When it was released in theaters in 1993, Disney’s ‘Hocus Pocus’ was a box office flop. But in the 25 years since, it has become, as Entertainment Weekly put it, “Halloween’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Life'” with constant rotation on TV every October. In celebration of the milestone, Freeform– which shows ‘Hocus Pocus’ repeatedly– aired the special ‘Hocus Pocus 25th Anniversary Halloween Bash’ with the cast and director Kenny Ortega looking back at the creation of the film and its enduring appeal.
As Bette Midler, who played the lead witch, Winifred Sanderson, recalled, she agreed to do the film immediately upon reading the script:
“I read the script of ‘Hocus Pocus’ and I was very intrigued by it because it was an opportunity to do things that I really loved to do, which is play physical comedy and be more than a little broad.”
However, Sarah Jessica Parker, who portrayed the youngest sister, Sarah Sanderson, was taken aback by how dark the storyline was.
“I guess what I remember most is how awful we were as characters. I was surprised that the goal was to get a child and basically destroy them, but because it was done in a really heightened, ridiculous way, it was a lot of fun.”
The effect of the sisters flying was accomplished completely with practical effects, with the stars strung up in harnesses with wires. None of them seemed to feel uncomfortable performing this way. Midler called the experience “one of the greatest joys I’ve ever experienced as an actor… It’s joyful, it’s also a dance, and there’s a lot of trying to be graceful while not being sure you weren’t going to be turned upside down.” Kathy Najimi, a.k.a. Mary Sanderson added, “We would just be hanging up there sometimes for hours until they would swoop us and the faster the better, I absolutely loved it,” while Parker gushed, “I’m going to go out on a broom, and say I enjoyed it more than anybody.”
Director Kenny Ortega, who went on to work with Disney on their ultra-successful ‘High School Musical’ and ‘Descendents‘ franchises, lamented the initial disappointment that came when ‘Hocus Pocus’ first debuted and flopped.
“For a moment in time, I was heartbroken and disappointed. People have just found it and found the treasure that is there with Kathy and Bette and Sarah; their wonderful, incredible chemistry and good humor. It’s just a fun movie that just takes you away and there’s just magic there.”
Finally, Parker admitted, “I don’t think any of us who were making it at the time thought ‘Hocus Pocus’ would have such a long life. People tell me all the time they grew up watching it, and that they still watch it. I think it’s wonderful.”
In 2016, Tina Fey was reportedly working on a sequel/remake/reboot of the film, but there has been little news since then. Freeform is airing the original ‘Hocus Pocus’ all month.