“National Lampoon’s European Vacation” attempts in its opening scene to answer the question: Would you compete on a quiz-style game show for an all-expenses paid vacation through some of Europe’s greatest cities, if you had to dress up in a pig costume? And, trust me, only the kid from “The Christmas Story” could look adorable in such a getup. Not so much the Griswolds – Chevy Chase, his impossibly beautiful spouse Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), and their two kids, played in this installment by Dana Hill and Jason Lively, who wind up defeating a super-genius family (you can tell because they all wear glasses!) when D’Angelo blurts out her husband’s name in a bonus round – and it turns out to be correct. (Question in question: Who was Sacajawea’s partner? Why Clark!) This does not sit well with the genius family, but soon the Griswolds are en board a plane to England. Their first trip in the prequel “NL’s Vacation,” featured a cross country odessey to an amusement park, a rabid dog who meets an untimely end, and a grandmother who passes on, too. Now they’re ready for some international high jinks.
On the plane ride, each member has a dream sequence. The son, Rusty, who has morphed from the rather cute kid played by Anthony Michael Hall into a full-fledged perv, imagines himself getting lucky in a nightclub, while his sister, Audrey, has a nightmare about not being able to resist temptation and gaining weight. Clark pictures himself in the Alps, singing. “The Sound of Music.” On arrival, their first hotel turns out to be a dump with a communal bathroom with a seedy receptionist, and Ellen urges Clark to bypass the game show’s itinerary and just sightsee like normal people. But we’re not normal, Clark points out accurately. We’re the Griswolds!
After some high jinks involving a mistaken hotel bed, the aforementioned bathroom and bedpans, the Griswolds rent a car and attempt to see the royal palace They are defeated by this, however, because of the odd driving habits of the British, who drive on the opposite side of the road than Americans. Other destinations and misadventures include:
A running gag involving Eric Idle getting injured by Clark but always being very polite about the whole thing, despite Clark’s mortified apologies. Because those Brits are just so polite, you know.
Another running gag about the daughter missing her boyfriend back home, which eventually leads to her making an outrageously expensive long distance call and Clark threatening to castrate the boyfriend. (Honey, he’s played by William Zabka, are you really surprised that he decides to hook up with your best friend?)
Another dog meets an untimely end when it leaps off the Eiffel Tower – and guess who’s responsible?
Due to a mistaken house number, the family visits with a German couple who they take for relatives, and their hosts don’t speak enough English to clear up the situation. The Griswolds subsequently leave with full stomachs, feeling pleased that they’ve connected with family.
A scene in a Parisian restaurant, in which the staff insults Clark (“Your wife has large tits!”) in French while they politely take their order and wind up serving them Lean Cuisine straight from the package.
A shopping montage featuring some of the most hideous outfits you will ever see in a movie.
And an adventure in Germany involving a kidnapping, a car chase, a German dance performance and the Griswolds deciding to book it back to America. But not without a close call involving the Statue of Liberty.
This was followed by “Christmas Vacation” and “Vegas Vacation” both set in the US, and in my opinion, not quite as funny as the first two. In keeping with the general oddness of the Griswold family, their kids’ appearances keep changing radically (but the parents don’t notice), due to them never being played by the same actors twice. Although, by the time they head for Vegas, and Clark realizes that a “family vacation only works when you do it with your family” this makes sense, since in real life, they’d have their own kids by then.