In 1993, Disney released the live-action film Hocus Pocus. While it was mostly given negative reviews from film critics, we 1990s kids didn’t feel quite the same way. Today, the movie is a cult classic.
Hocus Pocus is the story of what happens when the Sanderson Sisters, three infamous witches from the late seventeenth century, are re-awakened in the twentieth century. Winifred (Bette Midler) is the oldest of the sisters and their leader. She wears her bright red curls piled on top of her head, hates to be parted from her spellbook (which is at least semi-sentient)—and she absolutely hates being called ugly. The middle sister, Mary (Kathy Najimy), wears her black hear atop her head and can smell little children—who apparently smell delicious—from very far away. She is always a bit bumbling, and Winifred is often annoyed by her incompetence. The youngest Sanderson sister, Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), is mischievous and not very bright. She is very pretty, though, and she likes to use her beauty to entrance people–boys especially.
The Sanderson sisters seem to have been caught up in the infamous Salem witch trials of the 1690s. The film opens in 1693, when Thackery Binx wakes to find that his little sister, Emily, is not in her bed. She is being lured into the woods by the witches, and Binx follows her there. He learns that the witches are brewing a potion that sucks the life force out of children so that the witches can feed on it and stay young. Emily drinks the potion, and the witches turn Binx into an immortal black cat for interfering. The townspeople form a mob and try to capture the witches, but Winifred casts a spell that puts the sisters in stasis until a virgin summons them by lighting the black candle on a full-mooned Halloween night.
Cut to the twentieth century. Teenager Max Dennison and his younger sister, Dani, have moved from L.A. to Salem just in time for Halloween. Max is less than enthusiastic about taking his little sister trick-or-treating, and he is skeptical of the local legends involving the Sanderson sisters and witchcraft. But when Dani expresses interest in the sisters in front of Max’s crush, Allison, the three kids decide to go to the old Sanderson house (which at some point was turned into a museum, though that project was abandoned). While there, Max lights the Black Flame Candle and brings Winifred, Mary, and Sarah back from their slumber. The kids also meet Binx, who prompts them to steal Winnie’s spellbook and prevent them from brewing their potion. This leads the witches on a chase to reclaim Winifred’s book and kidnap Dani so that the sisters can live beyond the one night promised by the Black Flame Candle.
And so the sisters return, but they find that nothing is really as they left it. And who can be surprised? They’ve been slumbering for 300 years or so, and the world has changed. There are buses. And electricity. And Halloween is mostly for children, who dress up in costume and go from house to house in search of candy. Despite all of this, they seem to have an odd amount of knowledge about the present—Winifred indicates that she knows what a vacuum is, Sarah knows about driver’s permits, and all 3 of them know “I Put a Spell on You,” a song released in the 1950’s. But they’re witches, so maybe they just know things. Also, you know, willing suspension of disbelief and whatnot.
In the end, of course, the Sanderson sisters are defeated; it is a Disney movie, after all. Winifred, Mary, and Sarah Sanderson are prevented from sucking the life force out of more children, and when the sun rises they implode. Binx is freed from his curse, and the Allison, Max, and Dani are safe.
But the legend of the witches endures.