Michaeline: Hocus Pocus

Magician with rabbit, roses, a hat full of carnations, cards, no we are not done yet, doves, a goldfish and a magic case. Whew!

Zan Zig, magician, has a lot of flash and creativity and color going on, but lacks something in the structure departure. Does it matter? It’s still beautiful. And yet . . . . (Via Wikimedia Commons)

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a magic wand and could *poof* our story into existence – a perfect story without faults and perfectly entertaining?

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. On the other hand, judging from the Halloween hit, Hocus Pocus, you don’t need perfect to create an enduring seasonal hit. There is no doubt that a lot of hard work went into this Disney movie, but if you need an example of a deeply flawed story to learn from, here you go.

The biggest problem with the story is that the movie takes three feisty, funny women (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker), and immediately turns them into child murderers. And the flip side of the problem is that they are the best damn things in the movie. Every time I want to root for them, I catch myself and say, “Oh, yeah. Complete and utter evil.”

We’ve talked before about how a villain should be understandable, and even likable. Jenny Crusie has talked about how a villain should also be smarter and better than the protagonist. If the villain isn’t any good, the victory is hollow.

But there is such a thing as going to extremes. If you are going to have witty and interesting villains (and you really should!), you also need to have protagonists who can stand up to the star power.

According to IMDb, Leonardo DiCaprio was courted to take the part of Max, the main protagonist. I can’t help but wonder if the movie would have been more successful with a stronger actor. Then again, Leonardo was young, and this could have sunk his young career.

There are other things wrong with the movie, but despite everything, Hocus Pocus is a popular Halloween movie. It is strongly seasonal, and the three actresses are amazing. We’ve also got pretty cool side characters such as a talking cat, and an adorable zombie ex-boyfriend, and the kids, particularly young Dani (played by Thora Birch) are good. Maybe that’s all you need to be published and adored – not perfection. Good enough is good enough.

It’s a thought that should be sustaining when we get into the darker days of November, particularly if you are NaNo’ing this month. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

(-: I’m really scared to go back and look at the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special in depth now.

Thoughts? Also, what are your writing goals for November? Not everyone will NaNo, but everyone should have a goal. Writing doesn’t just happen by magic, after all.

9 thoughts on “Michaeline: Hocus Pocus

  1. I didn’t remember this movie at all, so I looked it up on imdb to learn that Max is played by a kid named Omri Katz, who’s now working as a hairdresser. And of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think you’re right—maybe a different actor would have served the film better. That said, I put it in my Netflix queue. Looks like it would be fun just to see the three witches work! And it’s too bad the protagonists aren’t as strong as the three of them—but then, would any single boy/man be able to stand up to the likes of the Divine Miss M, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy? I think not.

    • There are three kids as protagonists, and poor Mr. Katz does a brave job (with some really unfortunate dialog moments — there’s a running gag about him being the virgin that lit the candle, and I cringe every time), but no, he can’t stand up to the combined star power. I think Thora Birch does the best job, but the older kids aren’t quite as fierce and confident.

      I think it’s worth watching once. And then thinking it over very carefully.

    • I think if you get the right boy/man you’d have a chance. What about the Witches of Eastwick? You’ve got the combined firepower of Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer v Jack Nicholson.

        • Oh, yes. I bet Jack Nicholson could stand up to those ladies. Robin Williams would be incredible as a white wizard.

          But since it was Disney, the kids had to be the heroes. I’m not sure who the 1995 kids stealing the scenes were. I’m thinking Drew Barrymore, but she would have been way too old by then.

          (-: High School Musical vs. The Three Hocus Pocus witches?? That could work.

  2. I love that movie. Now that the grandkids are getting old enough to handle a little scary, I may have to add it to my collection. Of course, the last time I was it was before I had any kind of handle on dramatic structure.

    Another movie that falls into this category is Witches, based on a story by Roald Dahl and featuring Angelica Huston as the head witch. Same deal, really–there’s a witches’ convention going on in a small seaside town and they’re plotting to turn all the children into mice (not quite murder but, given the whole witch/cat thing, close enough). I wanted the g-kids to see it, so I bought it and watched it with them, only to realize that there’s 30 minutes of totally unnecessary back story at the beginning.

    • (-: But Angelica Huston. Must be good. Dahl’s bad guys always steal the show. I’m still not completely sure about Willy Wonka. I think he’s pretty evil, but Charlie learns an important lesson or three as a result.

      The more distance I put between myself and the movie, the more I like it. Some really amazing scenes in it. I was so sad I’d wasted my evening with it last night, though. I want to root for people whose goals I can get behind! Turning children to mice is marginally better — there’s the strong possibility they’ll be human again as soon as the witch is dead.

      One other problem I had is that the witch-as-monster seems so . . . non-feminist. Actually, those women were ready to go and get what they wanted, so they were kickass. But, there weren’t any ladies with socially useful goals who were quite as kick ass. The two girls were pretty good, but not quite as Roaringly Empowered as our three witches.

  3. I tried to watch this movie about a month ago and couldn’t get past the first 15 minutes or so. As much as I like those three actresses individually, I actually didn’t like their chemistry when they were onscreen together. And because the early scenes involve the child protagonists, I thought the same thing about them not bringing much strength to the characters. This is a little unfair because, as I said, I didn’t watch the whole movie, but based on your assessment of the goal/structure issues, not sure I would have a much more positive view if I made it to the end.

    As for November writing, I will be NaNo’ing after all! But I will be a rebel. I came up with a change to Act IV of My Girls which will involve scrapping my previous approach and crafting about 5k new words to intercut with existing scenes. That’s 10% of the NaNo goal, so I want to take credit for that :-)! The rest of the words will come from work on a novella (historical romance, which I haven’t written in ages!). Anyone joining NaNo can ‘buddy’ me – my moniker there is Nancy Y.

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