Sequels and Remakes That Prove Things Were Better When We Were Kids
Maybe our age is showing, but more and more we find ourselves remarking about how good things were “back in the day.” Especially when it comes to the many knock-offs, sequels, and remakes constantly pouring out of Hollywood. Since the Michael Bay produced, (awful-looking) rendition of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hits theaters this Friday, we figured now is as good a time as ever to bitch about all those failed attempts to cater to our nostalgia that just make us wish we had a time machine to go back to the age of originals. While it’s rare that sequels ever out-perform the original, the sequels and remakes on this list didn’t even come close. So grab your canes and dentures, and get ready to shake your head and mutter expletives, ’cause we’re going to jump into a list of Sequels and Remakes That Prove Things Were Better When We Were Kids.
The Transformers Movies (2007, 2009, 2011, 2014)
The Transformers movie franchise is a shining example of Hollywood sucking the sentimentality right out of our childhood memories. The Hasbro cartoon of the late 80’s appealed to kids for a number of reasons, but mostly it ingeniously combined two of kid’s favorite things: alien life and mechanics.
A group of alien robots land on earth, having the ability to hide among us as cars, planes, and semi-trucks, and fight other evil robot aliens with the help of humans. It’s really no wonder that once CG technology caught up, someone would see the explosive potential of those kinds of massive visuals. Cue Michael Bay, a man whose middle name should be ‘CG Explosion’. The man has happily made the Transformers franchise the bulk of his directing career for the last seven years. Despite being universally slammed among critics the latest installment, Transformers: Age of Extinction, has grossed $1 billion worldwide.
Talk about too much of a good thing. The films (and I don’t mean the animated one from ’86 which made our Favorite Childhood Movies list last year) are a vague reference to the honor-bound, multi-faceted (literally more than meets the eye) robots we loved as kids. The first film was somewhat cool, giving the Transformers some serious fuel and amazing us all with the spectacle. But they have long since turned into three-hour special effects porn. I actually fell asleep during Dark of the Moon because the sound of destruction became so constant it morphed into white noise. Today’s franchise abuses the Autobots, throwing in some seriously off-track storylines and major Hollywood cliches, namely pretty girls, wise-cracking underdogs, and enough visual stimulation to imply they hope to distract us from the lack of coherent plot. Granted, as kids it wasn’t exactly the storylines that kept us coming back every Saturday morning, the cartoon’s creators have even said they favored action for plot, but somehow 30 minutes vs 3 hours makes a huge difference here. [Ananda]
The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996)
Disney’s 1940 animated take on Pinocchio, the classic tale of a wooden boy who wants to become a real boy, is one of my favorite movies from my childhood. The images were rich and imaginative, the storytelling was immaculate, and the songs were fantastic. (“When You Wish Upon a Star” is Disney’s representative song to this day.) I became completely immersed in the world the folks at Disney created every time I popped open that white, plastic VHS case and fed the tape into my parents’ beat-up player, and I never tired of Geppetto and Pinocchio’s adventure. (I still watch it, albeit not on VHS like I used to.)
The Adventures of Pinocchio, the 1996 live-action abomination starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas (who was at the time hot as hot sauce) as Pinocchio and Martin Landau as Geppetto, . It’s unfunny, the opposite of charming, and…JUST LOOK AT THAT DAMN PUPPET. Does it not look like it belongs in a horror movie? I’m not sure whether the film is catered to kids or adults, but it pleases neither, and that animatronic nightmare creature takes a big shit on one of my childhood favorites. [Bernard]
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
When I was in 6th grade, I went to the video store and managed to rent a VHS copy of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With me being a young horror fan, I heard the reputation surrounding the film. I was told to expect lots of gore and violence, people getting sawed up, just the most horrible sounding things. Of course, I was surprised when the film lived up to its title in a completely different way. No, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t the bloody, gory mess I was expecting. Instead it was an exercise in pure, visceral terror, with its low budget actually helping the film feel horrifyingly realistic. It’s the rare classic horror film that feels just as raw and powerful as it did back when it came out.
