Hocus Pocus is something of an interesting movie, you either love it or hate it. I know so many ’90s kids love this movie and I get it. With the announcement of a Disney+ sequel coming soon, I was reminded of the book sequel and that brings us to this entry that fits for this time of year as it focuses on the daughter of Max and Allison and takes place in the present day. Now, there was already a little bit of buzz and excitement over this book because the idea of a sequel to Hocus Pocus seemed neat and then we learned that the lead character, Poppy would be gay and would have a crush on another girl at her school that made people all the more excited. Which I get as this film does have a place amongst queer culture. As noted here.
While Hocus Pocus isn’t particularly gay, with no LGBT characters, its queerness is present in nearly every element. The casting alone is impressive, with Midler, Najimy and Parker each enjoying a sizable gay fanbase
That is one important element to look at when observing that part of this movie’s fandom and while I don’t know if that aspect played a part in making the main character gay in the book sequel but in many ways, that choice feels like an acknowledgment of the LGTBQ fandom of the movie. This is very nice but as I said I can’t be sure because when looking up the author, this is the only book that comes up. So, I think this is some writing under a pen name, which is a little frustrating when trying to do research.
Poppy has a crush on Isabella and that comes quite a bit throughout the sequel. In many ways, her crush is similar to how Luz and Amity acted around each other before they started dating.
This moment from the start of the book is quite reminiscent of how Amity reacted after she kissed Luz.
That comparison works in more ways than one as this relationship also involves a witch. Huh. quite a thing for stories revolving around witches to feature queer romances because that can also be seen in Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy.
This is something that I’ve noticed before as there is a lot of love for witches in this community. This is something I’ve touched upon briefly before when I looked at Growing Fangs and noted how the LGTBQ+ community loves the horror genre as it gives them a release valve for tension. The loving of witches is somewhat similar as noted from this article.
[Witchcraft] gave me a sense of my personal power,” says Krysta, who is gender non-binary. “In this world, Black, indigenous, and queer people are told they have no power. So, to have something that gives me power and encourages me to use my voice and my will is invaluable.”
The sense of power is perhaps the biggest aspect that I believe plays a factor in why so many queer people love witches. There is another aspect and is something that Matt Baume touched upon in his YouTube video about Disney villains. He brings up how these villains are seen and treated as outcasts that go against the grain. An example that ties into this example and was influenced by queer culture would be Ursula as she was inspired by a famous drag queen, Divine.
Having this history helps us to understand the context of this couple from both the historical aspect with witches and the popular culture aspect of the movie. While this is all well and good, there is a major issue and I get what the book was going for but it is a rather Yikes moment for me. If you recall the movie, Winifred turned Thackery Binx into a cat and he had to spend most of his life as a cat.
That I get as witches are known to turn children into other creatures. It goes hand-in-hand with how witches act but my issue stems from this, the book seemingly wanted to repeat having one of the characters being turned into an animal, and this time it was the character of Isabella, a young black girl that was turned into a dog.
When I first read this book and even when I originally reviewed it, I did not think much of the fact that a black character had been turned into an animal but a few years later and well, this is indicative of a problem that has popped up quite a bit and most certainly prominent in stuff such as animation, often when a black character is featured in a fantastical story, they are not featured as a Black character for long and are instead turned into something else.
An important example of this is how Tiana is turned into a frog or if we wish to go back further and tie this into an episode of one of my favorite sitcoms, Sabrina The Teenage Witch features another black witch, Dreama accidentally turning herself into a mouse.
Again, I understand if one wants to argue that magic was involved in both of these cases and while the Sabrina thing was only for an episode, it is still a problem to see how often this has happened to Black characters. If we take this one step further, Isabella is the main love interest for Poppy and Poppy does blame herself for what happened but here’s the thing, she was the one to release The Sanderson Sisters as Isabella has a massive interest in them but I don’t think this aspect needed to be repeated or if the author truly felt that she had to do it, there are two other options that she could have used, the first being is to turn Poppy’s best friend, Travis into a dog or seeing as Thackery does show up in the book explain that somehow that, because they’re back, the curse on him, had been reinstated and he’s back to being a cat.
That second option is admittedly lazy, yes but to be fair, this book reads like a direct-to-video sequel from the late nineties – early 2000s. Here’s the thing though this book was published in 2018, and the fact that this trope persists is not fair to readers of color. Yes, every story is not for everyone but if you include a character of color, could you not turn them into a creature. If you want a good example of a black witch character that was able to embrace her witchiness and who she was without ever having to fall into this trope, I’d suggest Prudence from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Tati Gabrielle who played her voices Willow on The Owl House) and while CAOS wasn’t fair to her, at least they never dd this to her and that is also true of Sabrina’s cousin Ambrose.
