How ‘Hocus Pocus’ Went From Box Office Bomb to Disney’s Halloween Darling
When Halloween comes around each year, you’d have to twist your bones and bend your back to avoid “Hocus Pocus.” The film regularly wins cable movie telecast ratings each October. Disney theme parks have an annual “Spelltacular” centered around the Sanderson Sisters. It’s even getting a sequel, “Hocus Pocus 2,” set to hit Disney+ next week.
But if Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy are effectively Halloween royalty, why, you may wonder, did it take 30 years to get a second film? Well, “Hocus Pocus” wasn’t always the cultural touchstone it is in 2022.
When “Hocus Pocus” hit theaters in 1993, it was panned by critics — Roger Ebert’s one-star review said it was “like attending a party you weren’t invited to, and where you don’t know anybody, and they’re all in on a joke but won’t explain it to you.” And the movie flopped at the box office, grossing less than $45 million during its original theatrical run — on a $28 million budget. (For comparison, “The Santa Clause,” released by Disney the next year and led by the comparable star power of Tim Allen, made nearly $200 million on a budget of $22 million.)
So, how exactly did “Hocus Pocus” go from box office bomb — which today still has only a 39% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes — to the hallowed Halloween staple it is today? TheWrap spoke to some of the movie’s cast and creatives to find out, and the inside story has some surprising twists and turns.
Once upon a time, “Hocus Pocus” was just a bedtime story that David Kirschner, the writer and producer on the film, told his daughters.
“Our family is a bit like the Addams Family. So, you know, telling two little girls that are now 43 and 40 a bedtime story of witches sucking the life out of children is probably not the best decision as far as parental gentleness is concerned,” Kirschner joked with TheWrap. “But from the time they were little, they loved this kind of world of things that go bump in the night.”
Eventually, that bedtime story came to Disney. Before it was “Hocus Pocus,” the film was conceptualized as “Disney’s Halloween House.” According to Mick Garris, who produced the film and earned a story credit on the script, the original story was “darker and younger,” but still followed largely the same basic plot.
“Originally, it was almost exactly what you see on the screen, except it was a little darker, and the kids were 12,” Garris told TheWrap. “You know, when I wrote it, 12 years old is that time where your life really changed and the things you embrace at 12 are the things that stick with you for the rest of your life, particularly movies, and books, and TV shows, and stories.”
He continued: “And Halloween has a much deeper resonance to a 12-year-old than to a 16-year-old who was just going out and stealing all the 12-year-olds’ candy from them. But really, it was just a bit darker. You know, I came up with the darkness of Billy Butcherson, and his head coming off, and that sort of thing. Still comedic, but in a darker mode. But it was very similar to the movie that existed.”
The title “Hocus Pocus” came thanks to co-writer Neil Cuthbert, who was enlisted to add some comedy to the story. He crafted the cheeky line that young Max (Omri Katz) says that is later mocked by Winifred Sanderson (Bette Midler): “It’s just a bunch of hocus pocus!” And it was that line that stuck for the title.
It was a long road to get “Hocus Pocus” from concept to screen, though. In total, there were roughly a dozen writers who took a run at “Hocus Pocus” in its eight years sitting in development.
Spielberg Pixie Dust
Kirschner largely credits Steven Spielberg for helping him get “Hocus Pocus” into development at all. He had worked with Spielberg on “An American Tail” in 1986, after Jeffrey Katzenberg had passed on the film for Disney.
“I presented ‘An American Tail’ to him and Jeffrey said, I won’t use his language, but, ‘Who the eff is gonna go see a film about a Jewish mouse?'” Kirschner recalled. “And I said, ‘Well, who’s gonna see a film about a wooden puppet?’ I mean, it’s where you take those characters, what the art, what the emotions, what the story is. And he said, ‘Nice try, thank you anyway,’ and that was the end of it. And I was fortunate that Spielberg then felt very differently and bought it.”
Obviously, “An American Tail” went on to be wildly successful — the highest grossing animated film for a non-Disney project at the time, in fact. With that success, Kirschner had what he calls “Spielberg pixie dust” on him, and he believes that’s what caused Katzenberg to want more of his ideas, including “Hocus Pocus.”
