Inside The Long Road To The Hocus Pocus Sequel

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Disney's Hocus Pocus is a Halloween cult classic. The 1993 film, starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as a trio of ancient witches who wreak havoc on Salem, Mass. has been a huge financial success despite a dismal box office showing. Continuing to attract big numbers during re-airs and making millions on DVD and VOD sales, the now-celebrated Halloween staple proved its staying power, and yet somehow didn't immediately fall victim to the trend of sequels and reboots that's swept through Hollywood in recent years. 

While rumors have swirled about a sequel in the decades since, nothing legitimate materialized — until now, that is (but more on all that below). That said, it was certainly a long road to get there. When asked about the possibility of a Hocus Pocus 2, even Midler once believed that there was nothing brewing, saying in a 2015 Facebook Q&A (via The Wrap), "After all these years and all the fan demand, I do believe I can stand and firmly say an unequivocal no." Five years later, though, with the undeniable success of the Disney+ streaming platform, Midler, her Sanderson sister castmates, and the House of Mouse itself was changing this tune.

Here are all the reasons why the sequel spell took so long to work its magic on a follow-up to Hocus Pocus.

The Sanderson sisters wanted to get their witch on in Hocus Pocus 2

If Hocus Pocus 2 were to ever happen, it would arguably need to include the original Sanderson sisters, right? After all, they were the most iconic part of the original Hocus Pocus. Well, good news: they're all in (and have been for a while, at that).

"I would love that," Sarah Jessica Parker told Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live (via Entertainment Weekly) in 2016. "I think we've all been fairly vocal about being very keen but that hasn't created any groundswell of movement." Meanwhile, both Kathy Najimy and Bette Midler have also long agreed that they would return ... but both claimed Disney held the keys to getting a sequel going. Najimy previously told BuzzFeed, "The outpouring of love from Hocus-ites has been astounding ... we hear y'all loud and clear! A sequel is totally in The Disney company's hands — and it will be exciting to see what transpires!"

"I love it!" Midler told Katie Couric (via HuffPost) back in 2013. "We had a great time making it." The following year, she echoed Najimy in a Reddit AMA, telling hopeful Hocus-ites, "You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company. The ball's in their court."

But Hocus Pocus' kid cast has long aged out of Disney's demographic

While the Sanderson sisters' ages were never an issue — immortality spells have their perks — the former child stars of Hocus Pocus would look pretty out of place now on trick-or-treat night. In fact, most of them would go on to forge successful careers in and out of show business, which could have stifled their ability or desire to sign on for a sequel.

Omri Katz (above, right), who plays Max, stopped acting in 2002 and "relocated to Israel," per Entertainment Weekly, so his status on returning to Hollywood remains unclear. Thora Birch (above, left), who plays younger sister Dani, had a substantial onscreen run toward the end of the 2010s, with several feature film roles and a recurring part on The Walking Dead. Vinessa Shaw (above, middle), who plays love interest Allison, moved on to decidedly more adult roles, such as Showtime's Ray Donovan and the ominous-sounding Family Blood. Then there's Sean Murray's Thackery Binx, who only appears briefly in human form in Hocus Pocus, but whose beautiful locks and peasant blouse will be stuck in the minds of pre-teen girls forever. Murray has starred on NCIS since 2003 as Special Agent Timothy McGee.

Would a sequel follow the adventures of the kids of this kid cast or attempt to have them once again square off against the Sanderson sisters as adults? Maybe Disney is still pondering that one.

Was the Halloween movie market too oversaturated for a Hocus Pocus sequel?

Hocus Pocus debuted at a time when Halloween had not yet become the all-consuming celebration it is today. Sure, the holiday was popular in 1993, but not so popular that it had spawned the countless movies, TV shows, and entertainment products it does today. "We made it before the tidal wave of Halloween happened," Bette Midler later told Katie Couric (via HuffPost). "Now it's like huge. It's huge. Kids, grown-ups, everyone takes part in it. This movie was kind of like the beginning of the wave."

The Disney flick emerged on the market as something original that stood apart from the rest of the cinema fare, which was part of producer and co-writer David Kirschner's pitch for Hocus Pocus. According to Yahoo! Entertainment, Kirschner tried to convince industry execs that "Halloween was becoming a more popular, profitable holiday, and that he had an idea for a movie that would allow families to celebrate it together."

This emerging market gave the film the opportunity to develop the cult following it maintains to this day. Hocus Pocus paved the way for future Disney Halloween classics, such as the Halloweentown franchise and Twitches, not to mention the plethora of spooky, non-Disney family-friendly flicks that also followed, like the Goosebumps series. It could be argued, then, that studio execs felt Hocus Pocus 2 may have a hard time standing out within today's jam-packed Halloween movie market.

The real risk of Hocus Pocus 2? Cult classic sequels rarely turn out well

There have been some cult classics over the years that spawned worthy sequels or reboots, but most haven't lived up to the original. Take Caddyshack II, which the Los Angeles Times described as "no laughing matter," and every subsequent installment in the American Pie franchise, which some of the cast even agreed failed to recapture the comedic gold of the first film. With bigger budgets, more star power, and more pressure, it's nearly impossible to preserve the campy goodness that made the originals so endearing. 

While there are some successes, such as Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer revival, the market is flooded with misses. In the long road to a Hocus Pocus sequel, Disney might not have wanted to risk destroying one of its most popular properties, if it couldn't ensure that it got the potion right. Indeed, you need to look no further than Disney/Pixar's Cars franchise to get the gist of what can happen to a series after one disastrous sequel.