This brings us to a larger point when discussing the idea of witchcraft and people of color, I mentioned how queer culture relates to witches as it gives them a sense of power, I think it is also important to look at how other races relate to this. This piece from Variety ties into that larger issue of how Black Witches had felt failed by Hollywood.
“It’s almost like Black women have to give up their power no matter what,” Makhosi says.
While Isabella doesn’t have to give up her power as she is still discovering it even as a dog, there is another aspect, where while she still has her humanity, you can see how much this moment has gotten to her after it seems as though all is lost.
This may seem like a small thing but it speaks so much to how much Isabella lost when she was turned into a dog. She lost a part of herself because of this act.
This is something that we see often with Black witches and it’s hard to recall the last time, there was a story about witches where the main character was Black. The closest is maybe Sarah Fier but even then, that is a stretch to say as the main character Deena was just Sarah’s story through her eyes and the real Sarah was white, so that doesn’t count. There’s also Rochelle in The Craft but that presents another problem, it shouldn’t be this hard to think of witches that aren’t white.
I will take full responsibility and say this is most likely a blind spot of my own doing that I could improve upon but I also return to my original statement in how these characters deserve better treatment than they have been given. While looking at how Isabella is treated, I think it is also key to look at how Poppy is treated, and well, she does get a little bit better treatment than her crush.
Okay, first of all, I don’t get why Poppy is wearing a witch’s hat in her introductory post as she doesn’t believe her parents’ story about The Sanderson Sisters returning and finds it embarrassing until she accidentally brings them back to impress Isabella. And this book is told from her perspective in a first-person present tense. This is a style that isn’t often used and after reading this book, I can see why. It’s an odd style to write in as it is meant to make you feel as though you are part of the action as it is happening but it’s a little confusing as to how she can know how some of the action happening when she isn’t around. It also does provide us with good insight into her character.
That is one thing I do like about Poppy’s journey as she learns to come to terms with her parents’ story and even learning about how Jay and Ernie were locked in cages and we get to hear how that affected them.
What I like about this is that it shows that while yes, he may have been a bully, his life was still ruined by what Max did and Poppy can understand this. This doesn’t have too much to do with her journey with Poppy and ISabella getting together but it is still I believe key to look at. As not only does it help Poppy to better understand her parents but also what it must’ve been like for them growing up.
Now as for how Poppy feels about Isabella, she’s got it bad. There are two instances where she mentally gets angry when two characters insult Isabella.
Both of these moments once gave me major Lumity vibes and especially made me think of the “Stay away from my Luz” moment from Escaping Expulsion.
It is rather sweet to see how much Poppy cares about Isabella and is willing to go to great lengths. Of course, she’s worried about her parents and aunt who are trapped in Hell but the way she speaks about Isabella hits differently.
This shows how much Poppy truly cares about Isabella and would do anything to keep her safe. I’d apologize for the Lumity comparisons if I was sorry for them but I’m not. There are two really sweet moments towards the end, first when Poppy thinks she has lost Isabella but Isabella throws her arms around her and it gives me “awesome girlfriend vibes”.
Poppy and Isabella are a very sweet couple and you can truly feel the love they have for one another especially when Isabella goes in to kiss Poppy at the end.
This highlights something else that is huge, you may have noticed that I mentioned The Owl House a lot in this entry, and well yes gay witches and all but Dana Terrace has stated that she wanted The Boiling Isles to be a place that was free of homophobia and that is great. This book is similar no one ever mocks Poppy or Isabella for being gay nor is it ever made a big deal of. Sure, reports such as this made it a big deal when the book was first announced but there is a difference between news outlets making it a big deal and the story making it a big deal.
the second portion of the book focuses on three new teens, including Poppy and Isabella, who are caught in their own battle against the Sanderson sisters, who have seemingly returned from the dead. The two teens team up with another friend, Travis, and the group finds themselves battling the Sandersons on Halloween night 2018. Sounds pretty great, right?
An example of a story that makes having a gay character seem like a big deal and as though they deserve a pat on the back for inclusion is the elsewhere scene from Jungle Cruise.
I will not say that scene was put in there just to score points because I find that idea rather gross but I will say that it was handled poorly whereas with the characters of Poppy and Isabella, their development felt natural and it was nice to follow their journey even with the one major misstep that I spoke of. If you are a fan of Hocus Pocus, this sequel is a nice read and is something to tide us over until the Disney+ sequel hits and I hope they use some plot elements from this book but I’m doubtful.