Broom, ho! Hocus Pocus is finally flying towards a long-awaited follow-up. A sequel to the 1993 Halloween hit, which follows the wicked Sanderson Sisters (played by Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Middler and Kathy Najimy), will premiere on Disney+ in 2022. In honor of the cult classic comedy, we’re sharing some fascinating facts about the film. Find out if the Sanderson Sisters are based on real women, learn about the film’s ties to the real Salem Witch Trials, and more.
Were The Sanderson Sisters Based On Real Witches?
Hocus Pocus claims that the Sanderson sisters were hanged in Salem on October 31, 1693. While the names and date are fictional, the gruesome siblings on screen were indeed loosely based on the victims of the real Salem Witch Trials. Between February 1692 and May 1693, girls as young as four were put on trial for practicing witchcraft; 19 people were ultimately executed. The true story is much more grim than the Disneyfied version, but producers decided on a more lighthearted version with flying vacuums and talking cats.
Sarah Jessica Parker Has Ties To An Actual Alleged Witch
Is Parker, who plays Sarah Sanderson, a descendant of a sorceress? In 2010, the Sex and the City star appeared on an episode of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? and discovered that her tenth great-grandmother Esther Elwell was accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. According to accounts (via Ancestry), “a 17-year-old girl had claimed to have seen her among ‘three spectres’ pressing down on a woman who died.”
Elwell was spared a trial—and more importantly, her life—when the general court in Salem ultimately deemed prosecution for witchcraft unlawful.
‘Hocus Pocus’ Was Really Filmed in Salem
While interior scenes from Hocus Pocus were shot on a set in California, the camera crew also headed to Salem, Massachusetts—home of the witch trials—to give the film a feeling of authenticity. For instance, exterior shots of Jacob Bailey High School were filmed at Phillips Elementary School, while cemetery scenes include footage from the historic Old Burial Hill in nearby Marblehead. Salem Common, where many establishing shots took place, is now the site of Haunted Happenings, an annual event where Hocus Pocus is played outdoors.
Binx The Cat Was Real (Well, Sort Of)
Sure, Hocus Pocus boasts three A-listers as the Sanderson Sisters, but Binx, the immortal talking cat, is the real star of the show. However, filming wasn’t as simple as throwing a black cat on the set. Producers obviously couldn’t train a feline to move its mouth on cue, so they used a mix of real and fake cats (as well as computer graphics) to do the job.
In 2015, Thora Birch, who played Dani, confessed that she didn’t quite take to Binx, either in real or artificial form.
“Dani was in love with the cat. For me, I had an issue whenever the cat came up,” she told ABC News. “There were a number of live cats, animatronic cats—the thing with the cat was a toss-up. You never knew what would happen.”
Thackery Binx Was Played By Two Different Actors
In the beginning of Hocus Pocus, Thackery Binx is played by NCIS star Sean Murray. And then poof! As soon as the Sanderson Sisters cast a spell and turn him into a cat, he is replaced by actor James Marsden. Why was Murray’s voice dubbed over?
“It’s one of those things that happen in movies all the time,” Marsden explained to the Daily Beast in 2013. “Sean has a very contemporary sound. After it was all said and done, they—and I’m sure they worked with him on this—after the movie evolved they thought it would be more realistic, since the witches come from this time period, that Binx should also have an affected accent.”
Other Famous Actors Who Almost Starred in ‘Hocus Pocus’
In 2014, Leonardo DiCaprio told Variety that he turned down a part in Hocus Pocus and “more money than I ever dreamed of” so that he could wait for a role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
“I don’t know where the hell I got the nerve,” he said. “You live in an environment where you’re influenced by people telling you to make a lot of money and strike while the iron’s hot. But if there’s one thing I’m very proud of, it’s being a young man who was sticking to my guns.”
According to IMDb, Rosie O’Donnell turned down an opportunity to play Mary Sanderson because she didn’t want to be a scary character. The site also says Jennifer Lopez auditioned for the role of Sarah Sanderson, and that Cloris Leachman was the producers’ first choice to play Winifred.
Producers Used Creative Tactics To Get The Green Light From Disney
Forget the elevator pitch. At a panel discussion in honor of the film’s 20th anniversary, producer and co-writer David Kirschner revealed the lengths he and his team went in order to get Disney execs enthused about the project.
“When it was first presented to Disney… They walked into a dark room and there were witches’ broom sticks hanging from the ceiling on monofilament wire and Mary’s wonderful vacuum cleaner that was hanging from the center,” he explained. “We had taken out the motor so it wouldn’t break the ceiling… We got 15 pounds of candy corn and spread it out on the table… and when they walked into the room they smelled their childhood.”
They didn’t have to go as far as casting a spell—they simply stirred the senses.
‘Hocus Pocus’ Was Not A Halloween Film
Even though Hocus Pocus was set on Halloween, the film was released in mid-July.
“It was very crazy. That staggered me,” said Marsden. “I was like, ‘This is a Halloween movie! It takes place on Halloween! Release it on Halloween!’ The whole business of when you release movies still staggers me.”
The Film Was A Box Office Flop
When Hocus Pocus was first released, few people fell under its spell. It debuted at number four at the box office and continued slipping from there. Entertainment Weekly rated it a C-, and the New York Times film critic Janet Maslin described it as an “unholy mess.”
The film found a second life in recent years thanks to DVD sales, TV airings, and (of course) social media. It helps that the film is a Disney title and easily accessible on streaming platforms. Add a craving for 90s nostalgia and the former dud is now a cult classic.
A ‘Hocus Pocus’ Sequel Is In The Works
Despite 2019 reports that Hocus Pocus 2 was in development, its three stars initially stayed mum about the project. By the next year, Midler confirmed to ET that logistics were being ironed out. She finally made an official announcement in May 2021 when she tweeted, “Sistaaaahs! It’s been 300 years… But we’re BACK!”
Midler will reunite with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy for the film, which is slated for a fall 2022 release on Disney +.