Autumn is a season full of wholesome family traditions. Pumpkin picking, visiting apple orchards, and, of course, getting ready for Halloween. And for the past 28 years, no Halloween would be complete without a viewing of, dare I say, the ultimate family Halloween movie: Hocus Pocus. This epic tale of the Sanderson Sisters is a childhood favorite of mine, and I couldn’t wait until my kids were old enough to enjoy it with me. But when the time came, rewatching Hocus Pocus as a mom... well, it gave me a new perspective on certain details that I’d never considered as a fifth grader belting out “I Put A Spell On You” on the playground. Here’s what stuck out most.
1. ‘90s kids were basically feral
Look, I was a child in the ‘80s and ‘90s and, as such, have memories of running around my neighborhood entirely unsupervised. In fact, starting around 1989, I don’t think I saw my parents in the summer except for the week we’d go on vacation (and even then, I was too busy almost drowning in the undertow at the beach to pay much attention to them). So the near-complete lack of parental involvement in Hocus Pocus isn’t a revelation or anything, but seeing it in action, now with children of my own, is weird. At one point, Max suggests Dani go trick-or-treating by herself, incredulously telling her “You’re 8!” implying that it’s past time she wandered the streets alone at night.
But, honestly, it’s less the idea that a kid would go trick-or-treating on their own at 8 (whatever, I don’t judge) so much as the fact that I don’t know that I ever saw one parent accompanying their children in any of the trick-or-treating scenes (I guess they were all at the Halloween party at Town Hall?). The fact that Dani even had her teenage brother with her was a bit of an anomaly. Nowadays, for better or for worse, that’s just not done.
What I forgot was just how much they keep referencing Max’s virginity.
2. Hocus Pocus is way more sexual than I remembered
OK, so we know a crucial plot point is that a virgin has to light the Black Flame Candle to bring the Sanderson Sisters back to life. (Pro-tip: if your kid asks what a virgin is, just tell them “An inexperienced, innocent person” because it’s not wrong.) What I forgot was just how much they keep referencing Max’s virginity. It’s consistently brought up throughout the movie, which begs the question: why? Like, some writer made the decision that a virgin, specifically, would summon the Sisters from the dead, but what exactly does that add to this movie for children? They could have chosen to describe the person who would light the candle any number of ways that would apply to Max. Like, “a newcomer to Salem” or “an unbeliever” or even, like “a boy” without referencing the sexual experience of a child in a children’s movie. Like, whatever, it’s fine, it’s just a really weird choice and one, I highly doubt, would ever fly in 2021.
Other weird choices in this vein — which, let’s be honest, most kids won’t get — include Sarah’s constant horniness (like when she suggests they “hang [Thackery Binx] on a hook and let me play with him!” and just generally being boy-crazy), Dani for no discernible reason talking about Allison’s breasts (a-hem “yabbos” which... no one in the history of boobies has ever actually called them that), and Jay and Ice suggesting peeking in windows to watch women undress (gross). Oh! And let’s not forget the unnecessarily lecherous bus driver! (Like, it’s funny because the Sister’s are clueless to innuendo but you know he does that to every woman who gets on the bus and that’s not cool.)
3. Hocus Pocus is actually really creepy
There are lots of ghoulish details I’d forgotten from this movie that are dark. The fact that Winifred’s spell book is bound in human skin, for example (ew). Or the potion that involves dead man’s toe and biting off a piece of your own tongue (ow). Or the bones of a hundred children being buried in the walls of the Sister’s cottage (yikes). And this is before we even get to the zombie with his mouth sewn shut in the creepiest way possible. You know, the zombie Winifred poisoned for having an affair with her sister? The one whose fingers get chopped off by a passing motorcycle? Yeah, I’m talking about Billy Butcherson! (Don’t worry: he’s a good zombie!)
It’s not that I think this isn’t appropriate for kids — it’s just that contemporary children’s entertainment would probably never venture into that level of creepiness so, as a mom, it was a little bit surprising.
4. The focus on siblings in Hocus Pocus feels more meaningful as a mom
The relationship between brother and sister in this movie is clearly a key theme (both between Max and Dani and Thackery and Emily) but was never something I particularly paid attention to as a kid (I was way too busy having a crush on Omri Katz to think about whether he was a good big brother, TBH). But as a mom I’m like “Hell yeah, Mr. and Mrs. Dennison, you’re raising those kids right!” Because throughout Hocus Pocus, it’s clear Max and Dani care about one another, look out for each other, and genuinely seem to like each other. Moreover, the relationship comes across as real.
Most movies where sibling relationships take center stage show a hackneyed, boring, and unrealistic “hate to love” trajectory to show character growth and story arc. Hocus Pocus skips that — Dani and Max have their ups and downs throughout the course of the movie. They fight, but they clearly love each other, so they apologize and movie on. Their relationship is multidimensional — it’s not 100% or 100% bad — you know, like actual siblings!
I love this movie, and the only thing better than watching it as a child in 1993 is rewatching Hocus Pocus with my kids.
Maybe it’s because I have a salty but good-hearted son and a witty, weird daughter, but Max and Dani speak to me on a different level now that I’m a mom. I hope, as they get older, my kiddos can have the kind of close relationship Max and Dani have (minus a trio of undead witches trying to kill them, obviously).
5. Hocus Pocus holds up 30 years deep and it’s still quality children’s entertainment
There are very few beloved children’s movies that hold up to the more discerning eye of adulthood, but this is one of them. It’s not just nostalgia that makes this movie hokey good fun. Bette Middler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker are playing up the silliness and leaning hard into their roles as the Sanderson Sisters. The story is solid, the humor relevant (if... sometimes questionable by contemporary parenting standards), and the adventure just as whimsical as it was when we were kids. I love this movie, and the only thing better than watching it as a child in 1993 is rewatching Hocus Pocus with my kids.
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