'Hocus Pocus 2' on Disney+: Bette Midler reflects on Sanderson sisters being 'positive' for women

It’s been almost 30 years since Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy brought us the Sanderson sisters in Hocus Pocus and as we gear up for the sequel, Hocus Pocus 2 (on Disney+ Sept. 30), the original film’s stars are reflecting on how important these women have been in cultural history.

“There's so much going on in this world that we never really realized until maybe the last 25, 30 years, maybe 50 years, things have changed for women, but things have not changed fast enough for women,” Midler said at a press conference on Wednesday. “I think these three characters are really, in a strange and odd way, they're really quite positive for women.”

“First of all, they're very funny, which women are not allowed to be, are not supposed to be, and they're intensely loyal to each other... I think in a funny way, their bond is very, very strong. So in any situation where women are together, a bond of friendship and sisterhood is really, really important, and then this movie sort of shores it up.”

“There's very little [hesitance] in our ideas and the things that we're going to do,” Najimy added. “We're like, this is what we have to get done, we're going to get it done, even if it's, 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."

“We're a very decisive group, which also goes to show that women can be decisive,” Midler said.

(L-R): Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson in HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. (Photo by Matt Kennedy)
(L-R): Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, and Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson in HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. (Photo by Matt Kennedy)

What is 'Hocus Pocus 2' about?

Hocus Pocus 2 begins with an origin story, going back in time to when a young Winifred is banished from Salem on her 16th birthday and escapes, with her sisters Sarah and Mary, to the forbidden woods. That’s where they meet Ted Lasso star Hannah Waddingham’s character, The Witch Mother, who sets the trio on their path to become the witches we saw in the 1993 film.

Fast forward to present day, high school students Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) are preparing for their annual ritual where, on Becca’s birthday/Halloween, they go into the forbidden woods. This year, their friend Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) won’t be joining them, due to tensions that came up when Cassie got a boyfriend.

Sam Richardson plays Gilbert, who runs the Olde Salem Magic Shoppe, who tells the kids in the town the story of the Sanderson sisters, and the lore that if a virgin lights a Black Flame candle on Halloween with a full moon in the sky, the sisters will return. As you may expect (knowing that the original three characters are in the film), Winifred, Sarah and Mary Sanderson come back and they’re ready to steal the souls of children once again, but this time, there’s more history at play in their pursuits.

Hocus Pocus has become an absolute cultural phenomenon but it wasn’t a massive success when it was originally released. It’s important to note that because, with any sequel, particularly one that comes years later, it’s easy to look back at the original with rose-coloured glasses, in a way that makes it impossible to actually enjoy anything new.

One thing that’s certain in Hocus Pocus 2 is that the magic of the Sanderson sisters never died. Watching Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy is every bit as energetic and enticing as we want it to be, with several absolutely laugh out loud, hysterical moments.

Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson in HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. (Photo by Matt Kennedy)
Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson in HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. (Photo by Matt Kennedy)

Another interesting highlight is seeing Doug Jones take on the role of Billy Butcherson, once again.

“I was 32 when I played him the first time, I was 61 playing him the second time, big difference,” Jones said. “My first scene in the movie was stumbling up a staircase into a doorway, I'm like, I don't remember it being this tiring before.”

“When 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.”

Sam Richardson as Gilbert in Disney's live-action HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. (Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises)
Sam Richardson as Gilbert in Disney's live-action HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. (Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises)

Looking at the present-day portion of the film, Sam Richardson and Tony Hale (who plays the mayor and Cassie’s father), are comedic geniuses, while the trio of young women, Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo and Lilia Buckingham hold their own among the Sanderson sisters.

(L-R): Lilia Buckingham as Cassie, Whitney Peak as Becca, and Belissa Escobedo as Izzy in HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. (Photo by Matt Kennedy)
(L-R): Lilia Buckingham as Cassie, Whitney Peak as Becca, and Belissa Escobedo as Izzy in HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. (Photo by Matt Kennedy)

'A dream come true'

Reflecting on what made the original film so important and beloved by so many people, Kathy Najimy stressed that you never really know how a movie is going to impact an audience.

“I think you just make films and you go on to the next one, and however the audience receives it is always a surprise,” Najimy said. “So I think there was something in this film, I think, like Wizard of Oz-ish, where the generation shows it to their kids, and shows it to their kids, and shows it to their kids. So it becomes part of the fabric of the history of the family.”

(L-R): Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, and Tony Hale as Mayor Traske in HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. (Photo by Matt Kennedy)
(L-R): Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson, Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, and Tony Hale as Mayor Traske in HOCUS POCUS 2, exclusively on Disney+. (Photo by Matt Kennedy)

For Bette Midler, she said it’s “a dream come true” to be able to enter the world of Hocus Pocus again.

“This was kind of a dream come true, it really was,” Midler said. “After I realized it was actually a phenomenon, I started asking people around my age,...'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… I do love a franchise, I think I'm a little elderly for a franchise at this point. But I'll take what I can get.”