Its a debate that spans twenty plus years: which is better, Hocus Pocus or Halloweentown. While they are both campy 90s movies that are basically good in their own crappiness, Hocus Pocus is a clear winner here.
Or is it….
What's in this review
Hocus Pocus Plot
In 1693, the people of Salem caught the Sanderson sisters sucking the life or soul ( or essence? or force?) out of Emily Binx. Her brother, Thackery (yes, Thackery, not Zachery), fails to stop them from killing his sister and spends 300 years pining for her. The Sanderson sisters cast a curse on him, and he has to live forever as a black cat… where he somehow manages to learn to talk, find a new life purpose, and keep up on pop culture norms in his spare time. (“When I knew some airhead virgin would light the candle.”)
Flash forward 300 years. New comers to Salem, Max Dennison and his sister, Dani, go out trick or treating. In the process, Max proves he’d do anything for a little ass, and goes to light the black flame candle to impress his classmate. It quickly becomes apparently why he’s so desperate to get with Alison.
When the Sanderson sisters show up, there’s no doubt he’s a virgin.
And 90’s kid everywhere got first hand knowledge of why being a virgin is “bad.” You can summon some serious shit if you’re “pure.”
Hilarity and awkwardness ensues as Thackery, Max, Danni, and Alison desperately try to escape the sisters… and harass Max about his virginity. Seriously, you’d be plastered if you took a shot every time they mention virgin.
It’s Halloween night and all the normies (that’s what I call the normal kids) are out trick or treating. Poor Marnie Piper in all her stereotyped 90s angst is stuck at home with her equally 90’s stereotyped nerdy brother and, you guessed it, 90’s stereotyped plucky little sister.
Why are they home? That’s right. Their mother with secrets to hide is doing what she thinks is right for her kids by forbidding trick or treating.
Here’s where I got confused. Does trick or treating somehow ignite the witch in a little girl? Will she not be able to hide it if she goes trick or treating? Seems odd. You’d think it would be hard to hide if, I don’t know, the kids go to school and have a floating cookie incident like the young one has.
Things take a strange turn when their grandmother arrives in town riding in a floating bus. Turns out, Marnie is a witch.
Anyway, angsty Marnie, her nerdy brother, and plucky sister hitch a ride on the floating school bus to Halloweentown. This is no ordinary town. All the town’s people are all Furries dressed in the best costumes Party City has to offer.
Marnie and her siblings quickly find their grandmother where they find out all is not well. She has uncovered a hidden evil that threatens all the Furries of Halloweentown.
Will the Furries be able to live in peace? Can Marnie save them all from becoming victims of the evil force threatening both their town and the real world? Will you cringe at the “special effects?” Oh god, there bad. They’re very very bad.
Which is better: Hocus Pocus or Halloweentown?
It’s probably hard to say exactly which is actually better, though there is a clear winner here. So let’s go through a breakdown of key elements to determine which movie actually is the better 90s era Halloween movie: Hocus Pocus or Halloweentown.
1. The non-main antagonists
Both Halloweentown and Hocus Pocus have non-main antagonists. They are the characters that just want to, you know, antagonize the main characters on their journeys. And in proper 90s style, the main characters need to eventually best them or make them see the light to correct their wrong doing hearts. Here’s the breakdown of each movie’s non-main antagonists.
Hocus Pocus – Jay and Ernie (aka Ice)
Jay and Ernie aka “Ice” first meet Max on his way home from school on his first day. In classic 90’s style – which was also the last decade family movies could get away with just about anything – they ask him for smokes. Then cash. Then his new cross trainers.
You next see Max riding home in his socks because Ice is clearly a threat.
We next meet Jay and Ice while Max is trick or treating with Dani. They have formed a toll bridge asking for candy. Dani, hell bent on getting her brother beaten the shit out of, mouths off to the pair, and Max backs down from a fight handing them all his candy.
This interaction prompts a heartwarming moment with his sister where we find out why Max is out of sorts. Max sad!
Jay and Ice appear again when the Sanderson sisters catch a whiff of Max’s shoes on Ice. They call the sisters “ugly” and promptly get captured. In another classic 90’s move of sticking it to the bad guy, Max has a chance to save Jay and Ice, but instead leaves them to basically die while making sure to retrieve his shoes
That’s some messed up shit right there. What if the Sanderson sisters decided to kill one of them first, brew more potion, and so on?
