"It's just a bunch of hocus pocus," but what's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, I say! A fondly remembered Halloween staple for most kids who grew up in the nineties, 'Hocus Pocus' actually holds up fairly well. Sure, the kid targeted tale about three evil witches terrorizing children is a little rough around the edges, but the spooky spirit of the flick is strong, and it remains a decent example of family entertainment that doesn't completely talk down to its audience. The cast is very solid, and while pretty thin, the plot offers a fair assortment of thrills and laughs.
While cocky teenager Max Dennison (Omri Katz) takes his little sister out trick-or-treating (she's dressed as a witch, and "for your information, he's a little leauguer!"), the pair run into Allison (Vinessa Shaw), a pretty girl that Max has a crush on (apparently he really likes her "yabos"). Wanting to impress her, he accidentally resurrects a trio of three hundred year old witches on Halloween night (it's a very common mistake). Out to drain the city's children of their life force, the three witches (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy) first target Max's young sister, Dani (Thora Birch). After momentarily thwarting their spell, the kids all make a run for it, and are soon joined by an immortal talking cat (proving that all movies are made better by the inclusion of an immortal talking cat). Together they try to escape the witches' pursuit and find a way to stop them once and for all.
The script follows a predictable and thin path that sees the kids deal with various spooky obstacles and magic spells. Though very basic, to the writers' credit, they do a nice job of balancing family friendly thrills with a silly, kid-centric sense of humor. Also, despite the intended audience, the movie doesn't shy away from some potentially scary content. Why, in the opening scene alone, a little girl is drained of her life force and three witches are hung. Of course, it's all done with a comparatively light tone, but the writers resist the urge to tone down the content too much.
A lot of humor is derived from the witches' fish-out-of-water predicament, and watching the trio grow accustomed to modern life is entertaining. The three sisters have distinct personalities and the actresses appear to have a lot of fun on screen (the way they walk together is quite amusing). Their reactions to the modern world can be pretty funny (even a paved road freaks them out), and their terrified shock at the sight of a little girl dressed up like an angel is priceless. Midler, in particular, seems to relish every second she's on screen, vamping up her presence as Winifred with an appropriately villainous persona. On the other hand, Sarah Jessica Parker plays a ditzy, spider eating witch named Sarah that sings to children in order to lure them under her spell. So, in other words, she plays herself.
The child actors are also pretty good in their roles. Katz is fairly one-note but appropriately confident, and does a decent job of carrying the forward momentum of the story. Vinessa Shaw is also good (though her role is underwritten), and Thora Birch is quite adorable as Max's little sister. Together, their relationship forms the heart of the flick, and the brother/sister dynamic is actually kind of sweet. Speaking of brothers and sisters, siblings Garry and Penny Marshall make a cameo appearance. In a fun little scene, the witches actually mistake Garry for the devil himself, but after having to sit through this, I'm not so sure they were mistaken at all.
Some of the film's special effects definitely show signs of age, but a lot of the makeup and even some of the CG work holds up well. I was expecting to be distracted by the talking cat, but for the most part, the feline character remains convincing enough (and just as awesome as ever). The witches' resurrection scene is particularly fun, with some supernatural effects, and a sequence that involves a zombie pursuing the kids through a graveyard is also full of family friendly scares.
As surprisingly well as the movie holds up, there are still some glaring issues with the script. It often feels like there are pieces missing in the plot, and a lot of the developments are very convenient (how did the kids know the witches would meet them at the school?). The characters could have been fleshed out more and the drama feels like it needs an extra beat or set piece here and there. Of course, it's kind of silly to hold a children's film under such scrutiny, but these issues do damper the movie's appeal to adults.
'Hocus Pocus' has oddly grown in popularity since its release, and remains a Halloween staple on TV every year. It's not exactly a children's movie classic, but I've always been quite fond of the film. Before reviewing this disc, I hadn't seen the movie since I was a kid, and while a lot of the script's shortcomings are much more apparent now, I actually still had some fun with the flick. Fellow adults who grew up in the nineties might want to check this out for the sheer nostalgia factor, and parents looking for a silly, family friendly "horror" movie to show their kids should definitely give it a shot. If nothing else, the movie taught me to never let virgins light candles (a rule we should all live by), and once again brought the word "yabos" to my attention, which, I for one, now plan to use as much as possible.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Disney presents 'Hocus Pocus' in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. A BD-50 disc and a separate DVD disc are both housed in a keepcase. After some skippable trailers, the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is region A, B and C compatible.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Though decent overall, the picture is uneven and features a predominantly drab appearance.
The source is in great shape with no signs of damage. Grain is visible throughout and has a natural but slightly fuzzy look. Detail is solid, but clarity is a little inconsistent. Close-ups reveal nice texture, but most shots are soft and the picture is quite flat throughout. Outside of some sporadic splashes of vibrant greens and reds, colors are also surprisingly dull and contrast can be a tad low. Blacks are slightly elevated in a few shots and shadow detail can crush. With all that said, there are a few scenes that exhibit nice depth, pop, and vibrancy, especially an early sequence set outside Max's school which features beautiful autumn colors. Thankfully, the transfer is free of artifacts like edge enhancement and noise.
'Hocus Pocus' can look a little fuzzy and dull at times, but there are a few vibrant scenes scattered throughout. As far as I can tell, the shortcomings of the picture are simply inherent to the source, and while not especially impressive the movie looks fine for what it is.
The film is provided with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and additional French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are also available. Though mostly basic, the mix suits the material well without any major problems.
Speech is clean but sounds a hair thin in a few scenes. The rousing score is nicely spaced around the room, but outside of music, surround activity is limited. Some appropriate effects do make their way to the surrounds (booming thunder, blowing wind, swooping brooms) and there is decent imaging when appropriate. Unfortunately, the track has a comparatively flat sound lacking the range of contemporary releases. A few of the livelier scenes (the opening and the witches' resurrection, for example) offer a solid soundscape, but for the most part the track has a fairly small scope.
There aren't any major technical issues, but outside of the enveloping score and a few isolated scenes, the audio isn't particularly immersive. Still, the witches' cackles come through well enough, and fans should be satisfied.
Sorry, 'Hocus Pocus' fans, Disney has decided to show you no love here. While this isn't exactly the type of film that demands a packed special edition, I do distinctly remember seeing a few scenes in the flick's original trailer that never showed up in the theatrical cut. As silly as it sounds, I've always wanted to see this deleted footage, but alas, those excised bits will have to remain a mystery.
'Hocus Pocus' isn't exactly a family film classic, but it offers a fair amount of kid friendly thrills and laughs. The plot is very basic and thin, but Midler, Parker, and Najimy are memorable in their roles, and the child actors are very solid as well. The video transfer is underwhelming but authentic, and the audio mix is decent but not terribly immersive. With no supplements, this is a release that will only appeal to huge fans.