How Disney has sold a long-awaited supernatural sequel
This week’s Hocus Pocus 2 arrives on Disney+ just shy of 30 years after the original was released in theaters. Directed by Anne Fletcher and written by Jen D’Angelo, the movie once again stars the trio of Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker as the Sanderson sisters, a family of witches from the 17th century who find themselves once again released from their imprisonment. As in the original, the three sisters seek to bring chaos to the town of Salem, MA and find a way to remain free.
Doug Jones also returns as the zombiefied Billy Butcherson. New to the cast are Hannah Waddingham as Mother Witch, who looks to help the Sanderson sisters, Sam Richardson as Gilbert, the owner of the town magic shop, Tony Hale as Salem mayor Jeffrey Traske and Lilia Buckingham as his daughter Cassie. Along with her estranged friends Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), Cassie will try and put the Sandersons back where they belong.
The first movie wasn’t a critical or box-office success, but home video and cable turned it into a beloved classic. That fan love was enough to eventually manifest this sequel, so let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.
announcement and casting
After lots of speculation and other reports, Disney finally set a 2022 release timeframe for the movie on Disney+ as well as announcing Fletcher was taking over directing duties.
Richardson was added to the cast in late October of last year, with Waddingham, Hale and others joining a short while later.
A first look photo of the three witches was released on Disney+ Day in November.
The Halloween release date was announced by Shankman earlier this year.
the marketing campaign
The first trailer (5m YouTube views) came out at the end of June. It starts by introducing us to Cassie, Izzy and Becca as they make plans that include stopping by the magic shop. When Becca and Izzy conduct a little spell it releases the Sanderson sisters, who set out immediately to reclaim their powers and gain their freedom.
“We’re back, witches” is the extremely family-safe play on words used on the accompanying poster, which shows the trio backlit so just their outlines can be seen. It’s very much a teaser poster and does an adequate job of conveying the core message that a sequel is on its way.
The three stars appeared in a short video where they watch and react to that trailer.
Waddingham appeared on “Kimmel” and talked about this movie along with other projects she’s involved in.
We get a better look at the three sisters on the next poster from late August. On this one they are “Back and more glorious than ever” as they make their way down a street of houses.
The sisters swap places with the young heroes of the story on the second poster that came out a couple weeks later. The witches here are seen looming over the action at the top of the design while the kids cautiously walk down the street with their bikes. It’s a pretty standard layout for a movie like this, the antagonists looking down at the protagonists, but it’s well-executed and contines the visual style already established.
The second trailer (7.1m YouTube views) was released in early September, opening with a flashback to the 1600s where Mother Witch apparently gives a teenage Winifred her book of spells. After that it’s a lot of the same bits seen in the first spot, but with more looks at how the Sandersons react to being in the 21st century, how the young girls try and remain safe while also figuring out how to send the witches back where they came from and more.
Midler, Najimy and Parker all took part in an interview covering how Midler was, among the three leads, the one pushing most regularly for a sequel after the first one became so popular but that they all signed on enthusiastically once it was greenlit.
A clip shows more of the Sandersons having to make due with what’s available as they seek to fly back to their home.
The final poster returns to the real value proposition of the movie and simply shows the Sanderson sisters on their various flying instruments as they run amuck through the fog.
In a featurette the original cast shares how excited they were to return to their characters while the new additions along with Fletcher talk about the movie’s story and what it means to add something new to the story.
I don’t think there was any expectation that this was going to be a groundbreaking or hugely innovative campaign. After all, it’s for a streaming original that happens to be a sequel to a movie that only took on a life of its own well after it was on cable.
But what comes through in most of the material is a sense of joy and fun from the people who made it, particularly Midler, Parker and Najimy. That’s apparent not only in the trailers but also comes through in the interviews and featurettes, where the affection they have for the characters and the enjoyment they experienced at being able to return to this world is clear.
All of that goes a long way in elevating the marketing from a cute little effort to one that’s a lot more attractive, even if a good portion of the audience – especially those who grew up with those regular cable or home video viewings every Halloween – doesn’t need to know much beyond the fact the film is happening.