Halloweentown – Luke
Ah Luke, the hottie bad guy with a heart of gold. He’s a jerk to Marnie’s grandmother when Marnie first arrives because he’s in league with the main villain. He also totally has a crush on Marnie. OOH! Don’t say anything to her!
But in real Halloweentown life (what the fuck am I writing here?) he’s an ugly goblin. Here’s where the movie asks those tough, 90s questions, like “How could Marnie possibly like me if I’m so ugly?” Yeah, the moral ends up being it’s who you are on the inside that matters, and we eventually see Luke really was a good guy after all.
What we don’t see is why. What made him change his tune? I really don’t understand what caused him to discover that he really should be helpful to Marnie. Oh that’s right, the crush. Seems like a lot of guys in this movie are motivated by sexual desire.
The Winner: Hocus Pocus
Who can forget the moment that Jay introduces Ernie as “Ice?” Also, they made for more memorable bad guys than Luke who only come to respect Max when he could save them. They had clear motive to change their ways in the end. And Max totally left them to die which is both terrifying and funny.
2. The main villain(s)
Up next in the contest between Hocus Pocus or Halloweentown, we have the villains: the Sanderson Sisters vs Kalabar. Not sure this is really a fair contest, but here we go.
Hocus Pocus – The Sanderson Sisters
The Sanderson Sisters (Sarah, Mary, and Winifred) really bring life to the movie. Without them, it is hard to say if Hocus Pocus would be a classic family Halloween movie.
You have Sarah Jessica Parker looking her best (ever?) as a witch. The talented Kathy Najimy as a bumbling moron. And then there is Bette Midler as the self-absorbed leader of the pack that ends up costing them all their lives in the end.
They were interesting to watch with clear, simple motives. They wanted children so they could suck out their life force and live forever. Simple. Done.
Together they breathe a life into a hokey movie that really should have died a burning death at the box office. With their help, it’s actually a movie worth writing about and making a sequel to nearly 30 years later.
Halloweentown – Kalabar
I just watched the first Halloweentown and had to look up the villain’s name. Literally writing a post on the movie and couldn’t remember the villain’s freaking name. Really has lasting power I guess.
Its not that the movie didn’t try. I would give it a participation trophy or a gold star for effort. They tried hard to make the mayor, who of course is really Kalabar, seem like a good guy so they could pull a fast one on the audience. But yeah, pretty sure my five year old saw that shit coming.
And his motive? He got burned by Marnie’s mom years ago so it turned him into a maniacal warlord set on taking over all of Halloweentown and the normie world. Given Marnie’s age, that had to have been at least 14 or 15 years ago. What the hell took him so long to start enacting his evil plot? If he was so powerful, why not just force all of the Furries in Halloweentown to do his biding right away and go wreak havoc on the life of the girl who “wronged” him?
See kids? This is what happens when we don’t validate that men have feelings and allow them to talk about them with others. They become crazy from their suppressed emotions and try to take over the world. The true moral of the story is we should validate men’s mental health needs and help them find healthy outlets.
The Winner: Hocus Pocus
Kalabar was just not pulling me into the story, but just about any time I watch Hocus Pocus, the witches are entertaining. They also make sense, as much as witches in this sense can.
3. The protagonists
Both movies featured three youths trying to fight against a supernatural evil threatening their lives. But even the fact that the Piper’s all had untapped magical powers couldn’t really save them.
Hocus Pocus – Max, Alison, and Dani (and Binx)
Two virgins and a “virgin” walk into a creepy old house… pretty much sounds like some crappy joke. And arguably it sort of was.
You’ve got Dani who’s pretty obsessed with the fact her brother’s a virgin…
“A VIRGIN lit the candle.”
“And he’s a VIRGIN.”
Seriously, what the hell did they teach this kid?
Then there’s horn dog Max. The whole movie happens because he’s lusting after Allison and wants to impress her.
And Allison has her secrets too. Notice she rolls her eyes and declines to light the candle? A lot of speculation there about her “virginity.” A lot.
Fun Fact: The word "virgin" is used 9 times throughout Hocus Pocus
Finally, there’s creepily obsessed with his sister, Thackery Binx. After 300 years, the only girl he is thinking about is his sister and how “precious” she is.
Didn’t Binx know any young maidens in Salem that maybe would have moved on after his disappearance, loved another, and died not that long after his sister? Doesn’t he have anyone else to pine for? I’m not saying incest here, but I’m also not ruling it out.
