With all this current talk of remaking such recent films as The Neverending Story and The Karate Kid, you've got to wonder if Hollywood's just plain running out of ideas. Remakes are a tricky thing. If done in the right way they can come off as a clever reimagination of the original, but veer too far from or even to close to the original story and you've got a potential disaster on your hands.
Seriously, you don't have to tell me twice. My friends and I in a bout of uncharacteristic (okay, characteristic) laziness decided to rent the movie Great Expectations in lieu of reading the no-doubt worthy if undeniably lengthy Charles Dickens classic in high school. No one told us, however, just how many times this film had been remade. In our bad luck my friend picked up the 1998 Gwenyth Paltrow vehicle instead of the admittedly more boring and less sexy of any of the three previous incarnations. It was amusing, no doubt, to see Paltrow's character all dressed up in some ridiculous outfit and asserting flippantly, "But Mother, it's the 90s!" Unfortunately for us, it had really very little to do with the actual book itself. Suffice it to say none of our movie-watching gang performed too wonderfully on the exam.
But perhaps I digress. What exactly is the point here? Great cinema may be timeless, but choosing to remake a great film is a treacherous road. Succeed and you achieve the goal of exposing a new generation to a worthy classic. Bonus points if you remake a foreign film, as most of us ethnocentrites here wouldn't have a clue it wasn't an original. After all, that was pretty much the only thing I learned from watching the 1998 version of Great Expectations. Much to the chagrin of my English teacher, of course. She was all-too-quick to inform me that there was no character in the novel named Finn. Damn you remakes and your insidious name-changing. I suppose it didn't help my cause that for a paragraph or two in my essay, I accidentally referred to him as "Ethan Hawke". Subtlety isn't my fine point.
These 90s movies may not have been originals and some are far from classics, but they generally did pretty well in holding our attention. And if at the end of the day, it gave us a common notion to discuss with our parents who so loved the original, then all the better.
If you can believe it, the Little Rascals (or "Our Gang") comedic shorts featuring cute and rambunctious child actors date all the way back to the 1920s.
While the popularity of the originals waned sometime around the 1940s, the brand was reinvigorated when it was picked up for syndication television in the 50s. Just a few decades later, however, the Gang was all but forgotten. In 1994, Universal Pictures put out a loosely defined remake of the shorts. The new film borrowed heavily on gags and themes from the originals, and retained many of the same characters. Oh, and in case you're wondering, here's my favorite part:
Fans of the originals were less than thrilled with the remake, but the film did reasonably well and a new generation of kids were rather taken with these miniature rascals. It may not have lived up to the standards of the original gang, but they were admittedly pretty cute.
The Parent Trap
The original was released in 1961, featuring Hayley Mills as both Susan Evers and Sharon McKendrick. This was, no doubt, pretty sharp technology for the time. The film was well-received and was even nominated for two Oscars. Though, let's be real here, they were for Sound and Editing respectively. Oh well, they're still Oscar nods, right? You can still put that on your home video case.
You know you're a real 90s kid when you hear Hayley Mills' voice even as a teenager and your mind immediately jumps to Good Morning, Miss Bliss
In 1998, Disney remade the film and introduced the world to a then-adorable Lindsay Lohan. The film was appropriately updated to entertain 90s children, giving them something over which to bond with their parents who had grown up with the original.
Romeo and Juliet
There have been quite a few releases of Romeo and Juliet, but perhaps the most widely seen was the 1968 version. I know we were forced to sit through it in 9th grade Language Arts.
Probably completely unfairly to the perfectly fine '68 version, my classmates and I had been spoiled by the 90s-ified remake and thus referred to the older film as "The Boring One". Hey, it's tough to compete with Leonardo DiCaprio, gunfights, and songs by The Cardigans. Sorry, 1968 version. We never gave you a chance.
The 1961 Disney animated version was spectacularly successful and well-received by audiences. It was so successful, in fact, that the film was actually re-released to theaters a staggering four times before they finally just came out with it and did a remake.
Sorry, guys, according to this commercial it looks like this baby may already be back in the Disney vault. Looks like you missed your chance.
While Glenn Close was pretty spectacular and terrifying in her role as Cruella DeVil, the film wasn't quite as critically acclaimed as the original. It was a financial success, however, and a pretty wise move by Disney overall.
If only the world's dalmatian puppy population had fared as well. Following the release of the '96 version, demand for adorable dalmatians skyrocketed. No one at Disney ever told us that they weren't all that great with kids. I mean, they looked so cuddly in the movie. Soon thereafter rescue shelters with bursting at the seams with returns and exchanges of dalmatians. Whoops. Maybe the film should have come with some sort of caveat.
Angels in the Outfield
The1951 picture was not nearly as family-oriented a film as its subsequent reincarnation. The first didn't have much in the way of child-age characters, and come on, the team in this version was the Pirates. Where's the pun in that? Come on.
I have to say, this original trailer is awesome. It's completely ridiculous.
The 1994 release was much more of a family movie. A sad little foster kid played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt is told by his deadbeat dad that they'll be reunited when the Angels win the pennant. See, the Angels. Clever update, right? Plus we get Christopher Lloyd as our lead angel. What's not to like?
Oh my god, how cute is little Joseph Gordon-Levitt? The correct answer is, incredibly, unbelievably, heartstring-tuggingly cute.
I guess great stories really are timeless. Either that, or people have terrible memories. There have been five big-screen adaptations of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, although the first two were in the era of silent films. We had our 1933 release with Katharine Hepburn as Jo:
The 1949 adaptation with over-the-top theatrics, featuring Elizabeth Taylor as Amy:
I love the way the trailer claims it to be Romantic as Springtime! Merry as Christmas! Sparkling as Winter!
And finally, our 1994 feature chock full of big names as Winona Rider, Christian Bale, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, and Susan Sarandon:
For a movie that's been remade so many times, you've got to admire the 1994 version for getting it right. Yes, it's sappy and sentimental, but so is the novel. It's pretty hard to make selling your hair and dying of scarlet fever into slapstick comedy.
The Nutty Professor
I'm sure this news is going to shock you, so I'm going to try to break it to you gently: the original Nutty Professor contained infinitely fewer fart jokes. It also did not spurn any insufferable fart-joke filled sequels featuring its star playing every member of his family. Here's the trailer to the Jerry Lewis original, released in 1963:
The Eddy Murphy vehicle somehow, God knows how, morphed into, well, this:
Some things are better left unexplained.
As you can see, remakes run the gamut from a welcome reinterpretation to inexplicable excuse for cross-dressing and flatulence jokes. We can only hope the forthcoming remakes of 80s and 90s films can do any bit as much justice to the movies we grew up with. After all, I don't know how I'll ever explain to my kids that no, that flying luckdragon thing from The Neverending Story is not supposed to be computer animated, it's supposed to be real and fuzzy and absolutely terrifying.