When I first saw the trailers and also publicity posters for HOCUS POCUS I was under the impression that is was just another of those Disney kids Halloween movies, which in a roundabout way I suppose it is, but on going to the cinema to see it the first thing that struck me was the infectious and also powerful music that opened the film and the subsequent score itself. In the impressive opening sequence we see the silhouette of a witch in flight on her broom reflected upon the coastal waters of Salem as John Debney,s exciting, sweeping and flyaway sounding theme gets proceedings underway. The short but highly effective main title which becomes one of the central themes of the score establishes itself quickly and conjures (forgive the pun) up a fantastic atmosphere that is filled with urgency and also mischief and an impish ambiance. The energetic theme subsides as the witch lands in the autumnal and colourful countryside near a farm and the audience see that we are in fact in the late 17th Century and not in the present day. The Witch entices a young girl Emily from her home and Debney laces the beginning of this sequence with the composition entitled, GARDEN OF MAGIC, a haunting and delightfully melodic theme that is introduced on piano and mirrored by glockenspiel and touches from triangle, this is further enhanced by woodwind and a light dusting of strings which then rise to develop the theme fully with horns creeping into the composition changing its mood and atmosphere to something that is far more urgent and dramatic as the abducted girls older brother realizes that she has been taken by the witch and sees that a green smoke is rising from the woodland where there lair is, he sends his friend to summon the elders of the village for help and then follows the witch and his sister into the woods in a desperate attempt to rescue her. The cue, GARDEN OF MAGIC was actually composed by James Horner. Horner had been the composer originally commissioned to write the score for HOCUS POCUS, and had penned GARDEN OF MAGIC when the movie was in pre-production because the character portrayed by Sarah Jessica Parker had to sing it in the movie. Due to schedule clashes Horner found himself unable to continue working on the composition of the score and he had to pull out. Disney then had to find a composer and Horner and producer David Kirschner suggested John Debney to the studio. Debney utilized Horner’s theme and integrated it into the fabric of his own score, arranging it in a number of different ways and also combining it with his own original thematic properties. In fact track number 2, GARDEN OF MAGIC and THACKERY FOLLOWS EMILY are credited to Horner with Debney acting as arranger and conductor.
Debney’s score for HOCUS POCUS is in a word huge, it is performed by a 92 piece symphony orchestra with choral support and is filled with wistful and grand sweeping musical passages that at times give a gentle nod of recognition to John Williams or maybe in the real action set pieces a hint of Wagner. The work literally overflows with dramatic sounding compositions, and oozes poignant segments which are tinged with melancholy, these are perfectly complimented by and interspersed with comedic undertones that at times can really be filed under the Mickey Mousing style of film scoring simply because of their little nuances and strategically timed and placed appearances add much to the screen action and events. This I think is demonstrated to great effect in the cue, WITCHES LAIR, where one of the Witches Winnie Sanderson (Bette Midler) floors Thackery Binx with one gesture of her finger, Debney effectively underlines this action with a synchronized two note stab. The soundtrack has never received an official release, the score was issued on a promo compact disc but this is now ultra rare and has a high price tag attached to it. The original release contained 19 tracks where as this excellent expanded release from Intrada has a whopping 27 cues from the score and a further 5 labelled as EXTRAS at the end of the CD, it also contains the vocal SARAH’S THEME which has to be a bonus in any ones book of spells. The original promo, ran for 43 mins, here we are treated to 74 mins and 25 seconds of gloriously entertaining and effervescent music. Debney’s score is in my opinion just as entertaining as the film itself, the music being larger than life and as over the top at times as Bette Midler’s highly entertaining performance and as quirky as Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy’s brilliant characters, the music works with the movie and also has an identity of its own away from the images it was written to enhance, it is an imposing and attractive work that is even more impressive because it was the composers first work for the big screen. I cannot recommend this soundtrack enough, my suggestion is that you grab this very quickly, it will be gone before you can say TRICK OR TREAT….Wonderfully presented with numerous stills from the movie and a thorough set of notes which are a delight to read.