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Hocus Pocus: Blu-ray + DVD Review

Hocus Pocus (1993) movie poster Hocus Pocus

Theatrical Release: July 16, 1993 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Kenny Ortega / Writers: Mick Garris (story & screenplay), Neil Cuthbert (screenplay), David Kirschner (story)

Cast: Bette Midler (Winifred "Winnie" Sanderson), Sarah Jessica Parker (Sarah Sanderson), Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Omri Katz (Max Dennison), Thora Birch (Dani Dennison ), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Charles Rocket (Dave Dennison), Stephanie Faracy (Jenny Dennison), Sean Murray (Thackery Binx), Kathleen Freeman (Miss Olin), Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson), Jason Marsden (voice of Thackery Binx), Amanda Shepherd (Emily Binx), Larry Bagby III (Ernie "Ice"), Tobias Jelinek (Jay), Karyn Malchus (Headless Billy Butcherson), Steve Voboril (Elijah), Norbert Weisser (Thackery's Father), Garry Marshall (Devil - uncredited), Penny Marshall (Devil's Wife - uncredited)

Buy Hocus Pocus from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD DVD Instant Video VHS

The path to becoming a classic Christmas movie is a paved and direct one. A clerical error puts you in the public domain (It's a Wonderful Life). A cable network decides to air you 24 consecutive hours each year (A Christmas Story). Even bad movies adapted from beloved children's books (The Polar Express, the live-action The Grinch) have fooled large portions of the public into treating them like cinematic gold.
Movies dealing with other holidays are much smaller in number and yet they don't necessarily have it as easy. Sure, every November, someone writes an article recommending Thanksgiving movies. And every spring, you'll find a store shelf decorated with pastel DVD covers. But there is not the same tradition associated with watching feature films involving those holidays.

If ABC Family is to be believed, then Halloween is the only other holiday season that can and should be observed with copious amounts of thematic viewing. Even so, the cable network only runs "13 Nights of Halloween", barely half of their more heavily promoted "25 Days of Christmas" slate. And whereas there is no shortage of yuletide flicks to air, even when the definition is stretched to fit mere modern family blockbusters like The Incredibles and Harry Potter movies, most of what comprises the Halloween block is merely spooky in some way (e.g. Beetlejuice, Corpse Bride, Scooby-Doo).

Who can blame ABC Family for that? After all, very few feature films have dealt with Halloween. There's John Carpenter's Halloween, of course. And then, uh...The Nightmare Before Christmas. And, I guess all those Halloween sequels. Plus, everyone loves E.T..

Last fall, another genuine Halloween movie earned ABC Family its most-watched telecast in the thirteen-year history of "13 Nights of Halloween": Hocus Pocus. This 1993 Disney movie drew record numbers in total viewers, adults 18-34, and adults 18-49 in its Saturday night airing.

If Hocus Pocus has become a new holiday tradition for a generation, it has done so entirely on its own. The movie was never designed for such status. Heck, it opened in theaters in the middle of July. If Disney wanted a 1993 movie to be revisited on an annual basis, it was Nightmare Before Christmas, which opened in theaters two weeks before the holiday and has since received five theatrical rereleases, some of them quite substantial 3D engagements.

Hocus Pocus was released to DVD unseasonably in June 2002 and then like most of Disney's live-action catalog, forgotten by the studio. Fans clamored for a new and improved edition. Searches reveal at least three online petitions. Calls were placed. E-mails were sent. But Disney did not act on them. They didn't need to for that old, barebones, letterboxed DVD to crack Amazon's Top 100 Sellers chart each and every October. This year, however, (and if you're reading this in the distant future, I'm referring to 2012), Disney has begun opening its vast library for some catalog Blu-ray releases. The studio's output on the first Tuesday of August seems distinctly tailored to those looking for Halloween frights: Arachnophobia, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Cold Creek Manor. But it's Hocus Pocus that's really exciting people and it alone that's treated to a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack.

The Sanderson sisters/witches -- Mary (Kathy Najimy), Winnie (Bette Midler), and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) -- attack in the prologue set in 1693.

The film spends its first twelve minutes in the late 1600s. In Salem, Massachusetts, three old sister witches -- Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary Sanderson (Kathy Najimy) -- plot to be restored to youth with the help of a magic potion and abducted young girl Emily Binx (Amanda Shepherd). The Sandersons snatch the life out of the girl and are youthened some. Her older brother Thackery (Sean Murray), however, puts up a fight and is cursed to remain alive in the form of a black cat (who later speaks in the voice of Jason Marsden). The witches are punished for their crime, swiftly hanged by the people, and we are taken to a classroom at Jacob Bailey High School in the present day (1993, that is), where this local legend is being retold.