“He just didn’t want to miss the boat again,” Kirschner said.
There are reports that Spielberg himself passed on producing “Hocus Pocus,” but that’s actually up for some debate. By Mick Garris’ recollection, he and Kirschner pitched the movie to Spielberg, and the filmmaker was enthusiastic about the story but not about Disney’s involvement.
“I was at that pitch. David had brought together the horn of plenty, and all the images of fall, and broomsticks, and pumpkins, and laid it all out on the conference room table, and [pitched] it to Steven in that room. And Steven loved it!” Garris recalls. “And then David mentioned the Disney thing.”
According to Garris, Amblin Entertainment and Disney “were at loggerheads at that time” because the companies were both targeting the same audience with their films, and Spielberg himself was “not seeing eye to eye at that time” with Disney either.
That likely would’ve had something to do with Amblin and Disney’s joint custody of the rights to the character of Roger Rabbit. As part of Amblin’s deal to produce “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” which Disney released in 1988, Spielberg owned half of the character, with Disney owning the other half.
Part of the initiative to keep the character on screens while Amblin and Spielberg developed a sequel was a series of animated shorts, to be produced at the Walt Disney Feature Animation outpost at Disney-MGM Studios in Florida.
After the first short premiered with “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” in 1989 and had a noticeable positive impact on the performance of that film, Spielberg reportedly wanted the next Roger Rabbit short attached to his next project, “Arachnophobia.” But Disney wanted it on its next movie as well (the Warren Beaty-starring “Dick Tracy”), hoping that it would have a similar impact as the first.
In the end, Disney won out and Spielberg was angry, to the point that he scrapped the remaining Roger Rabbit shorts. Only one more was released and indeed, it was attached to a Steven Spielberg production. Additional theme park plans for Roger Rabbit were quietly canceled, and multiple versions of a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” sequel were scrapped. Without Spielberg’s involvement or explicit approval, nothing could move forward with the character.
It was right around this time that “Hocus Pocus” likely would’ve been brought to Spielberg’s attention. “Steven probably would have come on board as a producer, had we not been already engaged with Disney, which was something that David had done before my involvement,” Garris said.
But David Kirschner has a completely different memory of Spielberg’s involvement on “Hocus Pocus” — in that Spielberg never even heard the pitch. Kirschner remembers the decorations he hung for the meeting, similar to how Garris lays them out, but says that meeting happened with Disney, and Spielberg wasn’t present.
In fact, the memory remains fresh for Kirschner because, he told us, he was called out for it by Spielberg’s right-hand woman at the time: Kathleen Kennedy.
“The reason that I remember this so vividly is Kathy Kennedy, who was Steven’s producing partner — and now runs George Lucas’ company, Lucasfilm — Kathy came up to me at the the Amblin Christmas party and said, ‘You know, you really hurt Steven,'” Kirshcner said. “And I was just like, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘What could I have done? What –‘ And I was stumbling over my words, my wife was sitting right next to me. And [Kennedy] said, ‘The fact that after he gave you your first film’ — which is true of ‘An American Tail’ — ‘You didn’t even bring ‘Hocus Pocus’ to him. You went right to Disney.’ I honestly, I felt tears in the back of my eyes.”
Recalling the interaction, Kirschner added that, to this day, “This is a really painful memory for me that I upset Steven, who as I say, I owe everything to!”
It remains uncertain whose recollection is technically accurate: Garris’ or Kirschner’s. Reps for Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.
The Bette Effect
In the end, it was a different legendary name that got “Hocus Pocus” out of development hell: Bette Midler.
It wasn’t until The Divine Miss M came onto the project that the movie officially got greenlit, with Kenny Ortega as director (fresh from his debut film, “Newsies,” another musical box office dud that developed a cult following).
In a 1993 interview with ET, Kathy Najimy even cited Midler’s involvement as the reason she signed on to play Mary Sanderson in the film. “Had she not said yes, I’m not sure if ‘Hocus Pocus’ would have ever been made,” Kirschner admits.
