'Hocus Pocus' Is a Reminder of a Different Childhood—One I Hope to Share With My Kids

It’s not just nostalgia. Movies like Hocus Pocus—and the new sequel—are reminders of a different time, one that offered a more fun and relaxed parenting mandate. One many Gen X and Millennial parents wish for today.

Hocus Pocus 2 on Disney+
Photo: Disney+

If you look at the reviews of the 1993 Halloween hit Hocus Pocus–the one that's finally seeing a sequel, nearly 30 years later—they're decidedly terrible.

Gene Siskel (IYKYK) called it "dreadful."

His pal Roger Ebert: "Watching the movie is like attending a party you weren't invited to, and where you don't know anybody, and they're all in on a joke but won't explain it to you."

Entertainment Weekly's Ty Burr noted that "It's acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they're Bette Midler fans. In which case it's depressing as hell."

But to my siblings and I—and millions of other 90s kids like us—the film was a formative experience. When I was a kid, Halloween meant dressing up, trick-or-treating, and then settling in with our candy stash to watch (and rewatch!) Hocus Pocus.

The premise is simple—and genius. A ragtag team of three (decidedly white, upper middle class American) kids team up with a talking cat and zombie against the Sanderson Sisters, a trio of Salem witches who were burned at the stake centuries ago—but not before they set up a spell wherein they would be brought back to life (and have a chance to take over the world) if a particular magical candle was lit by a virgin on Halloween night.

The movie was a box office bomb, but over the course of years, decades, generations, has taken on the mantle of Gen X nostalgia class. And with good reason: there's comedy, there's music, there's teen angst and first kisses and bullies and amazing Halloween costumes. There's Sarah Jessica Parker (pre-Sex and the City), Kathy Najimy, and Bette Midler at her Broadway best.

And perhaps most importantly, there are the kids. Imbued—after a misstep in which, yes, a virgin lit the candle—with the power to save the world, all on their own, as the adults do their thing, oblivious.

But there's one real reason Gen X and Millennial parents like me—now in our 30s and 40s—continue our annual rewatch of Hocus Pocus, usually with our kids singing along beside us. There's a reason that no less than one Bette Middler committed to a sequel, nearly 30 years later.

Back in the day, you could feasibly be left to your own devices and told to take your kid sister trick-or-treating while hundreds of kids roamed the neighborhood adult-free and the parents were completely sloshed and overdressed partying in some warehouse downtown. We were latchkey kids and we knew how to fend for ourselves—even against a trio of powerful undead witches. Hey, it could have happened.

It's nostalgia, yes. Hocus Pocus is a movie that captures the zeitgeist of its time—like Goonies or Scooby Doo or Stand By Me or Now and Then. But the film also harkens back to a particular parenting mandate, one that didn't involve traipsing your kids from house to house yourself after working all day, providing three square meals, and planning a party for the neighborhood kids complete with candied apples and a sensory grape-eyeball scare fest. (Not that I've done that or anything.)

Today's mandate for parents is decidedly unsustainable. We're expected to work full-time jobs (and not "quiet quit," lest we end up "quiet fired"), find a fulfilling and creative side hustle, cater healthy and delicious meals (and organic snacks!) multiple times a day, be involved in our kids' school board and PTA, work with them to supplement their education, volunteer to read to the class or work the school garden, chauffeur them to extracurricular activities, and spend time actively "playing" with them so they feel loved and become well-rounded human beings. All that, while scrambling for child care, worrying about candy-colored fentanyl in trick-or-treat bags, and delving headlong into a potential recession—our third or fourth since we came of age and had to get real jobs.

Here's the thing: if I let my 12-year-old and 8-year-old traipse around the city in costume trick-or-treating solo—and not even battling singing witches bent on destroying all of humanity—I'd get some serious side eye from my fellow parents, and perhaps (as a brown woman especially) a visit from child services.

Which begs the question: How did we get here? Why can't we trust our kids to be just as inventive and capable as we were at that age?

Today's parenting mandate is just too much for parents. I—and millions of Hocus Pocus-focused parents like me—wish for those simpler, more balanced times, when we acknowledged that kids were smart, resourceful, and functional people, who could possibly manage to survive a night of trick-or-treating without parental supervision.

Alas: we do not live in those times. But like many generations before us, we can share the stories, and tonight my kids and I will be doing our annual Hocus Pocus movie night, watching the original and then the sequel, which premieres on Disney+ (and features kids of color this time!). We'll be settling in contentedly to see if the Sanderson sisters can still be bested by a squad of local kids. Presuming, of course, that a virgin lights the candle.

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