Director Kenny Ortega's second big-budget misfire for Disney (the other being the musical "Newsies") that seems to have gained a second audience on video, "Hocus Pocus" opens with three witches (Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler and Kathy Najimy) planning to try and turn themselves younger. When they're found out, the townspeople of Salem hang them and turn one of the kids into a cat. 300 years later, the sisters are resurrected on Halloween - the cat is still around, too.
Max (Omri Katz), trying to impress Allison (Vinessa Shaw), conjures up the witches by accident and it's up to the two (as well as Max's younger sister - an early performance by Thora Birch, offering one of a couple of characters in the film that aren't annoying) to stop the three. Obnoxiousness and chase sequences ensue.
Aside from it's basic awfulness, "Hocus Pocus" is one of those instances that falls in-between target markets. It's probably far too scary for younger audiences and won't appeal to older children. The performances and screenplay remain the two biggest faults - once the sisters return, the movie essentially becomes one long and impossibly dull chase sequence. As for the witches, Parker and Najimy cackle shrilly in the background while Midler chews the scenery. Shaw is sweet and fairly likable, as is Birch, but Katz remains bland.
The film's duo of screenwriters fail to come up with anything particularly funny; although the witches have a few little comments to one another about the new world once they return that are slightly amusing, the film passes by with very little successful humor. The funniest performances aren't from any of the leads, they're actually a couple of cameos from Gary and Penny Marshall. The film's technical credits are one of the few positives, as the sets - while not stunning - are at least above average. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the rest of the movie - while it's gained a cult following over the years, I still find it a pretty dull Halloween picture.
VIDEO: Buena Vista's latest batch of catalog titles has offered a mixed batch of various presentations, from titles that were disapointingly pan & scan ("Scarlet Letter") to titles that were pan & scan and not listed as such ("Krippendorf's Tribe"), to worn looking anamorphic widescreen presentations ("V.I. Warshawski") to crisp and fresh anamorphic widescreen offerings ("Mr. Wrong"). "Hocus Pocus", a title whose DVD release has been delayed for months, is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but isn't 16x9 enhanced. That said, the picture quality looks halfway decent for a non-anamorphic release.
There weren't that many problems with the image quality. Aside from a few little specks on the print used, the were no instances of wear. A couple of minor traces of pixelation and edge enhancement were noticed, but didn't become much of a concern. Colors were nicely rendered, looking well-saturated and not smeared. A decent presentation.
SOUND: "Hocus Pocus" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. If memory serves me correctly, director Ortega's "Newsies" was one of the first films to be presented theatrically in Dolby Digital 5.1. This 1993 film does offer a fair amount of surround use, but the majority of the movie is a dialogue-driven comedy. Surrounds are employed for some decent effects as the witches zip into the room as well as John Debney's score, but otherwise they remain silent or offer some very subtle ambience. Audio quality is generally quite pleasing as sound effects, music and dialogue remain clear. While not too remarkable an audio experience, it's a pretty respectable effort.
MENUS: Basic menus with no animation or other touches.
Final Thoughts: "Hocus Pocus" seems to have a considerable group of fans and those who enjoy the movie should consider picking up this DVD, which doesn't offer much in the way of supplements, but does offer a fairly good presentation for a decent price.
The Film * 1/2