Hocus Pocus! The fantastic music from The Witches Returns, the Disney + cult classic born from a bedtime story

the return of the witches” (“Hocus Pocus”) is set during All Hallows’ Eve, where a young virgin wants to impress the girl of her dreams and inadvertently resurrects the girls. The Sanderson sisters, three wacky witches of Salem this they don’t know how to live in the present. The origin of the film, available on Disney+, is a bedtime story that producer David Kirchner tells his girls every October.

Kirchner was just starting out in the world of cinema (he had previously designed albums by Neil Diamond), but he had already impressed Steven Spielberg with his original treatment of “Fievel, the new world”. In 1984, he set up a meeting with Disney executives to sell them the story of “The Witches Returns,” and to do so he decorated the room with a cauldron, two brooms and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling, and candy corn scattered throughout the table to recreated that childish and nostalgic feeling of the Halloween holiday.


Taking advantage of the fact that Hollywood has hardly invested in family films for this American holiday, Disney acquired Kirchner’s idea. Then Mick Garris, also associated with Spielberg for his collaboration on the Incredible Stories TV series, came in to do a much darker treatment of the script than the final score.

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As usual in the world of cinema, these artists took on other projects and the script was shelved until, in the early 1990s, with a re-established and stronger Disney, thanks to the success of the new animated productions, Jeffrey Katzenberg rent Neil Cuthbert to give it a comic focus.

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This is when 3 key people are hired to launch the film: the excellent production designer William Sandel who worked for the company in “La Pandilla,” of the director of the same play Kenny Ortega already the divine Bette Midler (recently nominated for an Oscar for Yesterday, Today and Forever) to star in it. New faces are being added soon for key roles like scene stealers Kathy Najimythe rising star Sarah Jessica Parkeryoung Omri Katz, Thora Burch and Vinessa Shaw and recurring mime actor Doug Jones to play a living corpse.

The film was released in July 1993 without pain or glory, not least because its release was during the summer but also because the box office was dominated by a certain dinosaur movie called Jurassic Park. However, Kenny Ortega shows, long before his proms in the “High School Musical” trilogy, that he is capable of Unpretentious and charming entertainment for the whole family.

Kenny Ortega on set

Kenny Ortega on set

Among the curiosities that this title leaves us, we can find allusions madonnathe cameos of the director brothers Gary and Penny Marshall to the always cheerful Kathleen Freemanthe use of CGI along with practical effects to bring Thackery Binx the cat to life, or which contains an original song written by James Horner.

The Return of the Witches, by James Horner to John Debney

And that is that, having previously worked with Kirschner, Horner was the original composer of choice for this soundtrack. Before production began, the composer wrote the song Garden of Magic, which was to be sung on camera by Parker. In preparing the score, since Horner had other commitments, he personally chose John Debney to compose the music in only two weeks, something that worried Disney a lot because they didn’t know if they would get good work in such a short time.

Drawing inspiration from Danny Elfman, John Williams’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and The Witches of Eastwick, Debney created a rich orchestral score for his first major film work. The limited box office success of “El Retorno de las Brujas” meant that its soundtrack was not released commercially, becoming one of the most sought-after soundtracks by fans until the Intrada label rescued it in limited edition in 2013. which is already out of the catalog.

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Debney’s work was interesting for its quality and because it introduced a brilliant new film composer. Disney were so pleased with the end result of the soundtrack that they made him an offer for 3 new films. His career takes off and makes him stand up one of the most relevant film score composers of the 1990s.

As an anecdote, add that the song “Almost Unreal” by the musical group Roxette was originally written for this film (in fact the lyrics of the song say “Hocus Pocus”, the original title of the film), but Disney decided to take the song to the “Super Mario Bros” soundtrack, also distributed by the studio, a fact that greatly annoyed the Swedish duo .

“The Witches Returns” found new life thanks to video form and reruns on television, especially on the Disney Channel, becoming cult film for a generation that celebrated it as a classic for years and that showed that movies really do have a life after their premiere. I had the opportunity to speak with Mick Garris and he admitted that all the girls he knows fall at his feet when they find out he co-wrote the story and screenplay.

Kenny Ortega participates in discussions that recall the making of this film. Bette Midler is back to portray her character (who she says is one of her favorites). And watch out: Adam Shankman is directing a second installment! Midler, Najimy and Parker are returning to headline the cast after years of rumors.

And that’s why The Witches Returns fascinates us because it also sings Winnie Sanderson: “I bewitch you!” (arranged by Midler’s regular collaborator and friend, the brilliant composer Marc Shaiman).

Hocus Pocus

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