Midler took on “Hocus Pocus” for her daughter, Sophie von Hasselburg, explaining to Kirschner that it was important she do a project that her young daughter could actually watch after a career spent mostly making R-rated adult fare like “The Rose,” “Ruthless People” and “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.”
Much to the delight of everyone on the film, Midler fully committed to the chaos of Winifred Sanderson. Even Jason Marsden, who voiced the immortal black cat Thackery Binx — and as a result, was never actually on the set of the film beyond visiting his friend Omri Katz — recalls being “astounded” by Midler on the days he did visit, particularly by the fact that she was doing her own stunts on the film.
“It was hard to try to play somebody who didn’t like her or, you know, detested her, really,” Thora Birch, who played Max’s sister Dani Dennison, told TheWrap. “It was kind of difficult because I was like, ‘Yeah, but she’s so cool, though! Like, why would I hate her?'”
Birch remembers being particularly struck by Midler’s work ethic — the star was quite dedicated to insuring that she used the proper curse words from the era that witches came from — and her “musicality.” One time on set, during which both Birch and Midler were suspended in harnesses for one of the film’s final sequences, Midler’s singing actually silenced an entire room.
“It was towards the end of how long we had to be up there, and we both were pretty miserable,” Birch said. “But then all of a sudden, she just starts singing. And like, everybody stops. Which probably wasn’t a good idea because they clearly needed to keep working, but when she sings, everybody stops. And I was just like, ‘Oh, my God, this is freaking awesome. She’s like, singing to comfort us.’ That was a completely memorable moment.”
Naturally, “Hocus Pocus” took full advantage of Midler’s talents as three-time Grammy-winning singing star. Winifred Sanderson’s legendary performance of “I Put a Spell on You” was added to the script specifically because of her.
“How can you make a movie this playful with Bette Midler, and not have a musical number? Especially ‘I Put a Spell on You,'” Garris said. “Plus, you have a director who was previously a choreographer, and had done music videos, and was well known for his musical work coming on board to direct. How could you not do a musical number with Bette Midler?”
That musical number was something Kirschner wasn’t too crazy about though, as he was worried it would take audiences too much out of the story. And, according to Birch, just getting the rights to the song was “a lot of drama,” as the writers “had to do a little bit of dancing around, and try to figure out how to get those lyrics and the song different enough so they could still use it” (the original song was written in 1956 by Jalacy “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins and has been covered countless times since).
Looking back on it now, though, Kirschner is glad that Ortega (who would later direct the “High School Musical” franchise for Disney) fought for the singing number’s inclusion in the final product, because “it’s like everybody’s favorite moment in the film.”
“It was like the best Halloween party ever. I mean, nobody was miserable,” Birch recalled. “Like, usually in situations like that, where you have a big crowd, or a lot of extras, and you’re doing a big sequence, it can get miserable. It could get boring and you can get all of that. I didn’t hear one single complaint. Everybody loved being in their costumes, they loved knowing where their places were. It actually kind of had a party atmosphere. But then just hearing her, seeing her on stage and watching them singing that song… you wanted to dance, you know?”
To date, various videos of the musical sequence have tens of millions of views on YouTube. (Midler’s version of the song isn’t available on streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music).
Over the last decade-plus, Midler has been vocal about her own love for “Hocus Pocus,” repeatedly calling Winifred one of her favorite roles in her extensive career. But, in the immediate aftermath of the movie hitting theaters, it may have been a different story. Birch noted that “there might have been a little tiny question mark about Bette’s reaction to the film,” which Kirschner remembered as well.
“When it first came out, she really wasn’t particularly supportive of it,” Kirschner said. “It got bad reviews, and I think she may have been a little embarrassed. And maybe she was – this is just me saying this – maybe she felt embarrassed that she had been over the top in the film. But I think what she didn’t realize was how brilliant she was.”
He continued, “You know, most critics just kind of thought that it was just silly, and over the top, and ridiculous. She really understood something that they didn’t. But she didn’t seem particularly enthralled by the first film until years later.”
Midler could not be reached for comment on Kirschner’s recollection of events.
