In 1983 there was the John Hughes scripted, Harold Ramis directed comedy National Lampoon’s Vactaion. The film was a success both critically, financially, and culturally. Vacation is an American classic documenting a uniquely American experience. If spawned plenty of sequels: European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, Vegas Vacation, but none of these ever truly caught the essence of what made the original Vacation resonate so strongly with American audiences. Over 30 years later we get this new Vacation and there was the usual to-do when any remake or update is announced, the typical “Hollywood is going to screw up this classic.” Is that really warranted with this movie? Was the original Vacation all we ever needed?
Not a Remake
Let’s clear up one misconception – The 2015 Vacation is not a remake, it is a sequel. Not an “in the spirit of” sequel either – this is a legit sequel. The same characters (obviously different actors) from 1983’s Vacation now 30 years older. This is canon. So one may then wonder why they didn’t draw more attention to that fact by callint it Vacation 2 or something similar. Well, why was Final Destination 4 simply called The Final Destination? Why was The Fast and the Furious 4 simply called Fast & Furious? Because fuck you, that’s why. Or, let me put it this way: If you went to the Grand Canyon one summer and then went to Disney World the next summer, you wouldn’t refer to that as “Vacation 2” would you? No. Both are simply called a vacation. That’s why this film is a non-specific Vacation.
Rusty Griswold (played in 1983 by Anthony Michael Hall – now played by Ed Helms) is grown up with a beautiful wife (Christina Applegate) and two sons. These Griswolds are an absolutely average family, noting extraordinary or outstanding about them. They attend a dinner party early on where other families are extraordinary and have accomplished extraordinary things, so there is a feeling of inferiority in the Griswold family because of their averageness. Tired of the complacency of their usual family vacation, Rusty decides what his family needs in order to develop unity is to recreate the vacation from his childhood he remembers so well: Let’s drive to Wally World.
I completel admire that the film acknowledges what it is doing, there’s even dialogue to show this. Rusty’s sons point out the futility of trying to “remake” that vacation from 30 years ago. Rusty knows this isn’t going to be a re-creation of that great vacation from 30 years ago, but this is going to be their own vacation. It’s like a thesis statement for the movie – That film from 30 years ago was great, we’re not going to spoil that memory; instead we’re going to make our own different and unique statement.
If I were to compare opening sequences I would say that the 2015 Vacation has a stronger one. Both utilize the same “Holiday Road” song, but the 2015 film uses the opening credits to visually set-up what it wants to say. It shows random pictures, all with the graininess of an old photo album of people’s vacation. Most are the usual kind of family vacation photos we know, the kind we’ve all been in and seen before. Occasionally there’s one with some sort of unintended mistake (photo-bomb?). These pictures together create a statement – a family vacation, good or bad creates a lifetime of memories, and some of those are gonna be kinda shitty.
Both films have the same premise – a family is going to drive from their home in Chicago to the fictitious Wally World in California. Along the way, everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Different things though. It is important to note that the 2015 compies NONE of the comedic set-ups of its predecessor. The sense of humor and the apt use of juxtaposition humor are similar but no scenes are recreated. They both come to the same ending theme – the importance of family, yes we had good times and bad but we did this as one family and are stronger because of it. It’s a great theme. Vacation did it great in 1983 and Vacation does it great in 2015. Each has the same theme, just phrased in their own way, synonyms to express identical sentences.
It’s a theme I relate to, a theme I love, and it’s due to my admiration for that theme that I really don’t like the subsequent Vacation movies after 1983. Those were more spectacle than anything else – the theme was not significant. These were much more about creating things to go wrong, all humor and no depth. The eventual “well we managed to get a good holiday out of this despite all these terrible things” feels like an obligatory wrap-up. I’ve not seen that TV movie Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure but I suspect that it’s no Vacation (or even Christmas Vacation for that matter).
So while the 2015 Vacation is a sequel it is not a sequel in the same way the previous ones were. It doesn’t try to up the hi-jinx. Like the first film it serves as a visual definition of the word “Vacation” – a time of family togetherness.