The executives at Walt Disney Pictures appear to have conjured up “Hocus Pocus” about three months too early. If released during the HallowÂ een season, the PG-rated picture, which concerns witches who return from the grave on Oct. 31, might have provided some seasonal fun. By coming out in the midst of so many summer blockbusters, the $30 million production seems certain to get lost in the shuffle since the tricks served up by “Hocus Pocus” never amount to anything more than a forgettably pleasant cinematic treat.
In the story, three 17th century witches â€” Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy) â€” face the wrath of Salem, Mass residents who hang the trio for crimes against children They vow to return to terrorize the town’s parents and youngstersÂ and receive the opportunity 300 years later when a Salem newcomer, Max (Omn Katz), causes a chain of events that revives the colorful sisters.
â€¢ Once back m Salem, the anxious for revenge Winifred, the looking-for a lover Sarah and the hungry-for-a-meal Mary fit right into the Halloween festivities and use a magic Satanic book â€” a bound-in-human-skin tome complete with its own eyeball â€” to help them Their only real opposition comes from Max, his kid sister, Dani (Thora Birch), and the high-school girl of his dreams, Allison (Vinessa Shaw).
Choreographer-turned director Kenny Ortega, who made his filmmaking debut with the underrated “Newsies,” gives the sound stage comedy some slick effects, especially during the flying broom sequences, and a couple of funny moments, but he never infuses the material with any sense of style Worst of all, Ortega leaves the personalities of the three witches almost totally undeveloped, a situation that forces the talented Midler, Parker (“Honeymoon in Vegas”) and Najimy (“Sister Act”) to ham it up in hopes of generating some laughs.
Walt Disney may be turning over in his grave due to some of the elements in “Hocus Pocus ”
It contains blunt references to women’s breasts and wrings cheap laughs out of a high-school guy who remains a virgin. Some parents may also be taken back by the film’s emphasis on abducting and murdering children Ortega uses a light touch with such elements, but inÂ this day when stones of physical and psychological abuses of youngsters continually make headlines, it proves somewhat disturbing.
Postscript Sharp eyed viewers should look for actress-turned-director Penny Marshall The former “Laverne & Shirley” star has a cameo role as a frumpy wife who objects to the romantic interest the three witches take in her husband. The spouse is played by Marshall’s director brother, Garry Marshall, whose screen credits include “Beaches,” also with Midler, and “Pretty Woman.”