Vinessa Shaw, who starred as Max’s crush Allison in “Hocus Pocus,” remembers those harsh reviews just as clearly, and remains pretty baffled by them.
“It was funny, because it wasn’t supposed to be ‘cinema,’ this movie,” Shaw said. “It was supposed to be what it was: a family fun movie where, you know, Bette could do more of her ‘First Wives Club’ kind of stuff — [though] that, she ended up doing later — but that thing that she has that’s great with other females around her. And same with Sarah Jessica and Kathy.”
“The Right Recipe for a Hit”
When “Hocus Pocus” was released on July 16, 1993, Shaw and her castmates were “deflated” when the movie flopped the way it did, especially considering Midler was flanked by Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy.
“On the set, I feel like we all thought it was going to be something,” Shaw said. “I felt like we had the right recipe for a hit because originally the movie was supposed to be kind of scary, and they changed it to be more comedic to utilize the actors they hired. The ladies can have amazing timing and they had amazing timing together, which y’all have found out since then! We all just enjoyed their their sisterhood. So that felt like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a fun, comedic, kind of tongue-in-cheek Halloween movie that everybody will enjoy.’ And it didn’t happen. Nobody really got it.”
The sentiment that “Hocus Pocus” checked all the boxes for viewers is not an uncommon one among the cast and creatives.
“I mean, I can take myself away from a project and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, well, I could see why this didn’t land.’ But it’s a good movie! It really is,” Marsden said. “It hits all the spots. It’s sinister, and it’s funny, and the gals are fantastic, and Kenny Ortega did a great job. It’s very unique. It was the first, like, Halloween-centric family movie ever, I think.”
And, as Marsden can attest, a large piece of the movie that gets overlooked is the strides it made for talking animals on film.
“It was the first feature film to incorporate CG to like, mouth flap animals talking,” he said. “I don’t know what it was before. I think it was actually drawn animation, possibly. But this is the first time applying a CG skeleton over a real cat’s head, and then blending it in, and then using the mouth movement mixed with some fantastic animatronics.”
Those advancements in the technology actually made Marsden’s job harder. Actor Sean Murray had been hired to play Binx, and he appears in flashback scenes a pre-cursed teenager in 1693. But toward the end of production, Disney decided that Murray’s voice wasn’t quite right for the era, and recruited Marsden to voice the character instead.
He ended up dubbing over Murray’s lines for the entire movie, and following Murray’s vocal choices proved to be a challenge. And the technology had to be factored in, since as Marsden recalled, Colin Brady, the animator in charge of Binx, was “meticulous.”
“I’ll never forget, there were times I’m like, ‘Oh, I landed this.’ He’s like, ‘No, you were off like a half a frame,'” Marsden recalled. “He was so nitpicky about it, in the best way. The frustrating part was like, I wish — this is nothing against Sean, I mean, this is the way it was — but I wish I would have been able to use my own rhythms because I had to match what was already there.”
Beyond the technology of Binx, “Hocus Pocus” utilized practical sets and locations where it could. From the Sanderson house/museum to Billy Butcherson’s graveyard to the stone statue that Winifred turns into before she turns to dust, it was all physically present for the actors. As Shaw recalls, “It felt like every like pinnacle moment or pivotal moment of that movie was on that set.” The production designers even got the smells right, though audiences would never know it on screen.
“Thora and I talk about this, that whenever we smell foliage, or dry leaves, or a mulchy kind of smell, we think of the ‘Hocus Pocus’ soundstage,” Shaw said with a laugh. “Because neither of us grew up on the East Coast, so we basically felt like our first foray into that was the sound stages, which is hilarious. And that brings a positive olfactory memory for us!”
By all accounts, “Hocus Pocus” was designed to be a veritable spectacle for the screen.
Halloween in July?
So, with the cast, the sets and the technology that “Hocus Pocus” had, why then, did it flop in theaters? Critics found the movie too silly.
But a lot of the blame has also been placed on Disney’s decision to release the future Halloween staple in the middle of summer — July 16 — just one month after the release of “Jurassic Park,” which you might remember had a fairly, uh, decent run at the box office.
