Just a Case of Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus

Today we’re kicking off our month of Disney Halloween movies with the live-action classic: Hocus Pocus!

  • Now, before we start talking about Halloween movies, let’s talk about what Halloween is and where it came from
    • There is a scene very early in Hocus Pocus where Allison schools Max on the origin of the holiday, after he says that it was a conspiracy made up by the candy companies.
    • There is no doubt that Halloween has been commercialized, but it didn’t start out that way. Halloween started with the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain, which is the Irish word for November. The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1st. This meant the beginning of winter, a time associated with death and loss. Because October 31st was the last night before the new year, they believed that the border between the living world and the world of the dead would weaken and that souls could pass through.
    • Allison tells Max that Halloween came from All Hallows Eve, but the incorporation of this name came much later when Pope Gregory III moved the feast for all martyrs and saints to November 1st. All Saints Day is also known as All Hallows, hence October 31st having the name Halloween from All Hallows Eve.


The history of the Salem Witch Trials

  • Another important topic that we should touch on is the Salem witch trials. In 1692, a group of young girls in Salem Village Massachusetts claimed to be possessed by the devil and several local women became accused of performing witchcraft. A special court convened to hear the cases, and consequently 19 people were hanged, 7 people died in jail, and one elderly man was pressed to death by stones. As the months went on, about 150 men, women, and children were accused of witchcraft.
  • The opening sequence of Hocus Pocus takes place in 1693. According to History.com, the public hysteria of the Salem witch trials began to fade by the fall of 1692, one year earlier than the film.


The Story of Hocus Pocus

  • Producer David Kirschner revealed that the story for Hocus Pocus started as a bedtime story for his two daughters. Kirschner wrote the story and submitted it to Muppet Magazine. The story was well-received, so Kirschner submitted it to Disney.
    • He added some personal details from his childhood, naming the cat Binx, after his own cat Inks
    • When he and Mick Garis pitched the story to Disney, they made a big production by spelling out October 31st in candy corn on the conference table
  • Disney called in Kenny Ortega, who had been offered the chance to direct Newsies (1992) and asked him to direct Hocus Pocus as well.
  • Originally the film was called “Disney’s Halloween House”


  • Three-hundred years ago in Salem, the Sanderson Sisters would stay young by sucking the lives out of children in the town. When they go after Elizabeth Binx, her older brother Thackery fails to stop them. Just before the witches are hanged, they cast a spell that will bring them back in 300 years, when a virgin will light their black flamed candle.
  • In present day Salem (1993) Max, a skeptical teenage boy lights the candle to prove that there is no such thing as witches. To his surprise, he resurrects the evil sisters and must keep them from killing all the children of Salem before the sun rises on November 1st.


