A Look Back: National Lampoon’s Vacation

Since “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was released today, and summer is prime time for sequels/reboots, it got me thinking about exactly when is right time is to end a movie franchise. Of course, if it’s based on a book series, you don’t have much choice – unless you split the last book in order to drag out the profits and your target audience’s participation. After that, you can get creative – with the author’s permission – and try prequels or spinoffs regarding side characters or their descendants. This can work on occasion, but it’s also how you wind up with movies like 2015’s “Vacation,” starring Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, in the roles originated by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” one of those films where the less said about it, the better.

The original eighties’ movie (which is far superior) is based on a short story by John Hughes which was published in the National Lampoon Magazine. It’s narrated by the young son of a loving if not-too-bright father who just wants to take his family on a great – yes, vacation. Hilarity ensures, and after changing names, omitting several characters (including the Griswold family baby), and switching Disney to Walley World, it arrived on the big screen, somewhat less raunchy than originally intended, but still funny. In TV sitcom tradition, the wife is far better looking than her husband; and the kids, played by Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron, are occasionally required to act wise beyond their preteenish years when faced with their father’s incompetence. For various reasons, the two children’s names stay the same, but the actors portraying them change with each movie – prompting Chevy to make tongue-in-cheek remarks about hardly knowing his kids. In the sequel, they will jet off to Europe after winning a trivia game how contest, but right now, their high jinks are confined to the US.

En route to their destination, all the usual bad things happen – getting lost, having parts of the car stolen, the dog urinating on the picnic basket, etc., but things really take a downturn, when they arrive at “Uncle Eddie’s” (Randy Quaid) home, and the creepy thing we learn about Randy from his daughter is hardly the least of it. While Chevy gets to have a father-son talk with Anthony (and share a refreshing recreational beverage), the glow from this is eclipsed by the fact that they’ve now added two passengers – Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and a dog so nasty that no one is upset when it dies in a freak accident. Eventually, Imogene croaks, too – but since she’s even more vicious than the dog, this is not considered too much of a setback – and Chevy insists on finishing the trip anyway. Alas, Walley World turns out to be closed, but resourceful Chevy finds a way around this – which causes him to have a run-in with the law but still thrill his family (sort of). However, it’s likely they’ll need another vacation to recover from this one.

“NL’s Vacation,” kicked off the franchise, which included a spinoff with Uncle Eddie, as well as a planned-but-never-completed “Australian vacation.” I’m not sure what the high jinks in the script were, but imagine it might have had something to do with a dingo and a ruined picnic. While the cast changes, the perennial message: “A family vacation only works if you do it with your family,” stays timeless.





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