Like so many of you out there, Hocus Pocus is a movie that has been in my Halloween viewing rotation for years. The child-like spirit of the holiday oozes out of every frame of this Disney film, which is probably why it has remained in the favor of its fans, even as they grew into adulthood. Hocus Pocus‘s audience seems to have only gotten bigger and bigger since its 1993 release, and it’s really no stretch to say that it is a cultural phenomenon.
Now that impact can be more greatly felt by those of us who grew up loving the movie with Hocus Pocus in Focus: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Disney’s Halloween Classic. This is the first “booOOOook” that is dedicated entirely to the beloved film, penned by Disney-fanatic and author Aaron Wallace. Honestly, when I first heard of Hocus Pocus in Focus, my first thought was, “Awesome! I love that movie–but is there enough material there for an entire book?” As it turns out, there is. Wallace looks at the picture in ways I had never thought of before, exploring its influences and the symbolism within to really get at the core of why it is so successful.
Wallace does so in a tone that matches the lightheartedness of the movie itself–sometimes quoting or referencing lines of dialogue in his sentences–while still approaching the subject from a scholarly standpoint. The connections he makes are not really far-fetched at all when looking at Hocus Pocus‘s focus on virginity; whether it qualifies as a horror film or not; or its feminist qualities in relation to the portrayal of the witches. I loved the in-depth look at the movie’s iconic musical sequences, where I learned so much more about Bette Midler and gained greater appreciation for her performance. It’s cool to know that Winifred Sanderson is still her favorite role that she’s ever played.
One observation that I really took something from is the idea that Hocus Pocus is sort of like a Christmas movie in disguise. The core theme of many of those films is that of a character who has lost his or her faith in the holiday–Max Dennison is going through a similar crisis of faith about Halloween. Maybe it is seeing him believe again, and seeing him reconnect with his little sister Dani, that gives us the warm-fuzzies about Hocus Pocus the same way we do about every adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
There are a couple of sections of the book that are either misplaced or not needed at all. Footnotes are fine and all–but it’s pretty much a guarantee that I won’t bother reading them if they are at the end of the book instead of at the bottom of the pages. The “about” sections for the writers of the foreword and afterword (which was done by screenwriter Mick Garris) are too long and unnecessary anyway, as are the couple pages of “notes” in the introduction, much of which is probably common knowledge by now. None of this is really a distraction, however.
A section that I really enjoyed was the 20 pages of “Bonus Material” following the afterword. This section breaks down its many pieces of trivia and anecdotes by what aspect of the movie it pertains to. It’s a great way to get out all that behind-the-scenes information that the author was probably just dying to share with us, but couldn’t elsewhere in the book because it didn’t fit right. Here, all those interesting tidbits get to come out, and I loved reading them. Those were real moths coming out of Doug Jones’s mouth when Billy cuts his stitches open! The author also gives some final observations about the movie and offers suggestions of similar films for fans to check out.
When you get to the end of Hocus Pocus in Focus, it has comes too quick. I devoured the book in several hours, and felt like I was just getting into the meat of it all at the end of the last chapter. However, one can’t really feel that bad about the shortness of the book when you look back and realize that you’ve just read 12 chapters analyzing Hocus Pocus, of all movies. It’s hard not to just be happy that a book like this exists, that the fandom is still that strong and full of so much heart. And if you’re a part of the rabid Hocus Pocus fandom, this is one book that will put a spell on you.