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An essential Halloween classic, “Hocus Pocus” celebrates 30 years of bewitching audiences and putting a spell on spooky fans of all ages.

Hocus Pocus

Intro by Allyssa Gaines

Growing up, there were quite a few Disney Halloween movies that I looked forward to watching every Halloween season. One of those movies was the 1993 movie Hocus Pocus.

This classic Disney film tells the tale of the Sanderson Sisters: Winifred “Winnie” (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy), who are found to be witches and, as a result, are hung in front of the townspeople in 1693. Fast forward 300 years to Halloween 1993. Max (Omri Katz) is tasked with taking his little sister, Dani (Thora Birch), trick-or-treating. Along the way, they encounter Allison (Vanessa Shaw), Max’s fellow classmate and crush.

The three of them find themselves in trouble when they come across the infamous Sanderson house, and Max, in an attempt to prove his bravery, blows out the black flame candle. As Dani points out, a virgin (Max) blew out the black flame candle… this will, as a result, summon the Sanderson sisters.

As expected, the Sanderson sisters make their grand entrance, and they spot Dani.

The Sanderson sisters were known for kidnapping and killing children as a way to remain youthful, and upon seeing Dani, they plan to do just that with her as well.

Max and Allison save Dani, and throughout the night, they must keep Dani safe and try to stop the Sanderson sisters from harming any more children. The trio learns that this is quite a task, but thankfully for them, they receive help from unexpected allies: immortal black cat Binx (voiced by Jason Marsden) and resurrected zombie Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones).

History and Fun Facts by Stephanie Malone

Over the years, Hocus Pocus has become a beloved cult classic, and for good reason.

The film is considered a staple of the Halloween season, with many fans making it an annual Halloween viewing tradition, including star Kathy Najimy.

Interestingly, however, Hocus Pocus wasn’t originally released as a Halloween film, premiering on July 16, 1993, in the middle of summer. Disney was hoping to cash in on kids being out of school for the summer while avoiding creating artificial competition for their other big Halloween-themed film coming out that year, The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Perhaps as a result of the poor release timing, Hocus Pocus was initially a flop.

It pulled in only $39.5 in its initial box office run against a budget of $24 million. Thus, it was profitable, but only marginally, and generally considered a huge disappointment by Disney terms.

Another factor in its perceived failure could have been that it was released the same day as the family-friendly juggernaut Free Willy.

For comparison’s sake. Free Willy had a similar budget of $20 million but went on to net $153.6 million at the box office.

While the film focuses primarily on the adventures of the Dennison children, the original script placed much more of the focus on the Sanderson Sisters. It was also much darker in tone, but Disney forced extensive cuts and end edits that gave it a much lighter family-friendly tone — a real bummer for those of us horror fans who would have loved to see the original cut.

Still, despite the shift in focus, it’s pretty fair to say that the witchy trio of Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy easily stole the show. In fact, most of us would argue the Sandersons are indeed the main attraction.

As for the cast, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the now-iconic roles.

But several famous faces turned down parts in the film.

Leonardo DiCaprio himself was courted for the role of Max, and Rosie O’Donnell was originally offered the part of Mary, a part that Najimy absolutely nailed. O’Donnell refused the offer because she didn’t want to pay a witch, and DiCaprio had his heart set on auditioning for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. For DiCaprio, at least, that ended up being a wise move on his part as he went on to get an Academy Award and Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Arnold “Arnie” Grape.

Perhaps even more incredible is the fact that Jennifer Lopez auditioned for the role of Sarah Sanderson that eventually went to Sarah Jessica Parker, a role she was meant to play.

Not only is SJP a knockout as the ditzy Sanderson Sister, but she’s also a distant descendent of Esther Elwell, a woman accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials (though she didn’t know that at the time of filming).

And that’s not the film’s only tie to Salem. Some of it was actually filmed in Salem. Although the bulk of filming occurred on sound stages and movie lots in California, a significant amount of the outdoor footage was shot on location in Salem, MA, the real town where the story takes place in.

The scenes from the 1600s depicting the history that led up to the trouble the modern kids find themselves in were shot in Pioneer Village, a historical site in Salem. The high school in the film Jacob Bailey High was actually Philips Elementary School. The 1870s Victorian home the Dennison family lived in is on Ocean Avenue in Salem. The Halloween party in the film takes place in the “Old Town Hall” — the Salem Museum on Derby Square. And the beautiful white house that belongs to Allison’s family is the Ropes Mansion in Salem’s McIntyre Historic District.

Conclusion by Allyssa Gaines

This film may be one of Disney’s best creations.

There are other great Halloween classic films, but there is something so fun and nostalgic about Hocus Pocus that still holds up 30 years later.

Every Halloween season, I look forward to going to Spirit Halloween and seeing all of the Hocus Pocus decorations and apparel.

I won’t lie to you; I was aboard the “hate train” for this movie a few years back, complaining about how “overrated” it is. But overrated or not, this movie has brought so much joy to thousands of Halloween fans for 30 years.  I’ve come around to see just how fun this movie is (and yes, I 100% will watch it at least once this Halloween season).

If you have never given this movie much of a chance, consider doing so this Halloween season. And if you have kids, if you think they’re old enough, show them this family-fun movie.

Even if you have seen this film a hundred times, you should absolutely get the family together for a movie night in honor of this film’s 30-year anniversary!

Hocus Pocus is available to stream on Disney+.

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