This article includes spoilers for the Disney+ original movie “Hocus Pocus 2.” In the middle of “Hocus Pocus 2,” Bette Midler issues a series of orders. It’s time to clear the altar. When she yells, “Clear my stage!” everyone in the area scatters.
And you? Try to keep up with us.
The terrified four-piece rock band is the intended audience for that final directive, but it applies just as well to the sequel. The film, which premieres this Friday on Disney+, is an attempt to replicate the success of 1993 original, which took a well-known song and gave it new life as a classic Halloween movie moment by staging a musical performance with villainous charisma, narrative action, and a sprinkle of spookiness.
Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy play witch sisters in the original “Hocus Pocus,” and they’re desperate to steal children’s souls so that they can stay young forever. Director Kenny Ortega, fresh off his work on “Newsies,” suggested adding a song to “Hocus Pocus” because he had worked with Midler as an assistant choreographer on the 1979 film “The Rose.”
Producer David Kirschner reportedly complained at the time, “This is a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and you’re going to halt it for this musical number?” but Ortega ultimately convinced him otherwise.
According to Ortega’s interview with The Times, “Bette is such a talented artist and a daring spirit, and she isn’t scared to flout the norms when she performs.” At the time, I simply couldn’t fathom making it through the entirety of the film without making use of her musical ability.
The group performed “I Put a Spell on You,” first recorded by R&B singer Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1956 and known for its booming blues rhythm, blatantly s*xual lyrics, and the singer’s characteristic shrieks. With the help of composer Marc Shaiman, who frequently worked with Midler on her musical performances in movies and on stage, the song was reworked into a family-friendly showpiece that showcased her soaring vocals and animated acting choices.
Shaiman explains that the tempo of the first verse should be slowed down to make it more eerie and otherworldly. “the tempo kicks in, and then it’s a full-on Bette Midler performance, with a Tina Turner or Janis Joplin type of energy and a theatrical orchestration,” the critic wrote when Midler addressed an onscreen throng in a nod to the famous musical “Gypsy,” in which she had just featured.
“We thought, what can we do to make this relevant to these characters and this actual time in the movie?” the filmmakers pondered after realizing how short Hawkins’ song became when sped up. Remembering is something that Shaiman can do.
Right away, Bette and I began composing new lyrics, as is our custom. When we came up with “Your pitiful little lives have all been cursed/ ’cause of all the witches working, I’m the worst,” we were overjoyed since “genuine rhymes” are our favorite kind of poetry to write.
Parker and Najimy soon picked up Shaiman’s additions of a mystery call-and-response chant and vocal portions that imitated Midler’s actual backup singers, the Harlettes. It was all “like a kind of alchemy,” he explains. What can I say?
The Sanderson Sisters’ spellbinding performance for a costumed crowd at a holiday party and a simultaneous chase scenario with three children, a cat, and a zombie had to be shot in only one day due to production constraints. With Bette, Kathy, and Sarah, “you don’t need to do more than a few takes, and you’ve got it in the bag,” adds Ortega, “and we had to work quickly.”
— bettemidler (@BetteMidler) September 30, 2022
He continues, “I recall a lot of laughs and a lot of fun, and there was a terrific mood on the set.” We were rehearsing in front of an unsuspecting audience and crew, and both groups responded enthusiastically to our impromptu performance.
And it all started with Bette, who was so hilarious that she even made herself laugh at her own jokes about the job and her persona. She was in awe of all the locations that Winifred Sanderson had taken her, and I had to encourage her to “Keep going!”
Despite negative reviews and the fact that the audio has yet to be published, this scene has become a Halloween favorite for generations of fans. The song is a staple of both drag shows and live performances in Disney theme parks, as well as Midler’s own acts. Hocus Pocus 2: The Hidden Staircase “— wherein the Sanderson Sisters return from the dead and go on the hunt for the mayor of Salem, Massachusetts — required its own jovial cover.
Director Anne Fletcher and her veteran music supervisor Buck Damon worked together to locate the ideal song since “it’s one of the things the viewers absolutely adore about the original movie,” she adds. “He and I ripped off every song ever written that used the words witch, moon, cat, evil, etc. Because “I Put a Spell on You” is already flawless, I refrained from trying to top it. Simply said, I was looking for something that was hilarious and perfectly suited to the scenario.
Again, Shaiman and Midler modified the lyrics to incorporate more vivid verbs that were integral to the plot. “They all had to have three or four rhymes, like ‘We’re going to grab ya/ I’ll nab ya/ I’ll jab ya,'” said Shaiman about the song’s lyrical requirements.
“There’s a section that doesn’t make it into the movie where Bette and I completely lost it: “We’re going to murder ya, then possibly fillet ya, it might upset ya, but we’ll getcha.” We put in a lot of time and effort, but no matter how fantastic I think it is, I’ll get a call late at night from Bette saying, “We have improved this bit.” She has an insatiable appetite for improvement.
“It’s all just a bunch of hocus pocus.” ✨
— Disney+ (@DisneyPlus) September 30, 2022
Fletcher says, “It was chilly that night in Newport [R.I.], but the witches were so dialed in and just kept going.” Then I took the mic and walked the audience through the routine, saying things like, “Jump! Stare! Proceed to the right. Proceed to the left!'”
Time will tell if the remake of “One Way or Another” and a witchy cover of “The B— Is Back,” an Elton John song from 1974 that was redone by Shaiman and Midler and co-produced by OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder joins “I Put a Spell on You” in the pantheon of essential Halloween songs. Given the conclusion of the second film, a musical idea has already been conceived for a third film, regardless of whether the long-rumored stage version ever comes to fruition.
Bette had added, “They’re talking about how we’d be in hell,” prompting Shaiman to suggest “Hot Hot Hot,” a calypso piece originally performed by Arrow and then recorded by Buster Poindexter in 1987. It would be a lot of fun, but it never came to pass. This means that it’s possible that this is the third ‘Hocus Pocus’ film.
Will it take another thirty years?” he jokes. When that day comes, “we’ll literally be corpses, and we’ll all have to be revived from the grave.”
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