Sanderson’s Paradox | Why the ‘Hocus Pocus’ Remake Was Inevitable
In honor of the 1993 cult classic Hocus Pocus I propose…
Sanderson’s Paradox: “If it’s too popular to be remade, a remake is inevitable.”
A bit of history here: Kenny Ortega’s Hocus Pocus is a 1993 family-friendly comedy about the Sanderson Sisters, a trio of child-murdering witches who were executed in Colonial America, only to be revived in the present day (well, 1993) by a teenaged boy who should have had sex already, because being a virgin resurrects those witches, who proceed to wreak total havoc and also sing “I Put a Spell On You,” because kids love that one.
I jest, but my point is that Hocus Pocus is and always has been a very weird motion picture, at once a product of the same Disney studio machine that pumped out pabulum like Angels in the Outfield, Heavyweights and Operation Dumbo Drop, and also the a somewhat ghoulish horror comedy wrapped up in innocent trappings and force fed to kids.
Fortunately, those kids ate it up. Hocus Pocus made $39 million back in 1993, which may not sound like much but does mean Kenny Ortega’s so-called “cult” comedy was in the top forty highest grossing films of the year. That’s respectable business. And since there’s always been a dearth of quality horror-themed movies that are considered acceptable for children around Halloween, this kooky comedy became a holiday staple fairly quickly.
That means that not only has a whole generation (or two) grown up with Hocus Pocus, but they also grew up associating Hocus Pocus with happy childhood memories like trick or treating and copious amounts of free candy. To many, myself include, Hocus Pocus is (for all its weird little flaws) an institution, as untouchable as any film you can think of.
Unfortunately, that also means that Hocus Pocus has INCREDIBLE name brand awareness. For better or worse, any product that comes out with “Hocus Pocus” on it is an easier sell than any product that comes out without any baggage attached to it. Even if it sucks, the recently announced Hocus Pocus TV movie remake is more likely to draw viewers than any original, non-Hocus Pocus Halloween-themed movie, because some people don’t care what they show their kids so long as it’s non-threatening, and because a lot of the rest of us are going to watch it out of morbid curiosity – or worse, ironically – just like we all watched that god awful Dirty Dancing remake ABC tried to pass off like a good idea earlier this year.
It’s very telling that Disney is releasing the new Hocus Pocus on television, because recent adaptations of beloved childhood cult properties that muddled with the formula have NOT been a sure thing. (Remember Jem and the Holograms, which wasn’t even that all that bad but audiences stayed away in droves anyhow because it didn’t look a thing like the cartoon?) Like that Dirty Dancing remake, it doesn’t have to make millions of dollars in ticket sales. The Hocus Pocus remake will just have to be noteworthy enough to attract advertisers for one night, so the simple fact that it’s a Hocus Pocus remake means it’ll probably pay for itself.
So basically, it doesn’t matter to the studio if the Hocus Pocus remake is good. I’m sure they WANT it to be good, and that the people involved will try their darnedest to make it worth watching, but in the end this it’s show BUSINESS, and making a smart investment is more important to Disney’s stockholders than preserving our collective memories of the original Hocus Pocus. Nostalgia isn’t sacred to a corporation. Nostalgia is a selling point.
So again, I present Sanderson’s Paradox: “If it’s too popular to be remade, a remake is inevitable.” The fact that you love a product (which, to the studios that own them, movies technically are) means that your love will be exploited by the people who own the rights to that product, in order to make money off of you.
Of course, there’s no solution I can offer for Sanderson’s Paradox. You have to keep loving things, because otherwise what’s the point of doing anything? But if you love something that a corporation owns, they will try to make you want to mess with that thing you love, until – quite possibly, it’s happened before – you don’t love it as much anymore. That means that product becomes devalued, and makes the corporation less money. Nobody wins.
Unless, of course, the Hocus Pocus remake is great. Then, everybody wins. So instead of assuming that it’s going to be awful (which it might, it might) let’s all just hope for the best and – as usual – prepare for the worst, just in case.
10 Classic Movie Remakes That Time Forgot:
Lots of people remember the 1994 remake of this Christmas classic, about a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real deal, but there were two TV remakes in the intervening decades. Ed Wynn (Mary Poppins) played Kris Kringle in the 1959 version of Miracle on 34th Street, and Sebastian Cabot (The Jungle Book) took over the iconic role in 1973.
Photo: 20th Century Fox Television
No Christmas classic was safe from the Made-For-TV remake machine. Case in point: It Happened One Christmas, a gender-swapped remake of It's A Wonderful Life, starring Marlo Thomas (of That Girl fame) as Mary Bailey, and Cloris Leachman as the angel who shows her how much worse the world would be if she'd never been born. As a bonus, Orson Welles shows up as Mr. Potter, the capitalist monster who wants to ruin the town.
The 1946 film noir classic The Big Sleep had been sleeping for over three decades until this particular remake, which stars an aging Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe for the second time, after the better remembered adaptation of Farewell My Lovely in 1975. Still, this version of The Big Sleep features another impressive cast, including James Stewart, Oliver Reed, Joan Collins and Sarah Miles.
Photo: United Artists
One of the most beloved romantic comedies ever produced spawned a TV remake in 1987, with Catherine Oxenberg (Dynasty) taking over for Audrey Hepburn and Tom Conti (Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence) replacing Gregory Peck.
One of the few films to star Superman's Christopher Reeve after a tragic accident in 1995 left him paralyzed was this well-intentioned, poorly remembered TV remake of the classic Alfred Hitchcock story about an immobilized voyeur (originally played by James Stewart) who becomes convinced his neighbor is a murderer. Daryl Hannah co-stars as his colleague, a role originated by Grace Kelly.
The classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical became an ambitious animated musical in 1999, which stars Miranda Richardson as Anna Leonowens (and Broadway singer Christiane Noll as her singing voice). The story of an Englishwoman who expands the horizons of the King of Siam was marred, somewhat, by the addition of odd new elements like (for some reason) a dragon. Those who saw it mostly hated it, so it's probably for the best that hardly anybody saw it at all.
Photo: Warner Bros.
One of the greatest westerns ever filmed became a somewhat disposable TV remake in 2000, with Tom Skerritt taking over for the great Gary Cooper and Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) playing the killer who comes to town, looking for revenge.
Stephen King's first novel became the 1976 horror classic Carrie, and would eventually become a more expensive remake in 2013, starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore. But in between there was this TV remake starring Angela Bettis (May), which changed the horror story's ending to make way for a follow-up TV series that never happened. Bryan Fuller, who would go on to executive produce Hannibal, American Gods and Star Trek: Discovery, wrote the screenplay and c0-produced.
The original All the King's Men won Best Picture in 1949, and for a moment it looked like the remake could do the same. Written and directed by Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List) and starring Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Ruffalo and James Gandolfini, this saga about the rise and fall of a fictional politician had the right pedigree... and none of the class. The remake of All the King's Men was written off as "Oscar bait" and has hardly been mentioned again in the last ten years.
Photo: Columbia Pictures
Top Photos: Walt Disney Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.