There was a logic to releasing “Hocus Pocus” in July. Ironically, part of it was the competition of the time. According to Marsden, Katz had heard that Disney didn’t want to compete with its other Halloween-themed film that year, the Tim Burton-Henry Selick stop-motion animated classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which came out later that year on Oct. 13. But competition was only one facet of the decision. Another factor came from the box office possibilities.
“Well, it also had three months to play in in summer, as opposed to, maybe you go through Thanksgiving if you’re lucky, if you come out on Halloween,” Mick Garris explained. “I think Halloween is usually associated with horror movies. But because this takes place specifically on Halloween, my immediate thought would be to [release then], but it doesn’t have as much of a time to play.”
“You know, when the kids are out of school and everybody can go to matinees through July, August and September, all of those things — I think that was their primary focus was ‘When can we hit the the biggest audience possible, and get the biggest box office possible?'” he continued. “Which, of course, is the first thing on Disney’s mind at all times.”
Obviously, the cast themselves had virtually no say in the timing, though Shaw, Birch and Marsden all recall being confused by the release plan. Kirschner said he lobbied the studio for an October release, but felt he was effectively pushing against a wall.
“It wasn’t much of a discussion, I’m embarrassed to tell you. I was pretty much shut down,” Kirschner said. “[It] was just, ‘No, no way. This is not going to happen. It is coming out in July.’ And there was nothing I could do. I remember we had a test screening of it, and afterwards, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was not a warm and fuzzy guy, put his arms out and said, ‘Buddy, we did it’ and hugged me. And I was shocked because normally I was getting — never in the back, but I was always getting knifed in the chest. I mean, he would never do it in a way behind your back. But he just, you know, ‘This is my way or the highway’ kind of thing.”
Kirschner added that he was “literally in tears” the weekend that “Hocus Pocus” came out, when “Jurassic Park” was continuing its unyielding dominance of the box office.
Of course, it doesn’t really matter when your movie releases if you don’t have the right marketing to let people know it exists and drive interest in coming. And, according to the “Hocus Pocus” gang, the promotional choices for the film were even more baffling than the mid-July release date. Especially since, as Garris explained, “It was not meant for a fragmented audience. It was meant for the whole pie.”
Most of those involved can’t actually remember a marketing campaign for the film.
“It wasn’t built up as this landmark thing that Disney was going to launch,” Marsden said. He joked that, if there was a press tour for the movie, “they didn’t invite me.” Meanwhile, David Kirschner remembers a similar lack of build-up.
“I never got the impression that they were gung-ho,” he said of studio executives. “They put a trailer out there, and that’s about all they did for it.” (You can watch that trailer below.)
Indeed, it’s difficult to find any early interviews from 1993, when “Hocus Pocus” was first released. In addition to a set visit by ET, the three Sanderson Sisters appeared individually on “The Today Show” with Katie Couric in support of the film the week it came out. But beyond that, it’s difficult to find any significant promotional activity for the film.
“Honestly, looking back, I don’t remember a premiere,” Shaw said. “I don’t remember anything. So I don’t think there was a push for it to be a hit in the summertime that it was designated to come out.”
Still, Shaw conceded that movie premieres in the ’90s weren’t the must-do, can’t-miss events that they are now, but it still struck her as odd that she couldn’t remember any version of a premiere for “Hocus Pocus,” especially since she distinctly remembers a premiere for her previous film, the 1992 Rodney Dangerfield comedy “Ladybugs.”
Thora Birch also recalled the lack of a premiere — even at age 10, she said she realized that was a red flag. “I think that’s the moment as a kid when I knew like, something was wrong,” Birch said. “I was like, ‘What? No premiere? Oh.’ And then like, I was bothering my parents to ask more questions to try to figure it out.”
At this point though, those involved with “Hocus Pocus” credit the fans with the movie’s eventual success more than anything else.
“The word of mouth is what made it happen, not the marketing,” Garris said.
Turning of the Tides
In the end, “Hocus Pocus” quietly hit theaters and pretty loudly tanked. And though there are plenty of reasons for that — ones that the cast and crew were all aware of and semi-prepared for — Birch remembers that it still “really hurt.”
