Take 5: ‘Hocus Pocus 2’ scares off nostalgia for a new generation
October 7, 2022
Nostalgia is big business. The biggest movie of 2022 continues to be Top Gun: Maverick, which swims in nostalgia. Some of the most highly anticipated TV series to stream this year have been A League of Their Own and Cobra Kai, so it's no wonder that the Disney+ film Hocus Pocus 2 hit their streaming platform with plenty of excitement.
A sequel to the 1993 film Hocus Pocus, the film brings back its three main stars: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, and puts these three Sanderson Sisters into another fish out of water story as they try again to extend their youthfulness and mortality by stealing the souls of children.
How did the story create a new version almost 30 years later? How did they play on the trend of nostalgia? And what can screenwriters learn from the story of the three wicked witches from Salem?
Here are five lessons you can take away from the long-awaited sequel:
1. It’s not about the witches
While the Sanderson Sisters are the main focus of the film, and they get all the glory in terms of Halloween costumes and nostalgia, both the 1993 original and the 2022 sequel place their primary focus on the three children tasked with saving Salem from the infamous witches.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, movies focused on the adventures of children as they come of age while facing extraordinary events. The 1993 film was geared toward the younger demographic and found its audience with the tweens of the time.
Hocus Pocus 2 follows a similar route with a pair of high school girls attempting to wrangle in the witches and return their town back to normal. The only difference being that this film isn’t necessarily for that age group but rather the grown ups who were fond of the original.
There was a stronger presence of the witches in the 2022 version, but the filmmakers had to build the story around the high schoolers. Ultimately, it plays on the kids creating some problem that they must resolve on their own before the town (and their parents) find out.
2. Fish out of water story
One of the comedic aspects of the original Hocus Pocus was how easy it could be to take down a bunch of witches from the 17th century. Jokes centered around the three witches from 1693 experiencing Halloween night in 1993 with children dressing up in various costumes, including as the Sanderson Sisters, as well as a Sister Mary (Najimy) flying on a vacuum cleaner when a broom wasn’t available — there’s a similar gag in the sequel.
The Sanderson Sisters in both films are confused by the modern world. They marvel over seemingly mundane, everyday things. They’re fascinated by automatically opening doors, embrace selfies, and even use a pair of Roombas as a running joke.
In 1993, Hocus Pocus was about a brother and sister who moved from California to Salem and had to experience a smaller, haunted town. They were fish out of water, and so were the Sanderson Sisters. One was out of their element socially and geographically, the others were awakened after 300 years. Hocus Pocus 2 has a similar fish out of water vibe.
This concept works in every genre and is a great way you can throw your hero out of their comfort zone.
3. Unintentional Consequences
Adventures often start by unintentional consequences. Even the recent Thirteen Lives, based on a true story, was about the unintentional consequences of when a group of kids decide to explore a cave. Jumanji was about playing a seemingly innocent board game. The original Hocus Pocus has the three children exploring the Sanderson Sisters Museum and lighting the black flame candle; the sequel takes a similar approach as well.
It's a great concept to explore in your writing and can even be used as a question when creating a logline: What happens when three modern-day kids accidentally bring three witches back to life who depend on the taking the souls of children to live?
When outlining your next story, consider finding a way for your characters to back into the story. Start with the plot then walk it back to see how the character’s unintentional consequence can be a catalyst to the story.
4. Using Tropes to Your Advantage
Magic spells. Potions. Flying brooms.
If you’re going to have witches, there are plenty of standard tropes available to use. Hocus Pocus leans heavily on these tropes to help bring the characters to life and play off them for comedy and fun, such as the vacuum cleaner gag or the series of popular music the witches sing: I Put a Spell On You or The Witches Are Back (a play on Elton John’s The Bitch is Back).
As you start writing your next story, consider the tropes of the genre. They can make it easier to tell the story and can even be used to add twists.
5. Is it for kids?
Even as Hocus Pocus 2 was created for nostalgic purposes, it is still a family-friendly film. Those eager to show their children the original and the sequel can do so knowing that the content is for young children (at least the sequel is).
While scary elements are part of any Halloween film, the Hocus Pocus films sidetrack the horror with silliness. And yet, the original Hocus Pocus starts off with the witches killing a young girl for her soul and then are hung for being witches — that’s not light material for the elementary age.
This was a noticeable difference in the sequel. The witches were sillier and had more song and dance. While kids are discovering the original, the expectation of a family film today are different than 20 years ago, and it’s something that you need to be aware of when writing for a modern audience. In this case, Hocus Pocus 2 just couldn’t get away with the scarier elements from the original.
Hocus Pocus 2 is now streaming on Disney+.
Written by: Steven HartmanSteven Hartman is an award-winning, optioned screenwriter. He was a Top 5 Finalist in Big Break’s Historical Category in 2019 and won Best Action/Adventure in Script Summit’s Screenplay Competition in 2021. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia College and had internships at Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Village Roadshow Pictures. Steve is a full-time writer and creative video producer by day and a screenwriter and novelist by night.