Disney wanted bigger Hocus Pocus bucks at the box office

Hocus Pocus proved to be a good long-term investment for Disney, making plenty of money in VHS, DVD, and VOD sales through the years. It also consistently attracts high viewership when it airs on TV. However, the film surprisingly was not a box office success. It flopped when it hit theaters in 1993, earning frightening reviews and topping out with only $39.5 million grossed, a measly sum considering its estimated $28 million budget, plus marketing and distribution expenses.

Though the late-bloomer continued to make money for Disney, the studio giant was likely more interested in creating projects with much faster rates of return than putting out a follow-up flick. Plus, the house that Mickey built once straight-out declined to greenlight a sequel. What? According to producer and co-writer David Kirschner, who spoke with Yahoo! Entertainment in 2015, Disney "passed a couple years" before that when he approached them with "a theatrical follow-up." 

While Hocus Pocus may have fit Disney's business plan in the early '90s, it seemed to take years before a project like Hocus Pocus 2 would line up with what the company's looking for today.

Hocus Pocus had already been featured in a stage show

While Hocus-ites were waiting for Disney to finally greenlight a Hocus Pocus sequel, 2015 saw the Sanderson sisters make a spooky appearance at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. as part of a Halloween show called the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular, joining a cast of other famous villains at "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party," reported Entertainment Weekly. As the outlet put it, "The inclusion of the witches [was] enough to boost what's basically traditional Disney park Halloween fare into exciting new territory."

While it wasn't exactly a sequel, the annual stage show has given fans another chance to connect with these beloved characters, and it worked out well for the park. A spokesperson told Yahoo! Entertainment in 2015 that a record 22 out of the 25 performances sold out in advance. Is it possible that Disney was just delaying Hocus Pocus 2 in order to keep cashing in on those nostalgia bucks while simultaneously driving demand at the park? Hm.

Disney was figuring out how to get a Hocus Pocus sequel right

With the original cast of big stars on board, and fandom at its arguable peak, Disney seemingly has every reason to make Hocus Pocus 2. However, in order for the film to succeed without taking away the magic of the original, it has to be perfect. It needs the right tone, the right story, and all the witchy goodness the original captured so well. What better way to test that than by releasing a new storyline in a side market and gauging fans' reactions?

That seems to be precisely what Disney did with the release of the 2018 book, Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel. A seemingly direct follow-up to the events of the film, this novelization takes place 25 years later and focuses on Poppy, the 17-year-old daughter of Max and Allison (we'll pause here for diehard fans to squee at the thought of these two ending up together forever), who "finds herself face-to-face with the Sanderson sisters in all their sinister glory." The book quickly landed on The New York Times Bestsellers List in the young adult category and reportedly features characters who are "way more diverse than the original movie," according to Bustle

It is entirely possible that Disney was trying to figure out a way to update the Hocus Pocus story to keep up with current norms, while also creating a whole new built-in audience from readers of the popular book.

The Hocus Pocus movie already had a second life in rabid fandom

For as cagey as Disney had been about the possibility of Hocus Pocus 2, the House of Mouse pulled out all the stops for the 25th anniversary screening of the original film in October 2018. Held at the Hollywood Forever Ceremony, the star-studded bash included appearances from nearly the entire original cast as well as other Tinseltown figures, performances by more current Disney stars (above), and a swell of fans who were so enthusiastic it allegedly had to be forced out of the venue when the event was over. 

That's all according to director Kenny Ortega, who helmed the cult classic back in 1993, and who was so overwhelmed with the outpouring of love at the anniversary screening, he said he wanted to do it again. "We're talking about maybe doing it every year now — Hocus Pocus Halloween party every year. It was a grand success," he told Entertainment Weekly at the time.

That kind of event sounded like the perfect opportunity to announce plans for a sequel, right? And yet, no such announcement was made at the time. Disney's ability to keep cranking out profit from a decades-old project without shelling out millions on a risky sequel, made it hard to imagine the studio trying to make lightning strike twice onscreen in the Hocus Pocus franchise.

Hocus-ites rejoice! A Hocus Pocus sequel is officially brewing

After multiple rumors and some false starts, longtime Hocus Pocus fans were finally in for less of a trick and more of a treat when Disney officially announced that a sequel to the beloved Halloween flick was in the works in October 2019. Set to hit the Disney+ streaming service at an as of yet undetermined date, Hocus Pocus 2 later added the likes of director Adam Shankman, screenwriter Jen D'Angelo, and producer Lynn Harris to its creative team, per Variety. More info on the movie's cast and plot have yet to be released.

However, one Bette Midler waited an entire year to save possibly the best news for last: not only was a Hocus Pocus sequel finally happening, but she was set to reprise her beloved role alongside fellow Sanderson sisters Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy. "They want to make a movie, they've asked us if we were interested and of course all of us said yes," Midler told FOX 5 New York in October 2020. "I'm game, I'm totally game."

The road to Hocus Pocus 2 has been undeniably long, but while we wait for the sequel to cast its spell, Midler, Parker, and Najimy had one more trick up their sleeves. The trio were set reunite on the eve of Halloween 2020, reprising their witchy roles in a special virtual event benefiting the New York Restoration Project called In Search of the Sanderson Sisters: A Hocus Pocus Hulaween Takeover.