The Iconic Hocus Pocus Scene That Almost Never Happened

"Hocus Pocus" is a popular Halloween film that turned 30 in 2023. The untold truth of the film is that some of the most memorable moments weren't written in the script. The film's director Kenny Ortega has an impressive Hollywood resume, having worked as a choreographer, director, or both on a variety of legendary projects. He did double-duty for "Hocus Pocus," and he spoke with Entertainment Weekly about some of the improvised scenes in the film.

"The calming circle, Kathy [Najimy] came up with that," Ortega said. Najimy played Mary Sanderson, one of the three witchy Sanderson sisters running around Salem. Ortega went on to say how Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker — who played Winnie and Sarah Sanderson, respectively — went along with the improvised moment. In the scene, viewers can see Midler and Parker smile when Najimy pushes them to try the calming circle, perhaps implying a small break in character.

The director-choreographer said the actors in the film were "improvisational geniuses" and added, "We honored the writing, and then we had a party." Ortega mentioned that the witch walk the sisters did was made up by the actors as well and that the environment on set left the door open for actors to try new things.

One actor changed a line to make it more family-friendly

In a 2020 interview, another actor from "Hocus Pocus" opened up about a non-scripted moment. Doug Jones, who played the reanimated corpse Billy Butcherson, told E! News about a line that he felt compelled to change.

For a good chunk of the movie, Billy's mouth is sewn shut. When he finally gets it open and moths fly out, he can speak again. The original script had him curse at Winnie Sanderson at that moment and shout, "B***h!" However, Jones didn't think that was right for a family film for Disney.

"This is where I need to prove to the kids that I'm on their team, that I'm a good guy," Jones said, referencing the characters Max, Allison, and Dani. So he pitched his own line instead, where Billy shouts, "Wench! Trollop! You bucktooth, mop-riding, firefly from hell!" He then leans over to Max and says, "I've waited centuries to say that." Jones' new line ended up in the final cut of the movie.

'Hocus Pocus' was written to be scarier

In addition to improvised moments on set changing the film, the vibe of "Hocus Pocus" evolved from its original conception. The actor who played Allison, Vinessa Shaw, told Entertainment Weekly that the script they read initially and used for auditions, "was much scarier." She added, "When we started shooting, it became a funny version, much lighter. It had the female 'Three Stooges' element in it, and all the choreography that was added lent itself to a much more comedic movie bringing out the strengths of the [Sanderson Sister] actresses." Shaw also said the witches written into the original script were like the Wicked Witch of the West, with less silly moments.

Kathy Najimy spoke with Syfy Wire in 2018 about a different change the film underwent. According to Najimy, when the film was shot, "It was really more about the witches and less about the kids" (via Bustle). Editing caused the film to shift focus to become "kid-friendly."

The popularity of "Hocus Pocus" has also changed over time, going from a critically hated film to a true Halloween staple. The 2022 sequel "Hocus Pocus 2" has details only true fans of the franchise will notice, making it both a continuation of and a love letter to the original.