Supernatural comedy starring
Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as a trio of
17th-century witches accidentally brought back to life in modern-day
Stars: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz,
Director: Kenny Ortega
amusement parks and hockey teams. It's in movie comedies that Disney is having
its real crisis, as evidenced by this would-be laugh-getter that begins with the
murder of a child and a triple hanging.
1693 Salem, Massachusetts, three witch-sisters--Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah
(Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy)--are hanged after killing a little
girl to prolong their own lives and turning her brother into Binx, a talking black
cat doomed to live for eternity. Cut to Halloween, 1993. Newly moved with his
family from LA, teenager Max (Omri Katz) is having trouble adjusting. He gets
shouted down in class, flirted with and then ignored by sexy classmate Allison
(Vinessa Shaw). His offense in class was snorting at the tale of the three local
legendary witches. Allison worked at the witches' house, which had been preserved
and turned into a museum, now closed.
gets beaten up by local bullies and then browbeaten into taking his bratty sister
Dani (Thora Birch) trick-or-treating. When they stumble into Allison's house,
she's warmer to Max and takes him up on a challenge to prove the truth of the
witch story by breaking into their house. There, Max tempts fate by lighting a
black-flame candle that brings the witches to life for Halloween night only, unless
they can find new youngsters to kill, with Dani the leading candidate. Helped
by Binx, who has lived at the house since the spell was cast, they thwart the
witches and watch them turn to dust with dawn's first light.
POCUS on paper would seem to have everything going for it, with three top screen
the leading roles, a potentially interesting idea for a film in which to star
them, and eye-catching, ingenious special effects. Producer David Kirschner has
a special knack in the latter area. His major credits include the CHILD'S PLAY
series and AN AMERICAN TAIL. His key critter creation here is Binx, who is so
seamlessly and fluidly executed that it's virtually impossible to tell where the
real cat leaves off and the special effects take over. However, it's indicative
of the film's problems that he never has much of a part to play.
direction that can only be described as scatterbrained by choreographer-turned-director
Kenny Ortega (NEWSIES), HOCUS POCUS runs off in so many directions at once that
it keeps tripping over itself behind a plot that doesn't make the slightest bit
of sense. Binx is trapped under a spell cast by the dead witches that can only
be broken by bringing the witches back to life and killing them again. Before
you can say, "Run that by me again?", Binx is forgotten, and the film
is dashing off into another nonsensical direction. The witches, having been brought
back to life, cast a spell over all the children of Salem so they can kill them
for revenge. Having done that, however, they then spend the film's last half hour
risking everything to get Dani, as if she were the only child in Salem. Add the
fatally mixed moods--how funny can child-killers be, even if they are played by
three of the screen's top comediennes?--and the only possible result is certain
failure. Or HOCUS POCUS, which even uncredited cameos by director-siblings Garry
and Penny Marshall, cleverly cast as husband and wife, can't save. Parker comes
close to making the film watchable with the role of the simplest sister, an airhead
to end all airheads with a body built for evil and the attention span of a Pekingese.
Put her and the talking cat together, and you might have a pretty good film. (Adult
situations, violence.) — Tom Hinckley
Bette Midler and her onscreen sisters shamelessly hamming things up, it looks
as if those involved in making this inoffensive flight of fantasy had more fun
than anyone over 12 will have watching it. Still, the blend of witchcraft and
comedy should divert kids without driving the patience of their parents to the
boiling point, leaving a chance to conjure up a little box office magic among
that contingent before the pot tips over. Actually, without a heavily madeup Midler
at its center (and perhaps the hot-off-"Honeymoon in Vegas" Sarah Jessica
Parker) "Hocus Pocus" wouldn't seem out of place on the Disney Channel
and perhaps belongs there. As is, even with souped-up special effects, the premise
feels a bit wispy to sustain a feature, and the action sags at times as a result.
That tried-and-true storyline has a teenage boy (Omri Katz) feeling out of
place having moved to a new town -- in this case venerable Salem, Mass. -- with
his parents and kid sister. Stuck with taking moppet Dani (Thora Birch, one of
the pic's major assets) trick-or-treating on Halloween night, he meets up with
his dream-girl classmate (Vinessa Shaw) and ends up traveling to a musty old museum
where, inadvertently, he conjures up three children-hungry witches from the dead.
They are, in fact, the Sanderson sisters: the cruel Winifred (Midler),
the daft Mary (Kathy Najimy of "Sister Act") and the positively dense,
boy-crazy Sarah (Parker).
According to Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert's
script, from a story by Garris and producer David Kirschner, the
trio must suck the lifeforce out of children by dawn or risk being scattered forever.
"Hocus Pocus" suffers from inconsistency, careening around
somewhat aimlessly between the coven being menacing to the kids or a comedic sort
of Three Stooges on broomsticks.
Ortega, whose own last flight was on the ill-fated Disney musical "Newsies,"
can't quite pull off this tap dance either, even with the ripe comedic possibilities
from the fact that on Halloween night no one takes these real-life witches seriously.
There are a few inspired moments from the witches, but for the most
part the movie belongs to the kids, with Katz appropriately earnest as Max, Birch
cute and wisecracking as the sister and Shaw spunky and well-cast as the quintessential
Tech credits are modest yet solid, with creditable visuals
from Buena Vista Visual Effects, some nifty costuming and a sharp look from cinematographer
Unfortunately, like the zombie revived by Winifred, the
film keeps losing its head, particularly during the final sequence, when it's
hard to ascertain exactly what the heroes are hoping to accomplish. For all its
"E.T."-type flourishes -- from John Debney's score to one particular
line of dialogue at the end -- these broomsticks won't give anyone that sort of
at the stake by most critics, this jolly and juicy slice of witchery-pokery proves
less than half as black as its reputation. Its cauldron bubbles with funny lines
and sensationally good special effects and - eye of newt! - it has Bette Midler
looking like a Spitting Image puppet of herself as the leader of a trio of Connecticut
witches who return from the dead 300 years on, thanks to stupid teenager Max lighting
the black candle at the museum that was once their home. If they can breathe in
enough souls of children, the witches will live forever. Attempting to see that
the tartar-tongued trio come to a bad end instead are Max (Omri Katz), his girlfriend
(Vinessa Shaw) and kid sister (Thora Birch), a vengeful 300-year-old cat and a
zombie. The latter, resuscitated by Midler, changes sides despite her exhortation
to 'Follow those children, you maggot museum'. The ending goes too far into sentiment,
but Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy are right on the mark as the other witches:
highlight of the action is their acting as raddled Ronettes to Bette's singing
sorceress when the trio invade the local hop.