It is officially fall, which means you can stop feeling guilty for consuming pumpkin spice everything when it’s still technically summer. But it also means that it’s seasonally appropriate to watch Hocus Pocus (although I am known to sometimes watch it in the summer because I can’t wait that long). This fall, prepare to take a closer look at the Sanderson Sisters and one of the greatest Halloween movies ever made in a new book by Aaron Wallace, Hocus Pocus in Focus: The Thinking Fans Guide to Disney’s Halloween Classic.
Fans who purchase this “ungodly book” will find a treasure trove of insight into a film they likely know line-by-line, but have never thought too deeply about. Throughout several of the chapters, Wallace provides fascinating history behind the inspirations for the film. From The House of the Seven Gables and A Christmas Carol to Flora, Fauna and Merriweather from Sleeping Beauty, the origins of this witchy story can be traced across several classic stories and some real history. Learning the roots of the Sanderson Sisters helps enhance your appreciation for this bewitching motion picture.
Wallace has done a tremendous amount of research, not only on the behind-the-scenes aspects of the film, but also the talent behind it. Bringing a film studies background to the project, he thoroughly examines the themes and dialogue putting it all in the context of a film studies course. Say, what’s with all this talk of virgins anyway? He’ll not only tell you with a look back at the Hays Code, but also reveal a highly plausible theory that you probably didn’t think about (or want to think about).
The story of how Hocus Pocus made its slow journey to the big screen is a fascinating one. A chapter called “Spielberg’s Second Best Halloween Movie” aught to peak the interest of a majority of readers, as Wallace explores the acclaimed director’s involvement in the project early on and how it ended up having many Spielbergian qualities to it. There is also a bonus section (yes, this book has bonus features) that covers some of the more fascinating and lesser-known facts about the film’s production that didn’t fit into the guide’s narrative.
As a fan of Bette Midler, I was overjoyed that a whole chapter is titled “The Divine Miss Sanderson,” which explores the way the film’s three leads were given artistic license to create their characters and explores the choices they made. Two sections explore the music, one for the score and another all about “I Put a Spell on You,” its significance to Disney beyond this film, and how it foreshadowed Bette Midler’s turn as Rose in Gypsy later in 1993.
How did Hocus Pocus go from a big screen flop to a universally known Halloween classic? “But who Lit the Pop-Culture Candle?” explores the phenomenon that occurred in the decade following the film’s disappointing release and why it has cast a spell over so many viewers. Another section also highlights how progressively feminist the film was, and is, and the way it turns the slasher film genre on its head.
Hocus Pocus in Focus is the second of Wallace’s Thinking Fan’s Guide series, but the first to focus on a specific film (the first explored Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and a follow up about Epcot is coming in December). Following a similar format to his Magic Kingdom guide, this book also comes with suggestions for what to explore next. In addition to a recommendation to watch Hocus Pocus to put your newfound knowledge to use, he also provides a list of other related films that you should see, as well as a list of online resources for further exploration.
As a diehard fan of Hocus Pocus since seeing it in the theaters in 1993 (I was known to rollerblade through my neighborhood with a mop between my legs), I can’t recommend the film highly enough. And if you feel the same way as I do, then Hocus Pocus in Focus: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Disney’s Halloween Classic is required reading. It’s nothing short of a magical experience, although it sadly can’t be summoned by opening your window and crying “BooOOOoook!” You will have to order it the old fashioned way.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.