‘Hocus Pocus’ Director Says Disney Didn’t Like Bette Midler As Winifred


Disney’s Hocus Pocus has been a Halloween staple ever since its release in 1993, but according to director Kenny Ortega, Disney wasn’t too keen on lead star Bette Midler’s performance in the film.

The spooky season classic stars Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson sisters Winifred, Sarah, and Mary — three youth-hungry witches who are resurrected on Halloween night and terrorize the children of Salem, Massachusetts.

Director Ortega recently recalled working on Hocus Pocus with Entertainment Weekly, revealing that he encouraged the main cast (Midler, Parker, and Najimy) to develop their own take on their characters.

However, Disney wasn’t on board for Midler’s interpretation of the oldest Sanderson witch. “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,’” Ortega shared.

Bette Refused To Back Down

In spite of Disney’s reservations, Midler stood by her portrayal of Winifred “Winnie” Sanderson.

“I think Bette was [like], ‘Well, this is the direction I want to go in,’” Ortega further disclosed to Entertainment Weekly. “‘If you want me to be the actress, you’ve got to bend here.’”

Ortega also recalled how Midler felt comfortable being “a bit goofier and wacky” during her performance as Winifred because she understood the vision and tone of the overall film, while the studio executives didn’t.

Disney Was “Frightened” By Her Portrayal

The Hocus Pocus director went on to explain how Midler’s “exaggerated character maybe frightened people,” especially when studio execs saw the Oscar-nominated actor dressed as Winifred Sanderson for the first time.

“I just think the makeup covered her up, that Bette got lost underneath it all,” Ortega told Entertainment Weekly. “I think that’s what Bette wanted to do. She wanted to surrender herself to the wild character, and that she wasn’t recognizable. I think that scared people.”

Ortega also shared that Disney later came around to Midler’s performance, adding: “Eventually, they relaxed, and the first dailies that came in. Everybody was laughing and happy.”

The Cast Loved Midler’s Winifred

Although Disney wasn’t initially convinced, Midler’s Hocus Pocus co-stars were thrilled by her presence in the film.

Speaking to Entertainment Tonight back in 1993, co-star Najimy (aka Mary Sanderson) cited Midler’s casting as the only reason she signed on to the movie. “Bette Midler has been my idol for over 15 years,” Najimy said at the time.

Omri Katz (aka Max Dennison) also previously revealed that he was “astounded” by Midler’s performance, while co-star Thora Birch (who played Max’s sister Dani Dennison) told The Wrap that Midler’s musicality on set was a particular highlight.

“She just starts singing. And like, everybody stops,” Birch recalled. “I was just like, ‘Oh, my God, this is freaking awesome. She’s like, singing to comfort us.’ That was a completely memorable moment.”

Hocus Pocus Became A Cult Classic

While the movie wasn’t a box office smash upon its original 1993 release, Hocus Pocus is now recognized as a Halloween cult classic.

A direct sequel to the original, Hocus Pocus 2, was released on Disney+ in September 2022 and became the streamer’s most-viewed film premiere to date A third Hocus Pocus installment is also currently in the works, although the plot and cast are yet to be confirmed.

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