“Even all of that aside, all of those things being factors, that didn’t detract from the blow,” Birch said. “Because it still seemed like it should have been a successful film because A) It’s fricking great, right? And it checks all the boxes.”
Still, the movie’s stars and creators, while “disheartened,” did what those in the movie business do: They moved on. But obviously, “Hocus Pocus” found its own version of a Black Flame candle, and came back to life.
“After that [initial] disappointment wore off, then there was just a period of dead silence about the film,” Birch said. “Like, nobody talked about it, nobody’s watching it. It felt like that lasted for about 10 years.”
“You know, we all are trying to rack our brains, everybody who was a cast member of ‘Hocus Pocus’… And none of us can really pinpoint the exact time,” Shaw said of when they first started noticing the cult status of the movie. “But lately, based on what everyone has been saying… we kind of pinpoint it at a time, like, around 2007 or .”
Indeed, the numbers seem to back Shaw and her castmates up on that timeline. “Hocus Pocus” was first released on DVD in 2002, but sales really started speeding up in 2008. Every October since 2011, the movie has made more than $1 million in DVD sales.
But for the most part, cult status became apparent to the actors at fan conventions, which Marsden admits he “roped” his castmates into as he started getting increasing numbers of fans approaching him about “Hocus Pocus.” (Marsden has been a staple of fan conventions for many years, from his work in comic-book franchises like the “X-Men” series as well as projects like “A Goofy Movie” and “The Fairly OddParents”).
And though the cast all thought “Hocus Pocus” was, as Shaw noted, “destined to be a hit,” there was some initial shock at the delayed landing of the film.
Birch was outright confused when she started getting recognized as Dani over a decade later. “I’m like, ‘What, why are we talking about that?'” she remembered of some of her earliest fan interactions.
“I think we’re all stunned. We definitely share this like, we can’t believe that it’s lasted this long,” Marsden said. “We’re so happy that it’s also bringing us together like this, and we’re so happy to talk to the fans.”
Marsden added that these conventions present an opportunity to the cast that the lack of marketing for “Hocus Pocus” didn’t: a chance to hang out with each other and enjoy their shared work. “We’re all just stoked to be together,” he said. “And it’s even weird for me because I didn’t work with any of them. I only met Doug Jones last year,” he said, referring to the actor who plays Winifred Sanderson’s 17th-century ex Billy Butcherson. “It’s like being invited to a high school reunion, even though we only went to the school for one day, for me.”
The actors and creatives also point to the broadcast pickup of “Hocus Pocus,” which happened later in the 1990s, as the main source of how fans even got onto it so much later.
“It was when ABC started running it, and Disney Channel. Suddenly, people were posting ‘Oh, my favorite Halloween movie ever is coming on,'” Garris said. “And people who were in their teens and younger in 1993, are adults now. And they were watching it on Disney channels, some of them with kids of their own now, and turning them on to it. And then each year, the ratings would go up whenever they would air it on broadcast TV. But it really seemed to kick into high gear when ABC Family, now Freeform, got ahold of it.”
Indeed, “Hocus Pocus” is a staple of Freeform’s 31 Nights of Halloween programming. This year, fans can watch it a fitting 13 times throughout the month of October. But even with so many showings, the film doesn’t appear to be getting stale for audiences — particularly with the network’s key ad demo. Since 2017, a Freeform airing of “Hocus Pocus” has ranked as the No. 1 cable movie telecast of October among Adults 18-34 every single year.
And yes, Garris admits that “there is a little bit of ‘I told you so'” that he and his colleagues feel about it.
“Now it is what it was supposed to have been back then, which is amazing!” Shaw said. “And I just am so appreciative of it, and I’m appreciative of everyone who got it, which is basically the fans and nobody else.”
‘Hocus Pocus 2’
Naturally, with a flop as definitive as “Hocus Pocus,” a sequel wasn’t immediately up for discussion back in the ’90s. According to the cast and creatives, the first rumblings of “Hocus Pocus 2” didn’t surface until right around the 20th anniversary of the film.
