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Hocus Pocus DVD Review

In September 2012, Hocus Pocus was reissued as a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack.
Click here for our review of that edition.

Hocus Pocus movie poster Hocus Pocus

Theatrical Release: July 16, 1993 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Kenny Ortega / Writers: David Kirschner (story), Mick Garris (story and screenplay), Neil Cuthbert (screenplay)

Cast: Bette Midler (Winifred Sanderson), Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Sarah Jessica Parker (Sarah Sanderson), Omri Katz (Max Dennison), Thora Birch (Dani Dennison), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Sean Murray (Thackery Binx), Jason Marsden (Thackery Binx, voice), Larry Bagby (Ernie/Ice), Tobias Jelinek (Jay), Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson), Garry Marshall (Master), Penny Marshall (Master's Wife)

Songs: "Witchcraft", "I Put a Spell on You", "Come, Little Children"

Buy Hocus Pocus from Amazon.com: Buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray + DVD Instant Video VHS

By Aaron Wallace

"Bette's back, doing what she does best!" That quote is found on the packaging for Hocus Pocus, Disney's 1993 Halloween success headlined by the Divine Miss M, though which of her talents is being pegged as her best is unclear.
The diva extraordinaire has had great success in acting, singing, and comedy, and in Hocus Pocus, all three of those gifts are on display.

It is the story of the Sanderson sisters, three witches back from the dead. It all stems from a curse they left on the town of Salem, Massachusetts the night they were executed for witchcraft against children three hundred years prior in 1693. One day, they pledged, a virgin would light a black flamed candle on Halloween, enabling their return for only one night unless they were able to prolong their own lives by taking the youthful spirits of slain children.

The Sanderson curse has become the stuff of legend for Salem by 1993, and the very thing that cynical Max Dennison (Omri Katz), whose family is new in town, doesn't buy into. During an unpleasant evening of trick-or-treating with his younger sister Dani (Thora Birch), Max runs into his new high school crush, Allison (Vinessa Shaw). In an attempt to impress her, he insists that the three try their luck at the abandoned Sanderson house to find if there's any truth to the legend. Very much a virgin, Max's lighting of the legendary candle brings the witches back to life, fulfilling their oath. Joined by Thackary Binx, a bewitched boy-turned-cat whose sister fell prey to the witches on the night of their execution, the youthful trio employ their present-day advantage against the ancient sisters and do their best to save the children of Salem.

Max (Omri Katz) sports a tie-dye shirt in class. What's cooler than cool? Ice cold!

Though only occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, Hocus Pocus is a comedy and its apt humor comes in three forms: slapstick, situational, and amusing character acting. However, most viewers would likely describe it as a holiday film first and foremost, and its ability to personify the modern-day atmosphere of Halloween is undeniable. Many people deserve credit in this regard, as things like set and costume design are every bit as effective as John Debney's bewitching score
and direction by Kenny Ortega that continually fills the frame with the aesthetically ominous in much the same way that Tim Burton does. If this movie comes with one guarantee, it's that viewers won't have to wait long for a ripe full moon to appear in the sky.

And then of course there are the actors. Hocus Pocus is a showcase of fine character acting. Bette Midler shines as Winifred Sanderson, the eldest and dominant sister, in what is perhaps her greatest performance (an opinion with which she has concurred herself). Kathy Najimy was in the midst of another successful musical turn to the other side of damnation in Touchstone's Sister Act movies when the film debuted, and she's as charming here as the bumbling Mary as she is in those films. Rounding out the sisterhood is the seductive Sarah, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, before her career took off with another, more salacious but less respectable role. The three leads work a little acting magic of their own and even as Midler is always at the forefront, the chemistry between the three is consistent throughout.

The role of Max Dennison nearly went to Leonardo Dicaprio, who at the time was on his way out of "Growing Pains" and into What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, which he eventually chose over this. While I'm extremely curious as to how the movie would have turned out with Dicaprio in the lead, Omri Katz (of "Eerie Indiana" fame) works well as the leading protagonist as it is. The last stand-out performance (well, Garry and Penny Marshall's husband-and-wife cameo notwithstanding) comes from Thora Birch, a young actress who rose to fame with this movie (and a part in All I Want For Christmas), and has withstood the barriers of childhood acting as she is developing into an accomplished performer. Her talents are evident here, as she capably supports the lead characters and even steals the scene on occasion.

Bette Midler sings the best "I Put a Spell on You" to date, and pays homage to her "Gypsy" at the same time. Brother and sister (Garry and Penny Marshall) play husband and wife and offer some hearty laughs.

