The joke is on screen critics from 1993, who lambasted Hocus Pocus and predicted it was doomed for obscurity. They were too busy being their usual fault-finding and cantankerous selves, they missed what would make it eternally bewitching. Senselessly looking at a youth movie through an adult lens, they made a bevy of irrational complaints and observations. For instance, some said it was "too silly;" there's no such thing as that with kids. Others would accuse it of being perverse, revealing their own warped mindsets. One reviewer supposed that the dainty way witch Sarah Sanderson (Sarah Jessica Parker) laid on her broomstick was sexually suggestive (I shook my head and rolled my eyes as I typed that sentence). Parker and the then teenage Vinessa Shaw (who portrayed Allison Watts) were the primary targets of venereal comments, but more on that problematic and unsettling aspect later. Assessments more grounded in logic deemed the film unorganized and conflicted for its contrasting comedic styles and character setups. Its variation enabled it to engage a wide audience though, which is the source of its longevity.
With Hocus Pocus' humor and concepts, many writers took issue with the macabre and mature surrounding lighter fare. Slapstick hijinks and G-rated giggles were alongside moderately sophisticated sarcasm, locker-room references to women's breasts and repeat mentions of virginity. A touching moral about cherishing and protecting your siblings (to the extent of self-sacrifice) is the B-plot to witches stealing children's souls to live forever. Within the first 30 minutes (or less) alone, one child is lured away with a spellbinding lullaby and murdered, another is turned into an immortal cat, and the witches are hung (with a promise to return of course). We see the nooses around their necks, and then a cut to their dangling feet. Nothing too serious, haha.
What seemed like terrible, irresponsible and chaotic storytelling to the critics was actually pretty strategic and intentional...and ultimately effective.
Oil of Boil, and a Dead Man's Toe (The Method to the Madness)
The Hocus Pocus crew explained the method to their madness in commemorative interviews with the Freeform channel last year. Writer and producer David Kirschner developed the plot with Mick Garris, seeking to break open the market for family movies in the adult-centric Halloween genre. 'House of Mouse' ideology was their compass. "Disney used to say you had to have darkness to have light. The film embraced that," soundtrack composer and long-time Disney collaborator John Debney detailed. Garris described his screenplay (co-authored by Neil Cuthbert) as "dark" and "scarier" than the end result. Moves to brighten and balance the work included making zombie Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones) "one you could date," instead of be frightened of. Choreographer and director Kenny Ortega was recruited to ensure the illuminations translated on tape. "It was a spooky comedy for sure, but it became much more fun than I had ever envisioned, and that's Kenny. He just brought a joy to it," Kirschner reminisced.