The black flame candle is lit again, and the witches have returned. The Sanderson Sisters — Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy), and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) — have been gone ever since Max, Allison, Emily, and Thackery Binx defeated them in 1993’s Hocus Pocus, and now, the witches are back. Hocus Pocus 2 debuted exclusively on Disney+ September 30, and it’s already become the streaming service’s biggest movie debut in the U.S. to date. Directed by Anne Fletcher with a fantastic script from Jen D’Angelo, and produced by Lynne Harris, Adam Shankman, Ralph Winter, and David Kirschner, the movie introduces audiences to new characters Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), and Gilbert (Sam Richardson) in addition to reuniting the three Sanderson sisters and benevolent zombie Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones).
Of course, there couldn’t be a sequel if the original movie hadn’t stood the test of time. Actor Kathy Najimy, who plays middle sister Mary Sanderson, said, “There was something in [the original] film, I think, where the [original] generation shows it to their kids, who shows it to their kids, who shows it to their kids. So it becomes part of the fabric of the history of the family.” Director Anne Fletcher agreed: “I think that's right. I think it is generational, and I think it's sort of perennial,” where it comes back year after year.
In moving on to the sequel, director Anne Fletcher sought to carry on the story of the Sanderson Sisters. “Well, the mission in general is the story and honoring the first movie, and making sure that I'm honoring these characters for the fans and bringing it into a new generation.” When it came to the music — an integral part of the original’s charm — she said she wanted to do something completely its own. “As I like to say, I didn't feel like I could compete with ‘I Put a Spell on You,’ for which Bette and Marc Shaiman did the arrangement and the lyrics. Can't compete with that, so I didn't try.” Instead, Fletcher shared, “We stayed really focused on trying to stay more towards the story, and we just had so many fun options of songs to choose from. Who doesn't want to see Bette Midler sing?”
Speaking of Bette Midler, it was such a dream for the actors to revisit these characters after all this time that Midler almost couldn’t believe it was actually happening. “I didn't until the day finally came. And then I realized, oh, we're really gonna do this,” she said. For Midler, this reunion was a long time coming. “I've been, I don't want to say agitating, but after I realized [the original movie] was a phenomenon, I started asking people, ‘Don't you think they would be interested in a sequel?’ This was a long time ago. This was like 15 years ago, something like that. So here we are.”
When it came to revisiting their characters, there were both the physical and psychological features to consider. For actor Doug Jones, who plays fan-favorite good zombie Billy Butcherson, that meant two hours a day in hair and makeup. “Prosthetic pieces are made ahead of time, so getting them on me is the last step,” he explained. As for any signs of aging showing, he joked to Bette Midler and Kathy Najimy: “I got to hide behind a layer of rubber… I don't know how you guys look so good!” Yet playing the role physically felt different this time around. “I was 32 when I played him the first time. I was 61 playing him the second time — big difference,” he said. “My first scene in the movie was stumbling up a staircase into a doorway. I was like, I don't remember it being this tiring before.” And yet, emotionally, Jones was able to easily key back into the character. “Billy came back. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, oh my gosh, two minutes have passed in the last 29 years. He came back right away, voice and everything. I don't know how that happened, but it was kind of magical.”
As for the Sanderson Sisters, not only were the individual sisters resurrected, but so was their complicated, dynamic, powerful relationship. In preparing to return to the characters, the three actors discussed the meaning of sisterhood, particularly to these iconic sisters. Midler shared, “We talked a lot about leaning on each other, counting on each other, and loyalty to each other.” It made her realize how unique and special these characters are — not only as women, but particularly as women from the 1600s. “Things have changed for women, but not fast enough. And I think these three characters are, in a strange and odd way, really quite positive for women,” she explained. “First of all, they're very funny, which women are not allowed to be. And they're intensely loyal to each other, even though their relationships are [complicated]. Their bond is very, very strong. In any situation where women are together, a bond of friendship and sisterhood is really, really important.” Kathy Najimy, who plays Mary Sanderson, continued, “And there's very little hesitance in our ideas and the things that we're going to do. We don't sit and say, ‘This is what we have to get done.’ We're gonna get it done, even if it's to eat children. Whatever it is that our mission is, there's not a lot of second-guessing, which I don't think you see a lot.” Midler agreed: ”We're a very decisive group, which also goes to show that women can be decisive.”
