Hocus Pocus Director Reveals Disney’s Concerns Over Bette Midler’s Winnie Performance

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Summary

  • Bette Midler’s performance as Winifred in Hocus Pocus initially concerned Disney, but she stood her ground and embraced the goofy and wacky direction she wanted to take.
  • Midler’s transformation into the extravagant and unrecognizable character was a departure from her previous roles, but it ultimately worked out and made her portrayal of Winifred iconic.
  • Midler’s camp aesthetic and energy were essential to the success of Hocus Pocus, as her portrayal of Winifred added an extra level of campiness to the already supernatural movie.


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Original Hocus Pocus director Kenny Ortega recounts how Disney initially had concerns over Bette Midler’s performance in the supernatural movie. Midler portrays Winifred in Hocus Pocus, a reincarnated witch who haunts the city of Salem, Massachusetts alongside her sisters Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy). The Sanderson Sisters have since become Halloween movie icons and appeared together again nearly three decades after Hocus Pocus debuted in 1993, leading the 2022 sequel Hocus Pocus 2.

Despite being lauded now, Ortega explains Disney’s initial skepticism over Midler’s Winifred performance. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Ortega recounted how Midler held her ground when Disney was unsure of “the direction” she wanted to go in with the role. The director surmised that “she was maybe a bit goofier and wacky” than Disney expected. Ortega also cited “the absurdity of what she looked like” as an initial turn-off for those familiar with Midler’s other roles. Check out the full quote from Ortega below:

“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. 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.”

“Eventually, they relaxed, and the first dailies that came in. Everybody was laughing and happy.”


Why Bette Midler’s Performance Was Essential For Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus was a unique role for Midler at the time of its release. Before the horror classic, Midler was most known for her music career and 1980s comedies such as Beaches, Ruthless People, and Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Hocus Pocus was a huge departure for the actor, as she had to transform from a lovable leading lady to a character acting a spooky role.

This choice ultimately worked out for her, whose Hocus Pocus character is now one of her most iconic. Clad in lavish robes and sporting unnerving bucked teeth, Winifred is a larger-than-life character divorced from any form of reality. Midler’s extravagant performance makes Hocus Pocus all the more campy than it already is.

Midler’s camp aesthetic and aura are absolutely quintessential to Hocus Pocus. Providing a unique energy to the role, Midler’s Winifred corrals the cabal of witches, which energizes the supernatural movie as a whole. Hocus Pocus fans got to re-explore Winifred in Hocus Pocus 2 and will soon get to do so again with Hocus Pocus 3.

Source: EW