Walt Disney’s magical legacy has created millions of fans that span the globe and generations. However, few fans are anything like Aaron Wallace. With a law degree from Wake Forest University, Wallace has an analytical mind that he uses to highlight details about Disney properties that only increase one’s ability to enjoy the Disney magic. In addition to writing for DVDizzy, he wrote the popular book The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom.
He has now turned his focus to Disney’s Halloween classic, Hocus Pocus, by writing his latest book, Hocus Pocus in Focus: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Disney’s Halloween Classic. Wanting to learn more about this project, Wallace was kind of enough to allow me to interview him about this book.
Nicholas Yanes: You have been a fan of Disney for years, when did you become a fan? Do you have an early memory of the House of Mouse that you hold dear?
Aaron Wallace: My mom and my aunt were big Disney fans, especially of the ‘60s and ‘70s stuff they grew up on. So from a very, very early age, there was a lot of Mary Poppins, Pete’s Dragon, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks in my life. I think I was oddly aware of what is and is not “Disney” — and that the brand meant something special — from the time I could talk, if not before that. It really has been a lifelong fandom.
Yanes: You are also a lawyer. Given that Disney has a fascinating legal history, is there a case involving Disney that you find to be particularly interesting?
Wallace: In an earlier version of the Hocus Pocus book, I delved into this really interesting case in which Bette Midler was suing the Ford Motor Company, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals basically had to figure out — as judges, not music critics — what made her voice unique. It’s not a Disney case, but I get a kick out of that one.
In law school, I frequently found a way to incorporate Disney into whatever discussion or project was happening. It’s particularly useful for intellectual property discussions. But actually, one of the big cases a lot of law students study is Michael Eisner’s botched firing of Michael Ovitz in 1997.
So Disney’s everywhere, you know? And what I love, as someone who has this background in law, is bringing those jurisprudential tools… that sort of analytical framework… and applying it to movies, or music, or theme parks.
Incidentally, I have another book coming this year (all about Epcot), and there’s a fair amount of legal framework that plays into that.
Yanes: Your recent book is Hocus Pocus: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Disney’s Halloween Classic. Do you remember when you first saw this movie? On this note, is there a scene in it that stands out the most to you?
Wallace: I saw it in theaters in 1993. At least, I’m almost certain I did. I’d have been about seven years old, and I’m always a little skeptical of my memories from that time, but I can pretty distinctly recall walking back to the car and being obsessed.
What I remember even more, though, is all the promotion leading up to the movie. The trailers, the Disney Channel promos, the TV interviews… I was awfully young for this, I guess, but I remember being super hyped for Hocus Pocus. And I have always loved Halloween.
As for a specific scene, oh man… that’s the toughest question you could have asked me, haha! In the book, I spend a lot of time discussing the two musical numbers, “I Put a Spell on You” and “Garden of Magic” (which most people call “Come, Little Children”). So those stand out. But I’m fairly in love with every shot, every scene. The Dennison house, man. Whenever that house is in the shot, or whenever that giant moon is hanging in Kenny Ortega’s sky, I’m feeling the love.
Yanes: What was the inspiration for writing a book about Hocus Pocus?
Wallace: For years, I’ve wanted to read a book about Hocus Pocus. I ran a search for one on Amazon every year. But in October 2015, I had the chance to see Hocus Pocus on the big screen, that’s when I had the idea. It was like a thunder clap went off in my head, and all these ideas started downloading to my mind in the same moment.
I walked out of that theater just elated… rambling on and on to my friends about this Hocus Pocus book I was going to write. They had this “oooookay…” look on their faces, haha, but they were so supportive.
Yanes: While doing research for this book, what are some things you learned about Hocus Pocus that took you by surprise?
Wallace: So much it confirmed my suspicion that there’s something truly and uniquely special about the movie. In the back of the book, there’s a huge section of Hocus Pocus trivia and fun facts, and there were a number of things there that hit me as “wow!”
I think my favorite discovery is what Max is doodling on his paper in the classroom while their teacher is recounting the Sanderson story. It had never occurred to me to pay attention to what’s on that sheet of paper, but as soon as I did, it opened up this whole really mind-blowing discussion.
Yanes: There are dozens (if not hundreds) of Halloween-themed movies. Why do you think Hocus Pocus became and has remained so popular? Additionally, what do you think the film’s legacy is?
Wallace: You’re right, there are so many of them now. But there really weren’t in 1993. The idea of a family Halloween movie… that is, actually set at Halloween, in movie theaters… that was largely uncharted territory. And for that matter, Halloween itself was not the enormous, multi-million-dollar holiday it is today. That in itself is a big part of the movie’s legacy.
In retrospect, I think it’s fair to say that Halloween is what it is in America, at least in part, because of Hocus Pocus. It’s become this autumnal ritual, and for those of us who love it (and there are millions of us), there’s almost a bond between us. You really see that in the social media reaction every October. My hope is for this book to celebrate and build on that bond. And this question you asked — how did it become so popular after the fact —is really the central driving question of the whole book, and that plays itself out in a lot of interesting ways.
Yanes: Hocus Pocus in Focus has a foreword by actress Thora Birch and the film’s screenwriter Mick Garris. How cool was it that they were able to contribute to the book? Moreover, what interesting insights about the movie did you get from them?
Wallace: Ummm, incredibly cool. Just incredible. Thora Birch was a big deal in my household growing up, and I think that for my generation, she really is a household name. Not to mention, you know, a Golden Globe nominee for Best Actress! And Mick Garris is an absolute horror legend. I mean, this man put Norman Bates back on the screen.
It’s one thing to have this set of ideas about Hocus Pocus. For the cast and crew, though — and one of the creators, even — to really respond to and embrace the book to the point that they wanted to be involved? For this Hocus Pocus fan, there is truly no greater honor than that. And I think fans are going to be really wowed by some of the anecdotal insight they share in the book.
Yanes: Despite being decades old, there is still a large fanbase that wants a Hocus Pocus sequel. You discuss this in your book, but could you share some of your thoughts here? Specifically, do you think a sequel could work? And if so, what would you like to see?
Wallace: Yeah, it could totally work. It’s like anything else. There’s either a story or there isn’t. So many sequels rush into production without a solid story, and that’s the death of them. I don’t want that for Hocus Pocus. But in the book, I walk through a few different approaches that could and would work, with the right story in place.
And I mean, look, people want this to happen: the fans, the stars, the entirety of popular culture. It seems likely to me we’ll eventually see something come out of that, whatever form it might take.
Yanes: When people finish reading Hocus Pocus in Focus, what do you hope that they take away from it?
Wallace: In the theme park world, we talk about how much more you appreciate something like Disneyland when you learn about all the details — how all the names on the windows tell a story, how every little piece of decoration has a deeper meaning. As a result of those things, you fall in love with the place on a deeper level than you ever realized.
I want that same kind of experience for my readers with Hocus Pocus. Despite its reputation with critics, I think, this is a good movie. If you love it, you aren’t crazy for loving it. It’s not just “a bunch of Hocus Pocus.” There is a whole lot to this movie, and more than anything, I hope readers come away thinking, “Wow, I never knew!”
Yanes: Finally, what are some other projects you are working on that people should keep an eye out for?
Wallace: In December, I’m releasing The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Epcot, which is already up for signed preorder on my website, www.AaronWallaceOnline.com. I also have a podcast that I’ve been doing for over a decade, Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Pod, all about Disney things, and I have some new episodes of that coming up soon. Beyond that, stay tuned!