Film Capsule: Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus is a children’s Halloween-themed film released by Disney. The movie started life as a script for a special original movie for the Disney Channel, to be produced by one of the smaller studios owned by The Walt Disney Company, but the script caught the eye of Walt Disney Studios who decided that the film was strong enough to carry well-known names and to attract a cinema audience. The movie was released in the United States and Canada in June 1993 (which may have been the major reason for its lackluster box office success). It was released in October 1994 across Australia and most of Europe and some Asian countries. The idea to cast Bette Midler was partly inspired by Midler’s award-winning performance in a milestone motion picture for the Walt Disney Company on its Touchstone Pictures line, Down and Out in Beverly Hills.

Main cast

* Bette Midler – Winifred Sanderson
* Sarah Jessica Parker – Sarah Sanderson
* Kathy Najimy – Mary Sanderson
* Sean Murray – Thachary Binx
* Jason Marsden – Thachary Binx (voice)
* Omri Katz – Max Dennison
* Thora Birch – Danielle “Dani” Dennison
* Vinessa Shaw – Allison Zenko
* Doug Jones –William “Billy” Butcherson


The movie begins in 17th century Salem, Massachusetts where three witch sisters–Winifred, Sarah, and Mary Sanderson–transformed Thackery Binx into an immortal black cat as punishment after they have absorbed the life force of his younger sister, Emily (Thackery had tried to stop them and save Emily, but failed, so they condemned him to live forever with his guilt). The witches are tried and executed by the locals. However, thanks to a curse created by Winifred’s magic spell-book, they return 300 years later, in 1993. Their plan is to stay forever youthful by sucking the life out of children before the sunrise after Halloween; otherwise, they will turn to dust.

Unfortunately, the witches’ return was possible because Max Dennison (Katz), a teenager from Los Angeles, lit the Black-flamed Candle at the Sanderson house with his younger sister Dani (Birch) and his love interest Allison (Shaw) present. The group steals Winifred’s magic book, which contains the spell that will create the potion they need to succeed in their plan. The witches chase the kids (and Binx, who is still a cat) to the local graveyard where Winifred resurrects Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones), Winifred’s previous love interest. (As a result of Billy having an affair with Sarah, Winifred had poisoned Billy and sewn his mouth shut with a dull needle so that he could not speak his secrets even in the afterlife.) He is sent to chase the kids across town.

The witches experience some 20th century antics, including riding a bus and finding themselves in a Halloween party. They also meet a man who they believe is Satan, but they are thrown out of his house by his wife, who they think is Medusa. (The couple was played by well-known director/producer Garry Marshall and his sister, actress/director Penny Marshall.)

Max, Dani, Allison, and Binx go to the town hall Halloween party where they find Max’s parents. Max takes the stage in an attempt to warn the families that their children are in danger, telling them that the Sanderson sisters were back from the grave. The audience laughs it off as a prank while Winifred steps on stage and thanks him for his “introduction”. Taking over the stage, the witches perform a Broadway-esque musical number — highlighting Midler’s talent -– actually putting a spell on the adults to make them “dance, dance ’till you die!”, in the spell’s words.

Max and the others lure the witches into the high school and destroy them in the kiln. However, the witches cannot die (they have yet to absorb souls, nor has the sun risen yet). The witches return to their cottage, taking Jay and Ice (two high-school bullies) with them and locking them in cages. The witches believe that they are doomed because they are unable to make the life-potion without the book, until they spot the light from the magic book, coming from Max’s house as Max and Allison tried to find a means of reversing Binx’s immortality. The witches invade the house and kidnap Dani and Binx.

