Sometimes unless I have a purpose, I lack ideas about which to blog. Since the girls over at Mystic Cooking always do a Fiction Friday, I thought, hey, why don’t I make a more regular post? So may I introduce to you…
To kick off the posts, I’m going to start with Hocus Pocus—mostly because I watched it this week. I mean, it’s Halloween, c’mon!
Hocus Pocus is a Disney film from 1993, which stars Bette Midler, Sarah something-or-rather Parker, a few other peeps and that kid from Eerie, Indiana. Now, I want to note up front, this is a movie I enjoy watching, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have issues with the writing. The overall plot itself isn’t a bad one. Have a read off the
Amazon description, back of the DVD cover something I made up because Amazon didn’t have one and the DVD blurb was meh:
Three witches return when some kids accidentally conjure them. They’re out to steal the lives of children to regain their youth, but first they have to outwit 3 kids who’ve stolen their book of magic.
This is a movie I always feel strong inclinations to watch every year around Halloween. It is a little hoaky, but I still enjoy it. However, I’ve got a few bones to pick with it. And I guess if you care, SPOILER ALERT.
Story-wise it doesn’t start off too bad—if the movie were going to stay taking place in 1693. We begin with Thackery Binx who is trying to rescue his sister Emily from three witches. These witches want to suck the life from the girl to regain their youth. You have conflict, clear objectives for the protagonist and antagonists, and high stakes—all the makings of a good story.
But then 12 minutes already into the film we discover, nope this isn’t the story but actually 12 minutes of back story. Basically we got 12 minutes of info dump right at the beginning of the movie. A lot of aspiring writers (including myself) tend to do this in their early beginnings. We think we need to give the audience all they need to know right at the beginning.
But let me ask you all honestly, were those 12 minutes even necessary? Aside from this plot being explained over and over again throughout the movie, what did we really need that whole opening scene for (other than for producers to get their money’s worth out of casting Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker)?
The school teacher was melodramatic enough, she could have just told us the urban legend version of the tale to skeptical Max and the other school kids. The issue I take with this info dump is they spent 12 minutes of the film getting us to care about people and then suddenly switched to a different story. Now we have to get to know and care about these new people, which is hard, because we’re left wondering what happened to the other characters we just spent 12 minutes getting to know. Max and friends are just fillers until we get back to the real plot.
Starting with a skeptical Max hearing the tale gets us right into where we’re going to spend 90% of the movie in the first place. Then we can discover more about the villainesses as we go on, and Thackery Binx’s plight. And we have the subplot of Max being the new kid in town as his struggle, which would get even more awkward when he lights the candle that brings the witches back.
From this point in the movie, the plot generally works. A few issues I have is why is it Thackery after being changed into a cat, didn’t try and tell his father what had happened to him? Maybe the ability to speak came later? But if he wasn’t able to tell his family what happened to him, how did the teacher know? And how did anyone know that the candle would bring them back from the dead? And if they did know, why didn’t they break it into tiny bits or burn the house to the ground? Does it really seem likely Salem witch hunters would just leave the house intact, a spell book lying around, or any of their weird stuff in their house?
With your own stories, you should try to read it with skeptics eyes and make sure you have answers for these sorts of questions. Your readers might not be able to convey it in specifics, but their brains will tell them something’s amiss. Anyways, back to the movie.
Max has a love interest, which gives him something to strive for, and bullies, which emphasizes his problem, that he hates living in a new town. He goes trick-or-treating with his little sister, facing more humiliations from the bullies, and doesn’t feel very courageous nor like he really belongs—almost like this is building to an event where he’ll discover he does have courage and does have purpose for being in the new town. 😉 These are things the writers did right.
They trick-or-treat at love interest’s house who reveals she knows a lot about the witches (not really, though she should) because her mom ran the old museum. They decide to go and check it out. Max finds the candle that will raise spirits from the dead, lights it, and yippee, we have our villainesses back.
But why did they come back young? I guess because they died young?
By the way, the whole “virgin lights the candle” thing I thought was a bit weird for a kid’s movie. I can just picture kids asking their parents, “Mommy, what’s a virgin?” Awkward… And then it causes me to wonder, is Disney saying Max shouldn’t have been a virgin? That for kids being a virgin is a bad thing? If this were a teen movie, it probably wouldn’t have been as glaring. But it’s for kids and families, right? Know your audience.
The plot continues to generally work. The zombie lover is a horribly obvious plot device, but other than that the story is progressing nicely. They go to the adults for help and the witches foil them. They lead the witches to the school and burn them, thinking they’ve won, and the final climax is building nicely.
But I don’t understand why the witches were able to come back after being burned when a noose is somehow inescapable for these three?
Anyways, Love Interest and Max are reading the spellbook and discover salt can protect them. I felt like Love Interest should already know something like this, if her mom knew everything about the witches. Or even perhaps the cat should have told them about it. The way the information was introduced just seemed a little awkward.
But don’t worry, there’s a bigger awkward info drop coming.
One of the witches sings to enchant the children to follow them back to the cabin, and also steals Max’s little sister as payback. I’m not sure why Max and love interest are immune. Maybe it’s a teenage thing?
So Max and Love Interest are watching the children walking down the street zombie-like and Love Interest finds the script and says, “Max, I figured everything out. Here’s all the information we need to finish the story.” Despite being mostly just a one-dimensional love interest, we discover her real purpose is to move the story along. The writers couldn’t think of a way to rescue Dani, so they found someone who could reveal It’s Kryptonite! Kryptonite will do it! and went for it.
They could have had the witches lament in more detail about the candle around Love Interest and Max. Or maybe instead of reading about salt they could have read about the candle. Anyways, it just seemed and awkward and lame way to give the protagonist something to do. I like the idea they came up, just not how they were led to the idea.
Fast forward to the final scene in the graveyard. Max drinks the potion to prevent the witches from sucking the life out of his sister. Now they have to suck it out of him. Although it took them 5 seconds with the first kid, it seems to take several minutes—which I know, is for tension, but still… Then when she lands on the hallowed ground, nothing happens, which makes me wonder why they couldn’t be on it in the first place. And then when the sun comes up, she turns to stone? Why? Her sisters just burst into dust, which is what she said would happen to all of them. So why stone? If it’s because of hallowed ground, why didn’t she turn to stone instantly? And then why does she burst into dust after the sun fully hits her, when first she turned into stone?
The ending otherwise I thought was pretty decent. We see Thackery reunited with his sister, freed from the curse, Max learned he really was courageous, he got the girl, etc. etc.
It’s not a bad story, just parts of it were poorly implemented. And Bette Midler’s performance alone makes it worthwhile to watch.
I truly feel the majority of us writers have great stories bouncing around in our brains, the difficulty is translating it from head to page.
I hope this movie plot review has been helpful for you to see story flaws. Did you think of solutions to fix the plot holes they left glaring? Did I miss any flaws or plot holes you want to mention? Let me know what you think.