If you grew up watching the Sanderson sisters dominate Disney Channel every October, it’s time to celebrate. There is a Hocus Pocus sequel, and it is incredibly queer.
We’ve all seen the charmingly spooky Halloween classic Hocus Pocus. It played on the Disney Channel at least half a dozen times every October during my youth, and I was glued to the screen every time it came on. I wanted to be Max’s precocious little sister, Dani. I wanted an immortal talking cat to follow me around and guard me from evil. I really wanted magical, cinematic witchcraft to be real, which kind of goes against the message of the movie but … whatever. The point is that I loved Hocus Pocus, so when I heard there was not only a sequel, but a GAY sequel, I was thrilled.
“Hocus Pocus & The All New Sequel” published by Disney in July of 2018 and written by A. W. Jantha, is told in two parts. The first half of the book retells the original story of the movie in a way that feels both delightful and comforting. It was easy for me to slip into the words on the page and imagine the exact scenes in my mind — Max mouthing off in class to impress Allison, the moment when he lights the black flame candle, the Sanderson sisters seeing a paved road for the first time. Though you could nearly skip the first half of the book and watch the movie, Jantha sprinkles in just enough intriguing details to foreshadow the sequel ahead. It was the literary equivalent of a chilly, fall stroll down memory lane; and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
The book really shined in the latter half, when we get to the actual sequel. Set 25 years after the movie, Max and Allison Dennison have a teenage daughter named Poppy, and she is over Halloween. She resents her parents’ obsession with the Sanderson sisters and disbelieves their story about bringing the witches back from the dead. Like any proper teenager, she’s embarrassed by her parents’ and Aunt Dani’s stories, and she wants to keep her family’s superstitious tendencies under wraps. In fact, all Poppy wants to do this Halloween is hang out with her pun-loving best friend Travis and flirt with her crush, Isabella. When Isabella brings a spirit board to the Dennison’s Halloween party, Poppy takes her friends to the abandoned Sanderson sisters’ house on the edge of town to summon up a spirit. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
Of course, everything goes wrong, and Jantha tells the sequel in a way that blends new story with a hefty dose of throwbacks to the original. The Sanderson sisters reemerge; curses are cast; the sisters must be defeated before sunrise. These repeated elements almost feel repetitive, but this time the Sandersons are battling with cell phone technology, the ghost of a fourth long-dead witch, and a teenage lesbian who will do anything to rescue her lady crush except for actually making a romantic move. Although the book dips often into unoriginal and derivative territory, it always pulls back up with a new twist of fate for our diverse cast of protagonists.
Most wonderfully for me, this story is enthusiastically queer. Poppy’s flirting and pining for Isabella are in no way subtextual, but rather they drive the story. Poppy wants to both impress and protect her girl, just as Max did in the original movie. Travis acts as her wingman extraordinaire, completely supporting his best friend’s love interest. Moreover, the book deals with no drama about coming out, homophobia, or feeling repressed. Poppy’s queerness just is. Jantha worked queer representation into the story in a way that was affirming and totally age appropriate for this young adult novel.
Above all, the book reads like really good fanfiction. It harkens back to a well-loved tale, but it’s fresh. It takes old characters and makes them new. It allows readers to delve back into the town of Salem, Massachusetts, revisiting all the scenes that captured the hearts of so many children during those October movie marathons of days passed. It’s a book that’s just plain fun to read, and it’s gay to boot.
Happy Halloween, indeed.