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BetteBack Review: “Hocus Pocus” – The lead actresses are the only reasons to see this movie…

Galveston Daily News
Here’s another kid flick — but this time, they’re for EATING!
David Nathan
July 18, 1993

Last week I wrote about how many films this year seem to be dominated by kids, even when they shouldn’t be.

Another case in point is this week’s “Hocus Focus.”

The premise is intriguing. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy play a trio of witches, sisters, from Salem, Mass., of 1693. After doing some of the voodoo they do so well, they get hanged by the local townspeople. However, thanks to a last-minute spell, there is a chance for a future resurrection.

Fast-forward 300 years. Max Dennison (Omri Katz) is the new kid in town. Embarrassed, bullied and rejected by his dream girl all in the same day, Max is in no mood to take his little sister Dani (Thora Birch) trick-or-treating. Along the way they meet up with Allison (Vinessa Shaw), Max’s fantasy come true. Since it’s Halloween, they venture to the old Sanderson sisters’ house, just so Max can show them that the old witch legend is a bunch of nonsense.

Of course, the kids inadvertently manage to conjure up the three old crones, who are only too happy to steal the souls of little girls and boys. And at the top of their list is Dani.

The film’s best moments occur when the domineering Winifred (Midler), the flighty Sarah (Parker) and the slightly dense Mary David Nathan (Najimy) deal with all of the technological advances of the three centuries since their banishment.

There is a fine moment in which they visit a house occupied by a couple played by Garry and Penny Marshall. What the Sanderson sisters resemble most is a female version of the Three Stooge s, c o m p l e te with stomach punches and head slaps.

Midler is Moe, Parker is Larry and Najimy, who broke through with her role in “Sister Act,” is Curley. Since there is an almost perfect split between the sexes concerning the genius/stupidity of the Stooges, it will be interesting to see how each group responds to the gender reversal.

Unfortunately for adults, this is a Disney family film with a “PG” rating. Equally disappointing is how the star trio constantly lose screen time to a bunch of kids and a talking cat. Katz, who played J.R. Ewing Jr. on “Dallas,” is in a role that Kurt Russell would likely have played in his early Disney days. Birch, who was so beguiling in “Paradise,” is one of the best child actors around. Still, there are some not-so-subtle sexual references and a few scares which might eliminate this as a small child’s feature. The target age of the film ends up being 10 to 12, along with their parents interested in seeing Midler in fake teeth and hamming up the works.

She also does one amusing musical number, “I Put a Spell on You.” Kenny Ortega, the choreographer of “Dirty Dancing” and director ot”Newsies” is in unfamiliar territory with a kids’ fantasy heavy with special effects, but manages to pull off a safe, predictable effort.

Imagine “Beetlejuice” with less flair and more family-oriented values and you’ll be close.

The lead actresses are the only reasons to see “Hocus Pocus.” With the multiplexes already overloaded this summer, especially in the kids’ entertainment category, it seems unlikely “Hocus Pocus” will find an audience.

Do kids really want to see Bette Midler?

Do adults really want to see Omri Katz?

Disney should have spiced it up or toned it down, but instead it’s safely in the middle.

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