Sorry Salem, the Best Talking Cat Is Actually in This Movie
BY BRECKEN HUNTER WELLBORN
October 4 2023
Thackery Binx Is ‘Hocus Pocus’ True Protagonist
There is no denying that Hocus Pocus is one of the most adored films of Spooky Season. While the antagonistic Sanderson sisters, Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) are, rightfully, the most iconic characters of the film, and while Max Dennison (Omri Katz) seems like the film’s main character, it is the film’s other protective big brother, Thackery Binx, that is actually the film’s protagonist.
For the uninitiated, Hocus Pocus opens with a prologue set on Halloween, 1693, in which the Sanderson sisters, desperate to regain their youth, lure a child, Emily Binx (Amanda Shepherd), into their cabin and begin to eat her life force. The first character seen in the prologue (not counting Sarah’s shadow), is Thackery Binx, a human boy, who is jolted awake by a stir outside his window. After realizing his sister is being lured to the witches’ cabin, he runs after her. It is thus Binx’s motivation to save his sister that situates him as the protagonist to the sisters’ antagonism. Based on his centrality within the cinematography, and because the camera follows him to take the viewer to the cabin, it is through Binx’s perspective that much of the opening of the film unfolds.
When at the cabin, Binx fights against the sisters. Although he is not able to defeat them alone (he is the one who instructs a neighbor to gather the elders who come to hang the witches, though), he does challenge their witchcraft by pushing over their potion-filled cauldron. Not only does this act establish his character’s bravery, but it also gives Winifred the motivation to transform him, cursing him to live for eternity as a black cat. By framing his character as the film’s initial protagonist, and then emphasizing the effects of Winifred’s curse, the film makes Binx’s conflict with the sisters the driving force of the narrative.
After the film shifts to the present, Binx, in cat form, makes his first appearance when Max, his sister, Dani (Thora Birch), and his crush, Allison (Vinessa Shaw), all enter the Sanderson sisters’ cottage. In his first contemporary scene, Thackery demonstrates his bravery three times. First, Binx tries to prevent Max from lighting the black flame candle. Second, Binx saves the kids from the witches’ attack by lunging at Winifred. Third, he jumps on Max and — revealing he’s a cat that can talk — tells him to grab Winifred’s spell book. In addition to demonstrating his bravery here, Binx also takes on the role of the group’s leader. In addition to immediately responding to the witches’ return by trying to send them back to their graves, Binx acts as a guide for the group. For example, in the immediate chain of events following the sisters’ return, Binx leads them to a cemetery to tell them the story of Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones), Winifred’s ex-lover, as a means of explaining the severity of Winifred’s return. Once the sisters attack, he prevents Winifred from retrieving her book, and leads the kids into the sewers to allow them to escape. With Max, Dani, and Allison repeatedly looking to Binx for advice, he acts as the group’s leader over the course of their adventure.
In the final fight against the Sandersons, it is Binx who saves Dani’s life. As Winifred prepares to feed Dani the potion that will allow her to suck out her life force, Binx leaps into action, running across branches and leaping onto Winifred’s broom. He knocks the potion out of her hands, allowing Max to catch it. Max drinks the potion to force the sisters to go after him instead of Dani, a plan that only works because Binx got the potion out of Winifred’s hands. By intervening, Binx becomes the hero of the film’s climax.
The film’s ending punctuates Binx as the most significant character. Though Binx’s act of bravery against Winifred leads to his actual death (Winifred tosses Binx down into the cemetery below, where his body hits a rock as he lands), this moment leads to his soul finally being free. Once the witches are dead, Binx’s spirit is released from his cat form, and he is reunited with the spirit of his sister, Emily. The final moments of the film then focus on Binx and his sister being together again after 300 years, with swelling orchestral music to emphasize the significance of their reunion. With Max, Dani, and Allison watching them, the siblings walk away under the shining light of the sun, as they leave the physical world. Because the final moments of the film resolve Binx’s conflicts, the ones that set the entire film in motion, Binx’s narrative journey is solidified as the most significant to Hocus Pocus, making him the film’s real protagonist.
Thackery Binx Is the Heart of the Film
Not only is Binx the film’s narrative center, but he is also the heart of the film. The film’s prologue establishes Binx as the film’s most tragic character. Not only does he lose the fight to save his sister, but he also loses his parents. As a cat, he meows and rubs against his father’s legs, desperately trying to communicate with his dad. Instead, his father (Norbert Weisser) shoos him away. Even though his father saying, “Away, beast” to a small cat is unintentionally funny, the line does not detract from the sympathy invoked from the viewer. Binx is completely alone. As the schoolteacher (Kathleen Freeman) says in the pre-lap that carries the prologue into the film’s contemporary setting, “Poor Thackery Binx.”
In the first cemetery sequence, Binx tells the story of his transformation and his sister’s death. Three centuries later, Binx still blames himself for her passing, saying, “Because of me, my little sister’s life was stolen.” As he says, because of this, he spent years waiting for death, hoping to be reunited with his family. However, because of Winifred, Binx is cursed with eternal life, and has spent his 300 years waiting to defeat the sisters should they ever return. Especially in the context of a family film, the emotional stakes of Binx’s arc are far greater than any of the other characters.
In addition to his tragic characterization, Binx is also at the center of the film’s most emotional moments. One of these moments occurs when Binx gets run over by a bus driven by Sarah. For a moment, the kids think he is dead, and Dani cries at the loss of their new friend. However, because of Winifred’s curse, his crushed body puffs back up, and he returns to life. It is sad enough to have a cat character seemingly die on screen, but the fact that it has also been established that Binx wishes for death but cannot receive its relief makes the moment even more heart-wrenching.
Not all of Binx’s emotionally resonant moments are sad. After the group believes themselves to have killed the sisters, by way of cooking them in the school’s walk-in kiln, Binx tells Max that he has waited to do that since Emily’s death. Binx tells Max, “Take good care of Dani, Max. You’ll never know how precious she is until you lose her.” Though Binx says this as a goodbye, Max comforts him by inviting Binx to become a part of the Dennison family. When they return home, Binx gets to snuggle with Dani, finally finding the comfort of the family after 300 years. Though it is only a moment of peace before the sisters once again show up and cause mayhem, it is a touching scene that makes Binx the emotional center of Hocus Pocus.
The film’s finale plays on both the tragic and touching elements of Binx’s storyline, ending the film on an emotionally resonant note. In a close-up that comes just after the witches’ defeat, an injured Binx lifts his head up ever so slowly to let out one tiny meow. When the kids find his body, Dani pleads with him to wake up, sobbing over him. But his tragic end is brought to a touching resolution. Binx’s voice calls to Dani, asking her not to be sad, which reveals that his spirit is finally free. As noted above, the film’s finale focuses on Binx’s reunion with the soul of his sister, providing a heartwarming conclusion to both Binx’s story and the film overall.
Thackery Binx Is THE Black Cat of Halloween
Like Hocus Pocus itself, black cats are paramount iconography for Halloween, and the film makes good use of this imagery. For example, in the scene where Binx is invited to become a Dennison, Binx is perfectly framed as the poster kitty for Halloween. Perched on a leafless branch in a long shot, the full moon behind Binx is one of the film’s most beautifully cinematographic, and most Halloweeny, images. As the actual protagonist and emotional center of one of the Halloween season’s most iconic films, who makes his annual appearance every Halloween when Hocus Pocus becomes mandatory seasonal viewing for the whole family, Binx is the poster kitty for the season’s favorite feline. With such an important role in one of the greatest holidays of the year, how could Binx not be the best talking black cat?