Shot in sequence, the film flows well with an engaging narrative style that maintains suspense, though it is of the adventure variety rather than that of the thriller. There's a romantic subplot too, but it's thankfully subdued. While it isn't a musical, there are a few memorable diegetic songs, which is the case for many of Midler's movies, especially those that come from Buena Vista (i.e. most of them). Only one of the three numbers come from her, though -- a delightful twist to "I Put a Spell on You" that makes for one of the best scenes. Sarah Jessica Parker delivers the haunting "Come, Little Children" as well. The fashions and format date the movie from time to time too, as does the reference to calendar year 1993, but overall, it holds up quite well to this day.

Hocus Pocus is true to its PG rating and is one of the edgier family films to don the Disney name. That's not to say that parents should necessarily be concerned. While it has been known to scare youngsters and it modestly flirts with innuendo (as extreme as "yabbos"), it's by no means a dark exploration of the occult, nor is it vulgar. The truth is that it's a wonderful part of many families' Halloween traditions and one of the studio's easiest-to-like movies in recent years.

Buy Hocus Pocus from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Non-anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 7, 1999
Single-sided, single-layered disc
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Was $19.99)
Black Keepcase
Also available in Blu-ray + DVD combo pack ($26.50 SRP; September 4, 2012)

Disney Villains Collectible Halloween Village


Sadly, the video transfer is marred by shortcomings. A considerable amount of grain, artifacts, and annoying flickering are found in the too dark, too soft picture. It's never difficult to watch and ignoring it is entirely possible once you're engrossed in the story; it's a step up from VHS, but not by much. At least it's in widescreen, right?
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Well, I suppose. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio is preserved, which is much better than the alternative, but this is unfortunately a non-anamorphic transfer. That doesn't quite explain the erroneous "This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your TV" disclaimer appearing on the back of the case.

Sound, on the other hand, is rather pleasing. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track resonates with clarity. There could be improvements in the dynamics and enhancements in the amount of bass, but the audio track remains the most pleasing thing on the disc, aside from the movie itself.

Thora Birch delivers one of the movie's most memorable moments. Max meets Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones of "Pan's Labyrinth" renown).


This section appears here only for conformity's sake, for alas, Hocus Pocus isn't accompanied by anything that could even pass for a bonus feature. That's a shame, as there's plenty to draw from.
One certainly hopes that a special edition will come in the near future and bring with it the theatrical trailer, deleted scenes (some of which were used in the trailer), a cast and crew audio commentary, a sing-along track, Disney Channel featurettes from the time of release, and if Disney wanted to go the extra mile and really give it justice, art galleries and a retrospective documentary too. Given Midler's affection toward the film, I have a hunch that she'd be a willing participant.

The menus are lackluster too, as they feature no sound or animation, just stills from the movie and a black cat cursor to select one of three options. Unlike the movie itself, however, all menu screens are enhanced for 16x9 displays. There aren't any previews for other Buena Vista properties and the movie will play on its own shortly after the disc is put in. Inside the case, there is an insert that repeats the front and rear cover art and labels the sixteen chapter selections.

But who will light the black famed candle? The sisters (Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker) cast a spell on Thackery Binx.


Really good movies issued on pretty poor DVDs always make for a difficult review. Such is the case with Hocus Pocus, a highly engaging film and without question the best family-friendly Halloween movie out there. Creative acting, amusing gags, and an adventuresome story make for a success and the movie itself couldn't come more highly recommended. The DVD is a very different story. To be fair, it's one of the oldest Disney DVDs still in print, which makes its poor video treatment and complete lack of bonus features a little more understandable. As a perennial strong seller, the movie is likely to see a special edition release at some point, but the wait continues past its fifteenth anniversary. Fortunately, this original DVD carries a low retail price, making it worth consideration on its two positive merits: a satisfactory audio track and a must-see movie.

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Related Reviews:
Hocus Pocus (Blu-ray + DVD)
Halloweentown & Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge (Double Feature) Halloweentown High
The Nightmare Before Christmas (2-Disc Collector's Edition) Something Wicked This Way Comes
The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Remastered Deluxe Edition)
Mickey's House of Villains Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie The Haunted Mansion Boy Meets World: The Complete First Season

The Cast and Crew of Hocus Pocus:
From Director Kenny Ortega: Newsies High School Musical High School Musical 2 Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert
Bette Midler: Beaches (Special Edition) Then She Found Me Oliver & Company | Sarah Jessica Parker: Flight of the Navigator Smart People
Producer/Writer David Kirschner: Child's Play (Chucky's 20th Birthday Edition) | Vinessa Shaw: Eyes Wide Shut
Garry and Penny Marshall: Happy Days: Season 3 Laverne and Shirley: Season 3

Reviewed October 30, 2005.

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