You know that fan fiction thing our people do where we gender-flip the main character of a famous story and make her a lesbian, or just take the main female protagonist and queer her up? Han Solo is Hannah Solo and she’s in love with Princess Leia. Jack Sparrow is Jacqueline Sparrow and she’s in love with Elizabeth Swann. Have you ever wondered what would happen if major Hollywood studios did that for us? What if, say, Disney took an iconic film like Hocus Pocus and made a sequel that revisited The Sanderson sisters in all their wacky glory; and added all the elements of the beloved, ubiquitous movie; and also made it gay?
Well, that actually happened!
Last week Disney released a novelized version of Hocus Pocus. The first third of the book is just a retelling of the movie; the second is a whole new story, which is rumored to be the basis for the new Hocus Pocus Disney Channel movie. AND IT IS GAAAAAAY.
25 years after Allison and Max got into their kerfuffle with the Sanderson sisters on Halloween night, they’re married and still living in Salem and they have a daughter named Poppy who believes in witches just as much as her dad did in the beginning of the movie, which is: not at all. She is, in fact, super embarrassed that her otherwise normal, successful parents and her extra cool aunt are so superstitious, to the point of keeping a supposedly hexed black candle locked away in a safe in their attic. The problem is that Isabella, the most brilliant and beautiful and popular girl in school, has suddenly developed a serious interest in the legend of the Sanderson sisters — and Poppy’s got a serious interest in Isabella. It is not a subtextual interest. It cannot be mistaken for the casual interest a gal has in her pal. No, Poppy is thoroughly, gaily smitten.
And Isabella is smitten back! Here, just a tidbit, from 15 pages in:
“Well, I wouldn’t miss it.” Isabella gives me a smile that makes my stomach flip a little. “There’s no way I’d leave you hanging.”
“It’s not fair that you’re so nice.” I take another piece of pizza. “People aren’t supposed to be smart and popular and nice. What’s your weakness, Isabella Richards?”
Her smile flags a little, and for a second she looks mystified — but then it’s gone. “Halloween candy,” she says, matter-of-factly, then grins and takes another sip of soda.
But you guys, that’s not even true! It’s not Halloween candy at all! Poppy is Isabella’s weakness! And I’m not even done with the good stuff! Isabella also is black, and so is Travis, Isabella’s other best friend and the third member of their Halloween Hijinks Squad. Together, they take on the Sanderson sisters.
I don’t want to spoil anything more for you, so let me hit some broad, high notes. The Hocus Pocus sequel takes place on Halloween night in 2018. It revisits the plot of the movie, but the story stands alone. Three teens, three witches, a whole lot of supernatural shenanigans; Poppy and Isabella and Travis are all fully realized YA book characters. There are plenty of callbacks to the original story — Max wears a tie-dyed tie and someone calls him “Hollywood,” for example — but they’re not important enough to take away from your enjoyment of the sequel if you don’t remember them because you haven’t seen the movie a hundred times.
The story also brings a 2018 sensibility to the franchise. It confronts the fact that the Salem witch trials were actually a mass persecution of innocent women. Mob mentality, the book says. There just happened to be three evil cartoonish witches that murdered little kids who had to be dealt with too. Even the dialogue from the students in Poppy’s class drives home the fact that this story is happening right now, right this moment, with today’s teens. “Doesn’t this relate to the evolution of criminal justice and the autocratic state?” one student asks when the Sanderson sisters legend comes up. “What do the Sanderson sisters say about misogyny and unmarried women in colonial America?” another student demands.
The whole time I was reading the Hocus Pocus sequel I just kept saying, “I can’t believe this exists!” over and over. Disney retold their most famous Halloween story with a trio that’s comprised of two people of color, one of whom is queer; and a queer main character. It’s silly and spooky, but it’s also an unabashed love story. Poppy and Isabella’s feelings for each other are the throughline of the whole thing. This book is the kind of dark magic my Southern Baptist church always worried was afoot on the Devil’s holiday when I was a kid — and I loved every second of it.