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Hocus Pocus 2 review: A Bette-middling Disney sequel

The reviews (both good and bad) of the spooky Salem-set sequel now streaming on Disney+.

Almost 30 years after the release of 1993’s Salem-set spookfest “Hocus Pocus,” Disney has released its sequel, “Hocus Pocus 2,” on Disney+, reuniting the Sanderson sisters just in time for the unofficial start of Halloween season.

This time around, two best friends named Becca and Izzy (Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo) celebrate Becca’s 16th birthday in Salem’s Forbidden Woods, where they are unwittingly tricked into lighting the Black Flame Candle that summons the Winnifred, Mary, and Sarah Sanderson (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker, respectively) once more. Winnifred’s objectives are twofold: Enact revenge on the Mayor of Salem, and achieve immortality through the use of ancient and complex dark magic.

Early critical response to the film has been generally — though not overwhelmingly — positive, with review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes awarding “Hocus Pocus 2” a 64 percent freshness rating at the time of this article’s publication.

Boston.com’s review of “Hocus Pocus 2″ called the film an “entertaining, lively experience that captures the campy fun of the original.” But in order to allow readers to sample a range of critical responses and make a decision on their own, we’ve also rounded up what critics are saying — good, bad, and everything in between — about “Hocus Pocus 2.”

The Good

Boston.com’s review of “Hocus Pocus 2” gave the film three stars out of four, praising the peformances of Midler, Najimy, and Parker.

“Hocus Pocus 2” director Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal”) clearly understands that Midler, Najimy, and Parker are the main attraction, waiting less than 30 minutes to bring the trio back from the dead. Though it’s been nearly 30 years, all three bring the same verve to their performances, gamely swooning and shrieking around the screen, and leaning into the film’s “Three Stooges”-style slapstick with aplomb

Nell Minow of RogerEbert.com wrote that “Hocus Pocus 2” would “make fans of all generations happy.”

The challenge for the sequel to a beloved film is maintaining enough of the original to make the fans happy without being too repetitive or confusing newcomers, and “Hocus Pocus 2” gets that just right. The highlights of the first film are celebrated (there’s a delightful musical number) and there are some very funny moments, including a Sanderson sisters costume competition

Claire Shaffer of The New York Times wrote that “Hocus Pocus 2” captured “the same hokey magic of the original while creatively updating its humor.”

Anne Fletcher (“Step Up,” “The Proposal”) directs this sequel, but follows the same goofy comedic approach of the Kenny Ortega-directed first film — namely, how the sisters react to modern inventions like robot vacuums, Amazon’s Alexa and Walgreens. Even a few meta-jokes nod to the Sanderson sisters’ popularity in the world of drag. Thankfully, with a cast rounded out by Doug Jones, Hannah Waddingham and Sam Richardson, the brew-haha’s aren’t solely concentrated in the three leads

The So-So

The AP’s Lindsey Bahr admitted to not enjoying the 1993 original, and was thus surprised that she found “Hocus Pocus 2” to be “actually pretty fun.”

Directed by Anne Fletcher, “Hocus Pocus 2” goes down easy — though by the time the entire town breaks out into a dance to “One Way or Another,” you may be ready for the film to get where it’s going. Still, it’s a fun enough ride for a fall night

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune called “Hocus Pocus 2” twice as good as the original — but clarified that he didn’t like the original.

What’s halfway between trick and treat? That’s “Hocus Pocus 2.” It manages to tell its story straight, so that’s a huge improvement over the first one. There are some laughs, and director Anne Fletcher — like Kenny Ortega, who did the first one, she’s dance-trained and a veteran choreographer — manages a far smoother amalgam of effects, mood swings, mugging, headless-zombie comic relief and heartstring-yanking that miraculously almost kind of partly works. All in all, it’s twice as good as “Hocus Pocus.” It’s easier to write that if you didn’t like “Hocus Pocus”

The Ugly

Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post, yet another critic who didn’t care for 1993’s “Hocus Pocus,” didn’t care for “Hocus Pocus 2” either, calling the sequel “shtick upon shtick.”

The truth about the original “Hocus Pocus” is harder to swallow than a witch’s brew containing “a bit of thine own tongue”: It’s a very bad movie. Well, take another gulp. The new sequel, “Hocus Pocus 2,” out on Disney+ 29 years later, is much, much worse

Benjamin Lee of The Guardian wrote that “Hocus Pocus 2” functioned more like “an extended, if joke-free, SNL skit than a real movie.”

Hocus Pocus 2 is stuck, trapped somewhere between different times, audiences and tones, trying to do so much yet, in this instance, achieving so very little. It’s structurally more akin to a remake, one that aims to appease older diehards while being accessible to newcomers, a not impossible task (recent rehauls of Chip n Dale and Scream managed to do this well enough) but one it struggles with throughout, broomstick barely hovering off the ground

Amanda Whiting of The Independent found the performances by Midler, Najimy, and Parker to be lacking compared to their work in the original.

The central trio of Midler, Parker, and Najimy fail to recapture the gleeful chaos of the first outing. Parker’s less embarrassingly coquettish; Najimy’s less drippingly inane. Never is OG Hocus Pocus director Kenny Ortega’s absence more felt than in the film’s big musical number, which doesn’t hold a (black flame) candle to Midler’s vampy rendition of “I Put a Spell On You” from last time around

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