BetteBack July 15, 1993: Hocus Pocus Review – Of witches and pimples and movies for children

New Bern Sun Journal
July 15, 1993


It wasn’t so very long ago – 10 years or less, I’d guess – that just about every, movie to come out of Hollywood was about people with pimples.

Typically, these pictures would concern a teen-age (or preteen) boy who had just moved to a new neighborhood and was having trouble adjusting to life there. Ofteh he’d have girl troubles and bully troubles, and there would generally be some sort of sci-fi or supernatural twist to the story.

Although the heyday of the pimple-people picture is behind us, there are still throwbacks like “Hocus Pocus, ” which opens Friday. The new film tells the story of young Max Dennison, a California kid who has recently moved to Salem, Mass., and is – wouldn’t you know it? – having trouble adjusting to life there.

Not only is Max beset by bullies, but he’s also sweet on Allison, a beautiful girl at his new school who isn’t particularly interested in him. That is, until Max accidentally conjures up the spirits of a trio of 17th century witches on Halloween night.

Talk about your icebreakers.

Max is portrayed by Omri Katz, the bland-but-not-annoying young actor who played the hero’s buddy in “Matinee ” – a pimple-people throwback that opened back in January.

Vinessa Shaw has the thankless role of the lovely Allison, and Thora Birch (“Patriot Games” ) plays Max’s plucky kid sister, Dani.

Most of the movie’s fun comes to us courtesy of the witches – amusingly malevolent spirits played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker (“Honeymoo n in Vegas” ) and Kathy Najimy (Sister Mary Patrick in “Sister Act”).

Winifred Sanderson – Midler’s witch – is the coven’s leader, an imperious house-haunter with buckteeth, bee-sting lipstick and two large crowns of hair resting on either side of her head. There’s more than a whiff of the Marx Brothers’ Margaret Dumont in Winifred’s affected delivery, as when she summons her enchanted siblings.

“Sis-TAHS! ” she cries. “Gather ’round.”

And gather they do – the daffy, crooked-mouthed Mary (Najimy), who has trouble keeping her tongue in her head, and Sarah (Parker), a spacy bimbo who has trouble keeping her hands off the guys. Rounding out the cast are Charles Rocket, facetiously funny as Max’s and Dani’s dad, and Stephanie Faracy (“The Great Outdoors”), who, as the kids’ mom, gets a few laughs in a Halloween party scene in which she is dressed as Madonna and sounds like Madeline Kahn.

Hocus Pocus was directed by Kenny Ortega, who was a choreographer on “Dirty Dancing” and made his feature-film directorial debut with last year’s “Newsies. ”

His song-and-dance experience must have come in handy in staging the movie’s big musical number, which is set at a Halloween party and features Midler singing a roof-raising version of Jay Hawkins’ spooky ” I Put a Spell on You.”

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