum from the first one for the Roombas.

Makena Gera: I know it’s the magic of television and I have to suspend disbelief. But they’re from 300 years ago. How did she KNOW THAT? How did they know to smile for a selfie? They don’t know what pictures are!

Lisa Weidenfeld: Yeah, I feel like Mary specifically betrayed some real awareness of modern life. Does she have an internet connection wherever they were stranded in the interim?

Makena Gera: That’s the only explanation.

Erin Kayata: My only final thought is I wish they’d fleshed out the new characters more (like was that teen girl who had magic also a Salem witches descendant? Was she from a rival good witches coven back in the day? I want to know!), But overall, it scratched that nostalgic itch. I got a kick of them redoing old lines, etc.

Rachel Blumenthal: I’m a little sad there weren’t too many lines that feel quotable in this one. Overall, I loved the nostalgia, though. I’d definitely marathon these together on some subsequent October night when I’m home alone with no one to judge me.

Erin Kayata: Will I rewatch every year like I do the original? Maybe not. But I would watch again with a large bag of candy corn at my side.

Makena Gera: I’ll definitely rewatch the original, and the sequel was very fun! But I don’t think I’d watch it again. Maybe if it just happened to be on TV. But I’d choose the original over this one!