Max Dennison (Omri Katz), who moved from Los Angeles just a week earlier, is skeptical about the tale and that the Sanderson witches could return to haunt Salem's children. Nonetheless, forced to go trick-or-treating with his younger sister Dani (Thora Birch), Max winds up at the house of cute classmate Allison (Vinessa Shaw), who agrees to abandon her family's lavish costume party to show the Dennisons the Sanderson estate which her family used to curate in museum form.

At the dusty old house, cool guy Max decides to light the black flame candle. Being that it is a Halloween night with a full moon and that Max is a virgin, the act has immediate consequences, as the Sanderson sisters resurface per legend. The witches are eager to pick up where they left off and they plan to whisk away enough children to grant them immortality well beyond sunrise.

Allison (Vinessa Shaw), Dani (Thora Birch), Max (Omri Katz), and Thackery Binx get a scare when Billy Butcherson emerges from his grave with his mouth stitched shut.

I've seen Hocus Pocus a number of times and I always want to like it more than I do. A 1990s Disney movie centered on a holiday should be right up my alley, but as with Nightmare Before Christmas, I'm never left as enchanted as many claim to be. Fans of Hocus Pocus aren't as loud, proud, and numerous as those of Nightmare and I can understand their appreciation much more easily than those dazzled by Tim Burton's dark, nasty stop-motion musical fantasy.

My favorite parts of Hocus Pocus involve the young modern-day heroes. A contemporary suburban Halloween yields great atmosphere and early indications are that this film will be overflowing with it.
With his tie-dyed t-shirt, Max is established as a California kid, and nicknamed "Hollywood" by a pair of bullies (one who has the word "ICE" shaved into his hair). This is the kind of movie I want to see, one that would feel at home with an Amblin Entertainment logo attached to it. These community sequences have the feel of a Spielberg production, like a Goonies or Gremlins. The latter is also summoned by the presence of Omri Katz, who came to this fresh off of two Joe Dante projects, "Eerie Indiana" and Matinee.

But we're pulled away from this world of siblings, crushes, and sneaker-stealing hooligans and given more of an action fantasy driven by the witches. I'm not so crazy about them. The three top-billed actresses play their roles completely over the top, with pre-title Midler especially hogging the spotlight and hamming it up with her buck teeth and goofy voice.

Midler was just a few years removed from being one of Disney's biggest movie stars. She had just recently made her first film for another studio in nine years (For the Boys). Before that, she had made seven films for Disney's Touchstone Pictures (plus one of the studio's signature animated classics), including a number of hit adult comedies (among them, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Ruthless People, and Outrageous Fortune). So, it was understandable for Disney to cast her, along with young TV veteran turned blossoming adult movie star Parker and, fresh off Touchstone hit Sister Act, Najimy. But they just don't make Hocus Pocus the movie I feel it ought to be. The antagonists fall into an area where villains never should, where they're neither sufficiently funny nor genuinely menacing. You don't hate them as much as dislike them and spending time with them, even in the most inspired of fish out of water gags, is never that much of a joy.

Still, I do like Hocus Pocus. It captures the magic of a childhood Halloween as well as just about any movie. And, believe it or not, it's a lot more daring than modern family films. I don't think you'll find many Disney movies these days talking about "yabbos" or belaboring a teenager's virginity. Such touches, like a mother dressing up as Madonna complete with cone bra, give Hocus Pocus its nostalgia-fueling appeal. It's not a great film and much of the plot and action are kind of tedious. But it's all in good fun, like a much more polished and cinematic version of "Goosebumps" or "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." Apart from Halloween and maybe Monster House, you won't really find a better movie set extensively on October 31st.

