Back in the 90’s, there was a bit of a “witch” craze. ‘The Witches’, ‘Practical Magic’, ‘The Blair Witch Project’, ‘Sabrina The Teenage Witch’, ‘The Craft’, and of course, ‘Hocus Pocus’. Because it appealed to the family demographic, but came out in the early 90’s when the “satanic panic” crisis began to end, it was left in the dust critically and was only a minor success at first. It did not gain the cult following like it has now until nearly a decade later around 2000.
Part of its cult success was because it put family values at the forefront. A kid who moves to a new school, loses all his friends, and now has to bum it in some po-dunk town in New England, all the while dealing with his annoying younger sister and a couple bullies that hound him sporadically throughout the film. Later on in the film, he learns to love and care for his little sister and their bond grows throughout the film, all the while he finds a classmate who he adores giving him a reason not to despise the new town so much, and the bullies get some bullying of their own.
Take all of that interesting character development, those universal themes, and memorable characters, and throw them right in the dumpster. What this film is most concerned with is re-writing the original movie, making zero sense while doing so, and trying to appeal to a niche sect of people, least of which is families.
The first major change is that the focus is not on family, not even a little bit. The focus is on ignoring family in favor of friends as we join Becca, Izzy, and Cassie; three completely unlikable brats that the writers actually thought were clever and hip, and their journey of self-discovery in how to be as unappealing and unapologetic as possible. Becca is completely domineering, Cassie is an indecisive robot, and Izzy is Becca’s yes-girl. Becca makes all the decisions, does everything of importance, and has almost all the lines between the three of them that are important to the actual story. Everyone else may as well not even exist. You could completely erase Izzy and Cassie and change virtually nothing about Becca’s character arc.
I tried, I really honestly tried, but you could not convince me with all the money in the world that these characters matter. Me and my wife both raised our eyebrows when the cat first appeared which we knew was a nod to the original film and Thackery Binx. When your viewers care more about a cat leaping onto the screen, that is not a good sign. It means your script, and possibly your actors, have some serious issues, issues that should have been worked out during writing phase.
So, how are we introduced to Becca? She taunts and rolls her eyes at Cassie’s boyfriend, Mike, who we are supposed to immediately hate because he is meant to represent the oppressive church patriarchy, as he is literally a quivering, gullible, idiot jock who plays for the school team “The Puritans”. We are supposed to laugh at him for thinking magic and witches and satan are real, yet the entire story is about how magic, witches, and satan are real as Becca becomes an actual, lightning-shooting, witch…Are you noticing the hypocrisy here? Unless you are an idiot, anyone who calls themselves a screenwriter should be fully aware of how this completely deflates the card-board cutout jester character he is supposed to be, but the writers just dig themselves deeper by making him accomplish nothing the entire film; he is not funny, he is not useful, he does not advance any of the character’s developments, his existence is entirely useless. I would say he is the equivalent of the flat and uninteresting comedy-relief character in your typical Hallmark movie, but Hallmark movies at least have writers who understand plot, development, and how to contribute minor characters to the story at large.
The only character with any real change throughout the film is Gilbert. The fanboy who becomes betrayed and disillusioned. I will say he did a rather fine job with his acting. One of the more enjoyable characters who did not feel as artificial, despite the irony of, well, I will get to that soon. And even though he is the only real character subject to any change throughout the film, they still screw it up by having him become disillusioned far too early. There was next to zero conflict about his life-long idols turning out to be back-stabbing monsters. One would expect him to be a little more heart broken than he acts in the film.
The second (though nearly equal in its significance) major change is that the Sanderson sisters are no longer true villains. They are “oh-woe-is-me” tragic anti-heroes. Winnifred is a run-away child bride who we are supposed to feel sorry for, ignoring the fact that she becomes a child-eating murdering psychopathic monster that likely has a body-count equivalent to John Wayne Gacy. They try to subvert this by having the modern day fanboy of theirs, Gilbert, who is retro-actively inserted into the original film, betrayed by them. This soft attempt at subversion is completely nullified though when we are given a whimsical death of Winnifred, who misses her sisters after accidentally trading them for ultimate power, and then gives it all up and fades away into sparkly glitter-dust. They even make the book shed tears over her death. She just misses her sisters, man! Except, even in the original film it ended with Winnifred ignoring her sisters as the sun destroyed them as she tried to suck the life force out of a child for her own selfish desire to stay young. Yea, that is not a complete reworking of her character.
One of the last major changes is that the theme of evil witches is subdued in order to focus on wicca and the 90’s fad of going to apothecary shops and pretending you are a super duper serious witchy witch. Because feminism! Or…Something? Honestly it is hard to tell because it tries to say “girl power!” but treats two-thirds of the protagonist females as completely disposable. The whole thing, despite being made by Disney, (one of the few studios with bottomless pockets) felt rushed, lazy, and inconsiderate towards fans of the original.
But, hey, what do I know? This movie fumbles with its themes so discordantly that it is hard to tell what exactly it is trying to commit to. It cannot commit to Winnifred being evil or being misunderstood, it cannot commit to Cassie’s boyfriend being a mock character or just being filler, it cannot even commit to the original movie. For all we know half the crap in this feature is going to be retro-actively discarded in favor of another re-working in the possible sequel they bait us with, where we find out that someone else secretly watched the sisters disintegrate and wants to resurrect them again. Who knows…I guess I won’t commit to this being a lazy, rushed, inconsiderate sequel either then. I will just move on with my life and forget it even exists.
This seaboot (sequel reboot) has none of the original themes, or even characters (unless you consider completely re-written, re-worked characters to be the “same”), of the original film, and it is about 15 years too late.