Reuniting the Sanderson Sisters with their iconic looks was a little more complicated. Sadly, enough time had passed that some of the original fabric had deteriorated. Director Anne Fletcher shared that the original costumes are “in a museum in Seattle, Washington, but they're in terrible shape so we had to start from scratch.” That left an opportunity to really mix things up, but “at the end of the day, Lynn [Harris, producer] and I had these conversations with Sal [vador Pérez Jr., costume designer] about staying true to the witches’ clothes and just giving it new material.” But there’s a deeper meaning to the clothing than at first glimpse. Fletcher explained, “The symbols on all three of the witches’ outfits, especially Bette's, mean something. It actually comes from, in the 1600s, that version of witchcraft which was tethered to the earth, the ocean, the stars, it's all tied together. It's all reflected in Winifred's cloak and in Mary's rings.” Hocus Pocus 2’s new characters, Becca, Izzy, and Cassie, also had meaning imbued into their costumes. “The three girls also have these symbols, as well as each witch's color stone in their matching necklace,” Fletcher shared.
Speaking of the newbies, there’s a reason why their costumes might reflect connections to the three Sanderson sisters. Whitney Peak, who plays Becca, said, “I think there is just an interesting parallel of the older witches… [Becca] has a core friend group and no matter what happens, she eventually gets to reunite and put their differences aside, and makes sure that she has her sisters behind her the entire time.” When Belissa Escobedo spoke about her character, Izzy, she said, “I just admire that she has this blind loyalty to these girls, will do anything for them, no questions asked, totally would go against three evil witches for [them].” And the way Kathy Najimy described Izzy — “But you also have a lot of self-assuredness too. It wasn't like you were just a lackey. You were actually very focused.” — director Anne Fletcher noted, “Kathy, that’s sort of Mary-like, right?” At the same time, the characters are very much modern-day teenagers. Lilia Buckingham, who plays Cassie, shared of their characters, “All of us are very real teenagers who go through teenage emotions that are very understated in the sense that they're very real. We have this love for each other and this friendship, but every teen knows what it's like to go through a rough patch with your friends, and to have your first boyfriend or girlfriend and then kind of figure it out.” On top of these relatable issues comes the return of the Sanderson Sisters.
The three new leads found out they were cast in the parts in a fun way. Peak explained, “Anne [Fletcher] and Lynn [Harris] tricked us. After two chemistry reads with the three of us, the last one Anne and Lynn basically asked us to improv,” with Fletcher adding, “I said scream like you're afraid of witches.” The three screamed. And then Fletcher and Harris asked, “But how would you scream if you found out that you got the part?” Peak said, “Is this a hypothetical? And then we all just started screaming.” But Fletcher noted that she had a special connection with Peak, who’d noticed she’d done her hair and makeup for this audition. Laughing, Fletcher said, “Whitney goes, I knew something was up because your hair and makeup were done.” Buckingham, for her part, continued screaming after the Zoom was over. “I literally, not to be dramatic, but I fell to my knees and was like, ‘Finally.’ I was supposed to be moving into college in two weeks, so it was a huge life change. But it was the best thing I could have asked for — I mean, I worked with legends and learned so much, and I made best friends along the way too. It was really everything I could have asked for out of that experience.”
Make sure to catch up with the Sanderson Sisters — as well as Becca, Izzy, and Cassie — and watch Hocus Pocus 2, now streaming exclusively on Disney+. And for more Disney+ news and updates, follow @DisneyPlus on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.