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BetteBack July 16, 1993: Hocus Pocus – Don’t Waste Your Money

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Madison Wisconsin State Journal
Don’t waste your money
July 16, 1993
By Russell Evansen

INF-00498781 - © - Archiv Friedrich

If someone told you about a movie whose plot is to kill all the children in a small town and featured a public hanging, a backfrom-the-dead zombie who loses several body parts, and a cat who gets squashed by a truck and close to a dozen jokes about a teen-ager’s status as a virgin, you might think it was the latest R-rated Stephen King adaptation.

But guess what? All of the above ingredients are on display in “Hocus Pocus” — the newest “family comedy” from Walt Disney.

The fact that “Hocus Pocus” is an abysmal, no-laughs comedy is bad enough. But that it was made by people who seemingly have no idea what truly constitutes family entertainment is shocking — given that it comes from the one studio most closely associated with children’s fare.

“Hocus Pocus” tells the story of three witches in 17th century Salem who have devised a potion that lets them suck the youth out of children to keep themselves immortal. When the Salem townsfolk catch them in the act of stealing a young girl’s life, the witches are summarily hanged.

Flash forward 300 years to present-day Salem, where Max, a teenager newly arrived from California, is having the usual adjustment problems — bullies taunting him, teachers singling him out in school, etc. It’s Halloween, and the whole town is pulling out the stops to celebrate its favorite holiday.

Of course, Max doesn’t believe the stories about the Sanderson sisters and how they can be brought back to life if a virgin lights a special “black flame candle.” To impress a local beauty, Max lights the candle and, sure enough, the Sanderson sisters — Mary (Kathy Najimy), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Winnifred (Bette Midler) — return from the dead. The only catch: They have just one night to suck the life out of enough children to keep them alive forever.

Directed by Kenny Ortega (“Newsies“) in a broad, loud manner, “Hocus Pocus” is the kind of comedy that tries to generate laughs by forcing its three leads to run around like the Three Stoogettes — rolling their eyes, punching and slapping one another and bumping into each other every time one of them comes to a sudden stop.

Parents who take their children to “Hocus Pocus” are likely to be faced with a barrage of questions they’d rather not have to answer. (I heard at least five small voices asking for a definition of virgin.) They would be well advised to skip “Hocus Pocus” and instead head for the nearest theater showing “Snow White.”

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