Sarah flies across Salem, utilizing a siren-song to lure all of the town’s children to their cottage. Max and Allison retrieve Dani and Binx and retreat to the graveyard. Max bumps into Billy, who, after cutting open the stitches over his mouth, reveals himself to be friendly and helps the others protect Dani. A battle begins: Dani is captured by Winifred, but Max replaces her with himself. As the sun slowly rises, Winifred tosses Binx onto a rock and knocks him cold. Dani, Allison and Billy get rid of Sarah and Mary (a funny gag with pulling a vacuum cord and letting it loose.) The sun fully rises, but Winifred decides she is at least going to get one child’s soul. She begins so with Max. However, the sun is up and she is touching the hallowed graveyard ground. This causes her to turn to stone. Mary and Sarah explode to dust and Winifred soon follows. Billy returns to his grave, but the three kids discover Binx dead (the immortality spell had ceased its duration with the death of the Sanderson sisters, and he was 300 years old). Dani is distraught, since she had formed a bond with him. His spirit appears and thanks the children for breaking his curse, then walks away into the sunrise with the freed soul of his sister, Emily.

During the credits Jay and Ice are seen still trapped in their cages and then the spell book’s eye opens and looks around, possibly suggesting that anyone could now have the book’s power but still left to the interpretation of the viewer.


* Winifred Sanderson – played by Bette Midler. Winifred is the loud, red-headed leader of the group. The only intelligent member of the trio, she has to put up with her two idiot sisters. She has the power to stun her victims from a distance by firing bolts of lightning from her fingertips, and is the primary spell-caster. It is her book that the children steal. Winifred, or Winnie as she tends to be called, has a tendency to be rather melodramatic. She is also very sensitive about being called “ugly.” She rides a broom in the climax of the film.
* Sarah Sanderson – played by Sarah Jessica Parker. The most beautiful of the trio, Sarah is boy-crazy, extremely ditsy, and also unbearably stupid. According to Winifred, she has a habit of “dancing idiotically”. Her primary power is a siren-song: granting her the ability to control children’s minds with her voice. She also possesses uncharacteristically-refined knowledge of spellcasting, in general, as she has no problem assisting Winifred in spells of perpetual-dance and transmogrification. Rides a mop in the climax of the film.
* Mary Sanderson – played by Kathy Najimy. The “fat” sister of the trio. While not nearly as ditsy as Sarah, is still rather dim. She has various canine tendencies, including barking when she is excited and having the power to sniff children out. Mary acts as the voice of reason and has to calm down Winifred on several occasions. Rides a vacuum cleaner in the climax of the film, known for yelling “broom ho!” to invoke a flight-spell onto a vessel.


* When Bette Midler takes the stage at the town Halloween Party, she says, “Hello Salem, my name is Winifred! What’s yours?”. This is a take-off of the famous “Hello world, my name is Rose! What’s yours?”, a line from the musical , spoken by Mama Rose. Midler played Mama Rose in the television version of Gypsy the same year that Hocus Pocus was released.
* The role of Max Dennison was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio, but was given to Omri Katz when DiCaprio turned it down to appear in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?.
* Late in the movie, Mary Sanderson is shown flying an upright vacuum cleaner rather than a broom. The underside of the vacuum cleaner is a blank face–no carpet beater, as such an upright would use.
* In an interview with Martha Stewart, Bette Midler brought up this film and said it was the most fun she had up to that point in her career.
* During the fight in the graveyard, for a few seconds the music imitates the theme to Miss Gulch, from The Wizard of Oz. (Miss Gulch is the Kansas form of both the Wicked Witch of the West and East.)
* The film grossed $39,514,713, but saw its popularity increase further over the years. Now, it is a cult favorite. Additionally, Hocus Pocus has become one of the most popular Halloween movies. During the month of October, it is shown on television remarkably often especially on the Disney Channel during Disney Channel’s Hauntober Fest.
* On Inside the Actors Studio, Bette Midler described (to James Lipton) her performance as Winifred as one of her best performances, citing her character’s consistency throughout the picture.
* When the witches turn to dust, the dust color is that of their cloaks: Green, Purple, and Red.
* A child is shown dressed as Sonic the Hedgehog since this movie takes place in 1993, “The year of the Hedgehog,” a time when Sonic was very popular.
* The film has aired on ABC Family with cuts of scenes that are shown on Disney Channel
* ABC Family’s version of the film does not have an audio edits but Disney Channel’s version has a number of edits like when Winifred and her sisters are in the graveyard their laughter and the scene where 3 girls steal their brooms the sound is omitted

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