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Hocus Pocus - The Sanderson Sisters

Toony Terrors
by yo go re

This is the story of a group betrayed in their own time, but coming back in the future to claim the power they were denied. Also there are witches in it.

The script that became Hocus Pocus was sold to Disney in 1984, but wasn't made until 1993. Although it's clearly a Halloween movie, it was released in July, of all times - Disney didn't want it to compete with their other big Halloween movie that year (meaning they're two-for-two on "box office bombs that eventually became beloved cult classics" that year). Not that any movie would have had a chance in the summer of '93.

The Sanderson Sisters were a trio of witches living in Salem, Massachusetts, in the late 17th century. Magic ones, not real, falsely accused ones. After abducting one child too many, the townspeople turn on them, and they're hanged, but not before they swore to one day return and have revenge on the town.

Sarah was the youngest sister, and seemed rather flighty and childish - she can usually be seen in the back of scenes doing something silly rather than paying attention, and her sisters even refer to her "dancing idiotically" when they're supposed to be working. Or running amok. She was functionally a sadistic child with godlike powers... and was about as much of a sexpot as a PG-rated kids' movie could get away with, too. She's boy-crazy! And is wearing a tied bodice over her maroon dress and purple drape. Her pale blonde hair falls over one of her dark-rimmed doe eyes, and the sculpt of the hair makes it clear she's supposed to be tipping her head to the side.

Each of the sisters had their own roles to play in the group child-murder activities. Sarah, for instance, had the ability to sing, siren-like, drawing their chosen victims to them. Mary, the middle sister, was a tracker: she could smell children without even trying, to the point of being able to tell boys from girls, and even guess their ages! But also, she's treated like a big eater, and the only thing she seems interested in eating is children - she's how they dispose of the bodies!

Each of the sisters was designed to depict their personality through their costuming: Sarah was dressed like a fairy tale princess, but Mary looks like a baker, with looser sleeves and an apron. This figure is posed all hunched over, like when she's sniffing out a target, and she's got that weird look on her face Kathy Najimi was always pulling. Despite being bent over, she's nearly as tall as the other two, thanks to her weird spiralling tower of hair.

Eldest sister Winifred is the leader of the trio, being the smartest and most focussed of the sisters. She's the one who controls the spellbook, she's the one who does the casting, and she's the one who plans their strategies. Bette Midler has said this is her favorite role, which is probably why she agreed to come back for the sequel almost three decades later.

Sarah had her Disney Princess eyes and Mary had her off-kilter mouth, so Winifred ends up with the weakest likeness in the set: like, they gave her her big buck teeth, but it feels like her eyes should be beadier or something. [eyeshadow. She's missing eyeshadow --ed.] Her dress is green, because they didn't want to just put their head witch in a plain black smock, and she's got that giant "Gary Oldman Dracula" hair. Her pose is very presentational, with one hand on her hip and the other raised into the air - she's about to start singing "I Put a Spell on You" before cursing the town's grownups.

The Toony Terrors have intentionally simple sculpts, and minimal articulation: since all three sisters are wearing dresses, they don't even get any sculpted legs, meaning the only joints are swivel shoulders and a balljointed neck. And honestly, the head is the only thing that counts, because the arms only look right in a single pose. The point of this line is to be smooth and cartoonish, so that's just the way they're made.

NECA's Sanderson Sisters were available either carded individually, or in a three-pack box set. Why bother with that first one? Who's going to want only one or two of them? I personally passed on them many times, because I couldn't find a store that had all three in stock at the same time! This set is the better way to go.

Although it was a flop at the time, Hocus Pocus has slowly grown into a Halloween mainstay, thanks to Disney using it as a kid-friendly "spooky" movie when the season is right, and to the kids who saw it when they were young also introducing it to new generations of fans. By 2015 it was the feature in a Disney park stage show, in 2018 it got a novelization and a sequel story in honor of its 25th anniversary, and last year a proper sequel movie was released, with a third installment in the works. Originally overlooked, the Sanderson Sisters are an October favorite, and while NECA may not have been able to make real figures of them, the Toony Terrors are terrific seasonal display items.

-- 10/08/23

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