  • Bette Midler plays the lead witch and oldest sister, Winnifred Sanderson.
    • To help Midler with her dialogue, she had people read to her from dictionaries containing old curse words. She would use these insults in the film when yelling at her “thundering oafs” masquerading as sisters
    • Earlier this year, we did an episode about movie musicals and referenced Bette Midler’s role in “Gypsy.” Well, she referenced the role in Hocus Pocus as she takes the stage to sing “I Put a Spell on You.” She declares, “My name is Winnifred, what’s yours?” In Gypsy she said, “Hello everybody, my name is Rose, what’s yours?”
    • Bette Midler reportedly loved playing Winnifred and said she would play her forever if she could. But, she didn’t love the flying rigs, and thought they were painful on her back.
  • Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson
    • Kathy Najimy had recently found fame for her role in Sister Act alongside Whoopi Goldburg when she played Mary Sanderson
    • The role of Mary was offered to Rosie O’Donnell who ended up turning it down
    • She took inspiration from a bloodhound, and that is why her character “sniffs out” children in the film
  • Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson
    • Sarah Jessica did her own singing for the role! She was incredibly nervous to sing around Bette Midler, and they even had the same singing coach!
    • Sarah Jessica also tried out a lot of different voices for her role, attempting to sound sultry but also unintelligent. We think she nailed it.
    • She stated in an interview that she believes that Sarah is the most evil of the sisters, as she naturally loves to torture and harm others while the other sisters learned their evil over time
  • Omri Katz as Max Dennison
    • The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio, who was a rising star in 1993. He turned the role down and it went to Omri Katz
    • Katz was 17 when he played the role, and had starred in the TV show Eerie, Indiana. He has since retired from acting
  • Vinessa Shaw as Allison
    • Shaw was the same age as Katz while filming the movie, and she said that they had a great time on set. Her favorite memory was that the kids from home improvement were on the same lot and they would all spend time together
  • Thora Birch as Dani Dennison
    • Thora Birch was 10 when she was cast as Dani, and Kenny Ortega still considers her to be one of the most intuitive young actresses he’s worked with
    • She later revealed that she had a very hard time with the multiple black cats that played Binx on set. Even though her character loved Binx, training cats is incredibly difficult and they never quite knew what would come out of a scene with the cats.
    • Birch also admits she had a crush on Sean Murray who played the human version of Binx. I mean, didn’t everyone?
  • Sean Murray and Jason Marden as Thackery Binx
    • Sean Murray played the human version of the beloved cat Binx in the opening and closing scenes of the film. When Binx was a cat, he was voiced by prominent voice actor and 90s sitcom regular Jason Marsden. Later on, filmmakers even dubbed Marsden’s voice over Murray’s in the human sequences so his voice sounded the same the entire time
    • Sean Murray is known for NCIS
    • The cat was played by real-life cats but also some animatronic cats, with a little bit of CGI
  • Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson
    • Doug Jones is a well-respected character actor who plays the zombie Billy. When Billy loses his head in the movie, they had a stunt-woman walking around as Billy’s body
    • In the scene where he cuts open his mouth, those are real moths that come flying out. Originally he was supposed to call Bette Midler a bitch in that scene, but he changed the line to “Wench! Trollop! You Buck-toothed, mop-riding, firefly from hell!”
  • Gary and Penny Marshall as Satan and his wife
    • Gary Marshall frequently showed up in his own movies, and even though he didn’t direct this one, he appeared alongside his sister Penny in one hilarious scene as a man dressed as the devil

The Making of the Movie

    • The Sanderson sisters had a much bigger role in the film before editing. Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker both revealed in interviews that the film was edited to be a different film than what they shot. There were several scenes with the sisters that had been cut from the film, presumably because Disney wanted the film to be more family friendly and for the children to be the main characters.
    • The budget on the film was small, so the costume designers re-used old Disney costumes from other live-action features, especially for the town hall dance scene. Some of these movies are old Disney films that Adam and Robin watched recently as we quietly try to watch every Disney live-action film
    • The film makers went to Salem to research the film, and the opening scenes were shot in Massachusetts. Max’s house is a real house that they took exterior shots of. Allison’s house is also a museum in Salem. But, the majority of the movie was filmed on a sound-stage in California. Kinda funny how the bullies make fun of Max by calling him “Hollywood”, huh?
    • Well-known stunt coordinators and engineers used rigs in order for the three witches to fly throughout the movie. While flying was fun for some, it was painful for others. The scenes were tough to coordinate, but gave the film a very real feel. Thora Birch was delighted to be the only child in the movie that got to do flying stunts
  • This was Kenny Ortega’s second film, since he started in the industry as a dancer and choreographer, he wanted there to be a fluidity in the movie. He choreographed the musical number, but also just the regular scenes.
    • Bette Midler pointed out that she had never acted as part of a “trio” before, and liked that she felt as if she was part of a unit instead of a single actor.
  • The score for the film was incredible and was done by John Debney with a little help from the well-known composer James Horner. Horner wrote the melody for “Come Little Children” and the lyrics were written by Brock Walsh who also wrote the chants used in spells in the film as well. The song can be heard three times in the movie, though there is one prominent scene where Sarah sings it as she flies through the sky.
  • The movie opened in July of 1993, and it completely flopped. Much like Newsies, Ortega’s film from the summer before, it became a cult classic. Honestly, even more than a cult classic. The film has reached insane levels of popularity since its release.



























Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s