‘the return of the witches‘ (‘Hocus Pocus’) takes place during an All Saints night in which a young virgin wants to impress the girl of his dreams and inadvertently resurrects the girls. sanderson sisters, three wacko witches of Salem that 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 Kirschner told his girls every October.
Kirschner was just starting out in the world of cinema (he had previously designed albums of Neil Diamond) but had already impressed steven spielberg with his original treatment for ‘Fievel, the new world’. In 1984 he organizes a meeting with Disney executives to sell them the story of ‘The Return of the Witches’ and for this he decorates the room with a cauldron, two brooms and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling and sweet corn scattered all over the table to recreate that childish and nostalgic feeling of the Halloween holiday.
Taking advantage of the fact that Hollywood had barely invested in family films about this very American celebration, Disney acquires Kirschner’s idea. Then Mick Garris enters, also linked to Spielberg for his collaboration on the television series ‘Amazing Tales’, to make a much darker treatment of the script than the final result.
An ideal movie for Halloween… which premiered in the summer
As usual in the world of cinema, these artists undertook other projects and the script was put on hold until, at the beginning of the 90s, with a recovered and stronger Disney thanks to the success of the new animated productions, Jeffrey Katzenberg hires Neil Cuthbert to give it a comic focus.
This is when 3 key people are hired to get the film off the ground: the excellent production designer William Sandell who was working for the company in ‘La Pandilla’, to the director of that 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 soon added for key roles as the scene stealer Kathy Najimythe rising star Sarah Jessica ParkerYoung Omri Katz, Thora Birch 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 only because its release was in summer but also because the box office was dominated by a certain dinosaur movie called ‘Jurassic Park’. Even so, Kenny Ortega shows, long before his proms in the ‘High School Musical’ trilogy, that he is capable of pulling off a Unpretentious and charming fun for the whole family.
Among the curiosities that this title leaves us we can find allusions to madonnathe cameos of the director brothers Garry and Penny Marshall next to the always hilarious Kathleen Freemanthe use of CGI along with practical effects to bring Thackery Binx the cat to life, or that contains an original song written by james horner.
‘The Return of the Witches’, from James Horner to John Debney
And it is that as he had previously worked with Kirschner, Horner was the initially chosen composer for this soundtrack. Before production starts, the composer writes the song Garden of Magic, which was needed to be sung on camera by Parker. When preparing the score, as Horner had other commitments, he personally chooses John Debney to compose the music in just two weeks, something that worried Disney a lot because they didn’t know if they were going to get a good job in such a short time.
Drawing inspiration from Danny Elfman, John Williams’s ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and ‘The Witches of Eastwick’, Debney creates a rich orchestral score for his first major film work. The limited box office success of ‘El Retorno de las Brujas’ means that its soundtrack is not released commercially, becoming one of the most requested by soundtrack fans until in 2013, the Intrada label rescued it in a limited edition already out of catalog.
Debney’s work was interesting because of its quality and because it introduced a brilliant new film composer. Disney was so pleased with the end result on the soundtrack that they made him an offer for 3 new movies. His career takes off and leads him to become one of the most relevant film music composers of the 90s.
As an anecdote, add that the song “Almost Unreal” by the musical group Roxette was originally written for this movie (in fact the lyrics of the song say “Hocus Pocus”, the original title of the movie) but Disney decided to take the song to the soundtrack of ‘Super Mario Bros’, also distributed by the studio, a fact that greatly irritated the Swedish duo.
‘The Return of the Witches’ found a new life thanks to the video format and reruns on television, especially on the Disney channel, becoming a cult movie for a generation that has been celebrating it as a classic for years and that has come to show that films do have a life beyond their premiere. I had the opportunity to talk to Mick Garris and he confessed to me that all the girls he knows fall at his feet when they find out that he co-wrote the story and the script.
Kenny Ortega participates in discussions that recall the creation of this film. Bette Midler has returned to play her character (which she says is one of her favorites). And beware: Adam Shankman has directed a second part! Midler, Najimy and Parker return to lead the cast after years of rumours.
And it is that ‘The Return of the Witches’ has us spellbound, because as well it sings winnie sanderson: “I put a spell on you!” (arranged by regular collaborator and friend of Midler, the brilliant composer Marc Shaiman).