Hocus Pocus Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Non-Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Blu-ray-only: French, Spanish, Portuguese
DVD Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $26.50
Two single-sided discs (BD-50 & DVD-5)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Still available as standalone DVD ($14.99 SRP; June 4, 2002) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released on VHS (September 9, 1994)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Hocus Pocus takes a huge leap from using some of DVD's resolution to nearly all of Blu-ray's available pixels. The results are very good and they'll seem even better for those coming to this familiar with the film's letterboxed 10-year-old DVD. The element is clean throughout. This is kind of a dark movie and some scenes feel a little too dark. Sharpness and detail aren't on par with today's new films, but they feel about right for a film of this age. Could this have looked a little better? Probably. But based on the studio's spotty recent catalog BDs, it also could have looked a lot worse.
This is probably not the kind of presentation that people will be lamenting in a few years or even a decade from now.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix can also be deemed satisfactory. There is a good deal of range to the soundtrack, enough to potentially require some volume level adjustment. A couple of musical numbers breathe life into the proceedings and other times the active score spreads out to engulf. Two dubs and four subtitle streams, including unadvertised Portuguese, are offered, far exceeding the DVD's lone soundtrack and English SDH subs.

Astonishingly, the DVD included in this set is the exact same one released in 2002, decade-old file dates and all. That means standard definition still gets a non-anamorphic widescreen presentation of the film, which was unacceptable back then and is unfathomable now. Disney has recently annoyed me by authoring lame diluted new DVDs to include in combo packs of catalog titles' Blu-rays, like this week's Pocahontas, The Rescuers, and The Tigger Movie. In this case, though, though, Disney could not have done any worse than a subpar barebones, letterboxed DVD. But they could have done better, by taking advantage of the new hi-def master to strike a respectable 16:9-enhanced DVD. That they didn't is a bit mind-boggling and lessens the value of this set while adding $6.50 to the list price and at least $3 to your total cost.

The Blu-ray's menu looks a lot like the cover art of every one of the movie's American home video releases. The recycled DVD's main menu looks old and unofficial.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Sadly, though Hocus Pocus has surely been one of Disney's most-requested rerelease subjects and one of the studio's strongest catalog sellers, Disney hasn't deemed the film worthy of bonus features. Like the DVD, the Blu-ray contains no special features whatsoever, not even something as simple as the original theatrical trailer. Not the classic Disney animated short Trick or Treat starring Donald Duck and his triplet nephews. And certainly not this super relevant 1994 episode of The Discovery Channel's "Movie Magic":

The Blu-ray opens with trailers for Frankenweenie and Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3. The menu's Sneak Peeks listing repeats those two, then plays a Pinocchio anti-smoking ad plus promos for Disney Movie Rewards, "Austin & Ally", Disney Parks, Secret of the Wings, and Planes.

The two discs claim opposite sides of a side-snapped, unslipcovered Blu-ray case, a Disney Movie Rewards booklet topping the gray DVD (which is a superficial downgrade from the full-color disc art it originally had).

The Blu-ray's menu loops an excerpt of score over a simple reworking of the barely revised cover art. The DVD's old silent selection screens make use of assorted witch stills.

Max (Omri Katz) and Dani Dennison (Thora Birch) are impressed by the festively decorated house where Allison's family is hosting a Halloween party. Winifred Sanderson (Bette Midler) fits right in at the costumed adult dance at Salem's Town Hall.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Hocus Pocus doesn't do as much for me as it does for its biggest fans, but I'd certainly place it among the better half of 1990s family comedies.
Much of its charm stems from it simply observing Halloween in a wholehearted way that few other movies do, but it is a pleasant enough adventure for you to revisit the occasional autumn.

Disney's Blu-ray is a missed opportunity to dig up bonus features, reunite the grown-up cast, and master an improved DVD. Given the film's enduring popularity, that is all more than a little disappointing. If you're not Blu-ray-ready and already own the movie on DVD, this combo pack has zero current value for you. If you are equipped for Blu-ray and appreciate the film, then you'll want to buy it (again, if need be) for the much-improved presentation. But the disc will set you back more than it should for what it delivers.

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The Cast and Crew of Hocus Pocus:
Thora Birch: All I Want for Christmas | Bette Midler: Oliver & Company Beaches Then She Found Me | Vinessa Shaw: Eyes Wide Shut
Sarah Jessica Parker: Flight of the Navigator Footloose Did You Hear About the Morgans? Smart People Sex and the City I Don't Know How She Does It
Directed by Kenny Ortega: High School Musical High School Musical 2 High School Musical 3: Senior Year The Cheetah Girls 2

Hocus Pocus Songs List: "Sabre Dance", Joe Malone - "Witchcraft", Joe Malone - "I Put a Spell on You", Bette Midler - "I Put a Spell on You", Sarah Jessica Parker - "Sarah's Theme"

Buy the Hocus Pocus Original Soundtrack CD at Amazon.com

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Reviewed August 24, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1993 Walt Disney Pictures and 2002-2012 Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
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