And let’s not forget, if it wasn’t for Binx, the kids would never have known just how bad a threat the Sanderson Sisters really were. As Binx said, their threat level was:
Unhuh… thanks for clarifying?
Halloweentown – Marnie… Dylan… and Sophie. The Piper siblings. (Work?)
The Piper kids are comical in many ways.
You have Marnie, the middle child, who is about to lose her witch powers because, you know, reasons. Something to do with turning 13 or living through 13 Halloweens. I don’t know, shit didn’t make sense.
Anyway, she’s full of angst and fighting the good fight to trick or treat like a normie. Well, she loses the fight with her mother and then follows her grandmother to Halloweentown on a floating school bus where she discovers all the women in her family are a bunch of basic witches.
She’s now caught up in the idea of being a witch, and of course her mom shows up just in time to spoil her dreams and bring her home. This doesn’t last long because Kalabar captures her mother and grandmother. So yeah, now it’s up to Marnie and her dorky brother and little sister to save them, the town, and the human world from a maniac.
Dylan is basically every 90s stereotyped dork placed into one character. He’s book smart. He is eager to correct others. And he really wants to go home and turn his sister in to their mother. But wouldn’t you know, in the end, he helps save the day.
Sophie in Halloweentown is like Peggy in Hamilton. Both seem like leftover thoughts. But unlike Hamilton where Peggy served a purpose, if only comic relief and ease of staging, I don’t think you really needed Sophie at all. I mean, maybe I’m wrong here, but her presence seemed pointless. Almost like the producers said something like, “oh, I know what the movie needs, an adorable little girl! Go!”
The Winner – Hocus Pocus
Yeah, it’s almost like I have a bias towards Hocus Pocus or something. Halloweentown really didn’t do it for me. Yeah, both sets of kids had arguably questionable, at best, acting. But the Hocus Pocus’ protagonists all had a purpose in driving the plot and added interest to the movie. The Halloweentown kids just sort of existed.
The overall winner – Hocus Pocus
If you actually read this post in its entirety, dear God, what’s wrong with you?
You will also note, I have given Hocus Pocus 3 out of 3 very arbitrary, biased points. None of these “points” really delve into any real cinematic qualities or themes beyond a very superficial level. That’s because, in the end, they are both horribly campy movies that you just have to appreciate for what they are. And chances are, you’ll like one better than the other or hate or like them both equally.
But rules of an imaginary, arbitrary lists are rules, and therefore, Hocus Pocus is the clear winner over Halloweentown. If you disagree, that’s fine. You’re wrong, but it’s fine.
Where can I watch Hocus Pocus?
If it isn’t October and Freeform or other Disney owned properties aren’t playing Hocus Pocus around the clock, you can stream it on Disney+. You should also be able to rent it through services like GooglePlay, Amazon, and so on.
And if you are really lucky, you might be able to find it on a shelf in the Halloween sections of stores like Target.
Where can I watch Halloweentown?
Did you read the “where can I watch Hocus Pocus” section? Of course not.
You can find this movie in the same spots as Hocus Pocus: cable TV during the month of October, Disney+, and other online rental sites like GooglePlay, For real fun, you can dumpster dive to the bottom of the 5 dollar bin at some Walmarts or other “fine” stores to find a DVD copy.
Is there a Hocus Pocus sequel?
Not yet, but apparently they are in pre-production for one. If rumors are true, they will release it with some of the original cast to Disney+. Will it be as good in its crappiness? Probably not, but we’ll see.
Will a Hocus Pocus or Halloweentown sequels duel be needed? Probably not, but it may just happen.
Are there sequels to Halloweentown?
Sadly, yes. They include Halloweentown II, Return to Halloweentown, and Halloweentown High. Watch them at your own risk. And don’t be shocked when actors change or fan favorites don’t appear in all the movies. Disney might have had some shit on Debbi Reynolds because she was in all four movies. What do you know Disney?
What age is appropriate for Hocus Pocus or Halloweentown?
I’m probably the wrong person to ask that. I’ve let my 3 year old watch both.
If you don’t mind your child being introduced to the word “virgin” then any age is fine. If that “offends” you, then wait until you are no longer offended by the concept of your child hearing the word.
Halloweentown is safe at just about any age as long as you don’t mind the fact the townies look a lot like discount store shopping Furries at a convention. If you don’t want to explain virgin to your kids, I’d love to hear you explain what “Furries” are…