“I can’t speak for anybody else, but my initial reaction was like, ‘I don’t know. Ah, no matter what we do, it’s not gonna be good,’ you know. Like, why? Are you not making enough money off this one?'” Birch said with a laugh.
Now, almost 10 years after that, “Hocus Pocus 2” hits Disney+ next week. Once again, it didn’t score an October release date, but this time, it only fell short by one day. And really, David Kirschner is fine with that; he was more concerned about where exactly the movie would get released.
Much like the original “Hocus Pocus,” the sequel has faced its share of hurdles and development hold-ups. In fact, when Kirschner and his writing partner first pitched the sequel to Disney’s feature film division, it was a pass (after six months of waiting).
Kirschner was determined, though, and asked for permission to pitch the movie to Freeform, who then bought it in the room. But “Hocus Pocus 2” ended up bouncing around inside Disney quite a bit. After four to five months in development at Freeform, Disney Channel took over the project — it eventually landed at Disney+.
“I’m thrilled that it’s on Disney+,” Kirschner said. “Honestly, I think I’m so scarred still from that horrible, horrible first weekend, that the fact that people could just stay home and watch it in their homes — we’re still dealing with elements of COVID, and I just felt so much more secure with that.” And while Vinessa Shaw, Thora Birch and Omri Katz had all previous expressed interest in returning for a sequel, you won’t see any of them on screen. The only returning stars are the three Sanderson Sisters, plus Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson.
For the most part, there isn’t much concern about history repeating itself.
“There’s really no nervousness for me at all because, you know, everyone loves the original, and they love these characters,” Shaw said. “So they’re ready to see them again, and again, and again, and again! If it’s not the original, then they’ll see the sequel, and then they’ll go back to the original.”
She continued: “There’s something special in everyone’s heart with ‘Hocus Pocus’, whether they have watched it themselves, or have experiences with their grandmother watching it. Everyone has their little slice of experience that they’ve had — where they were when they watched it first, or who in their family loves it so much — and they can’t wait to tell me that. So it’s nothing but good vibes, you know?”
Birch added, “I know that the film was done for the fans, and I know everybody’s intention is to have everybody have a good time while watching the film. And so I’m excited for them. And I will be happily watching.”
Marsden noted that he hopes the sequel will “hold up” in a similar way, and maintain the “charm” of the original, but said he was already pleased based on the trailer alone. “It seemed sinister, it still seemed very dark, which I think it needed to be, and I know that the humor and the fun will definitely be coming from that,” he said. “But it does seem like they’re taking it seriously, so that’s all I ask for.”
It’s Just a Bunch of Hocus Pocus
Truly, not taking “Hocus Pocus” seriously at this point would be a cardinal sin among Halloween fans.
“It’s gone way beyond the cult, it’s a mainstream classic,” Garris said. “It is something everybody’s seen. Almost everybody loves it.”
Birch said that the movie had become ubiquitous during Halloween season. “It’s basically candy corn at this point,” she joked. “Like, it’s a must have. Even if you don’t like candy corn, doesn’t matter. You’re eating that s— on Halloween.”
These days, the Sanderson Sisters are still a popular costume choice for trios. Before October even rolls around, stores send emails about the next round of “Hocus Pocus” merchandise, from clothing to home goods to pet supplies and more.
It’s not uncommon to see entire events centered on the film. “I’d go to Halloween parties, and it would just be on television,” Marsden said. “And then the Halloween parties turned into ‘Hocus Pocus’ themed birthday parties.”
In 2018, Disney and Freeform hosted a massive 25th Anniversary celebration for the film, bringing together fans, cast members and celebrities at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to celebrate the longstanding impact of the movie. The event featured musical performances of “I Put a Spell on You” and “Come Little Children,” a costume contest and more.
“I had a great time. It was a blast,” Birch said of the anniversary. “It also triggered a midlife crisis. So that was cool.”
What was once undeniably a box office bomb is now a staple of not just Disney’s Halloween celebrations, but everyone’s.
Perhaps it’s just a bunch of hocus pocus. Or perhaps there was actually some magic to it, and the spell just took a little longer than planned to take hold.