Disney Questioned the ‘Direction’ of Bette Midler’s ‘Hocus Pocus’ Performance

Hocus Pocus Sanderson sisters

Hocus Pocus director Kenny Ortega says that Disney initially questioned the “direction” of Bette Midler's over-the-top performance as the witch Winifred “Winnie” Sanderson in the 1993 Halloween classic. Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy all reprised their roles as the Sanderson sisters in 2022's Hocus Pocus 2.

In Hocus Pocus, the Sanderson sisters are three evil Salem witches who are magically brought back from the dead 300 years after being burned at the stake. According to Entertainment Weekly, Disney had some issues with Oscar-nominated Midler playing a campy sorceress terrifying young children. Ortega says, “When Disney first saw what Bette wanted to do… they were like, ‘Uh, we're not quite sure this is the direction we want you to go in,' and I think Bette was [like], ‘Well, this is the direction I want to go in. If you want me to be the actress, you've got to bend here.'

“I think she was maybe a bit goofier and wacky, wild, the exaggerated character maybe frightened people, because they couldn't see the whole movie that was in front of it, and why Bette felt so comfortable,” says Ortega, citing “the absurdity of what she looked like” as jarring to her fans. “I just think the makeup covered her up, that Bette got lost underneath it all, and I think that's what Bette wanted to do. She wanted to surrender herself into the wild character, and that she wasn't recognizable. I think that scared people.”

Bette Midler and Her Cinematic Sanderson Sisters Will Return for Hocus Pocus 3

Hocus Pocus
Image Credit: Walt Disney Pictures.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly about Hocus Pocus 2, Midler talked about playing Winnie Sanderson in a third movie. She said:

“I'm envious of other actors who have franchises, and I was hoping for a sequel to First Wives Club, but we never got that. After 30 years with no sequel to Hocus Pocus, I've always been envious of people who get to do their favorite character more than once. The fact that we got to do this finally, after 30 years of promoting the idea, I'm glad we got to do it. I'd love to have a franchise — especially a character I love playing. If there was a third one, of course I'd sign on, but I don't know how. I can't imagine what the story would be, but I love Winifred, Sarah, Mary, and our relationship. It's good for women. We stick together through h— and high water, but we do cause mayhem, and not many women cause that much mayhem!”

When Entertainment Weekly asked Omri Katz, who plays Max Dennison in Hocus Pocus, if he would return for Hocus Pocus 3, the actor said, “The witches are 30 years older, so we've got to get this done sooner than later. We can't wait another 30 years. Sorry, it's the truth! I'm sure Bette does not want to be doing this at age 98.”


Author: Robert DeSalvo

Title: Entertainment News Writer


Robert DeSalvo is a professional writer and editor with over 25 years of experience at print and online publications such as Movieline, Playboy, PCH, Fandango, and The A.V. Club. He currently lives in Los Angeles, the setting of his favorite movie, Blade Runner. Robert has interviewed dozens of actors, directors, authors, musicians, and other celebrities during his journalism career, including Brian De Palma, Nicolas Cage, Dustin Hoffman, John Waters, Sigourney Weaver, Julianne Moore, Bryan Cranston, Anne Rice, and many more. Horror movies, sci-fi, cult films as well as gothic, postpunk, and synthwave music are what Robert geeks over.