Cut to almost 30 years later, and Michael Bay proceeds to make one of the more tone deaf remakes imaginable. The new, 2003 version of Texas Chainsaw was only produced by Bay (directing duties went to Marcus Nispel), but his influence is all over it. The grimy look is gone, replaced by slick cinematography and ample opportunities to show off the sweaty bodies of its female leads. A bullshit opening and closing tag with fake crime scene footage tries to trick people into thinking the film is actually based on something (Sadly, it worked. I got into an argument with someone who swore the black and white footage was 100% authentic). But worst of all is how much the film gleefully indulges in its brutality. Hooper used scenes like a person getting hanged on a meathook or getting tortured to horrify viewers, while Nispel used the same acts of violence to entertain audiences. That’s where the major difference lies. Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw is a dark, brutal, harrowing experience you can’t turn away from; Nispel’s Texas Chainsaw is a dark, ugly, uninspired, nihilistic film that’ll have you turning it off. [CJ]
Dumb and Dumber To (2014)
To this day I’ll defend that the idiotic low brow humor found in the 1994 original is one of the best slapstick comedies of its time. Dumb and Dumber consists almost entirely of one-liners and zingers, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I can quote just about every one of them. While the most memorable scenes consist of physical gags involving a Turbo Lax prank or frost on a ski-lift, it was the sharp dialog that had my sides hurting. Lines like “Kick his ass, Sea Bass!” or “Samsonite! I was way off! I knew it started with an S, though,” are unforgettable.
Now twenty years later the Farrelly brothers decide they want to rehash the material? This is a recipe for disaster. At least the Farrelly brothers will be in charge again unlike the absolutely atrocious 2003 prequel of Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, which didn’t even have Jim Carrey or Jeff Daniels in it. Dumb and Dumber To doesn’t come out until November, but the trailer didn’t give me any confidence that it will hold a candle to the original. Odds are there’s like one out of a million chance this might be good, only Lloyd Christmas would respond, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance… YEAH!” [Dustin]
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Say what you will about Tim Burton’s reboot being more aptly named and closer to the Roald Dahl novel than the ’71 original, but that doesn’t make this film better than its predecessor. Both films display otherworldly production design, extravagant cinematography, and catchy musical numbers yet there is still something about the remake that has me shaking my head.
While there were a few improvements like making the Oompa Loompas less orangey and less creepy, the same can’t be said about Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Willy Wonka. Part of what made the original Willy Wonka character (played by Gene Wilder) so intriguing is how mysterious his motives were. There were times when it wasn’t clear if he was a good guy or a bad guy. In this updated version, the backstory of Wonka’s damaged upbringing removes some of the mystery surrounding the character. Not only that but Wonka takes on the personality (and even the looks) of Michael Jackson. Yes, that makes it more creepy, but not in a good way. However, the biggest disappointment with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is that Tim Burton has the creative imagination to pull off an incredibly unique adaptation that could justify a remake, but instead he played it safe by sticking close to the source material. The film is not a total flop (compared to others on this list), but it certainly doesn’t outperform the one we grew up on. [Dustin]
Super Mario Bros. (1993)
It’s one of the great disappointments of the millennial generation that one of our favorite childhood pastimes, became one of the worst-produced films ever. Those of us who were of peak video-gaming age between 1985 and the early 90’s when Super Mario Bros. and its follow-up games came out on Nintendo, hold the little moustached Italian-American Mario near and dear to our hearts. He and his brother Luigi infiltrated our after-school hang-outs, slumber parties, and even Saturday morning TV shows. The pair of them were a go-to on Halloween, little broom mustaches drawn on to our adolescent faces, pink dresses for those of us who wanted to be Peach in her hard-to-find castle. We were too young to necessarily be aware of the buzz of the film rendition of the Super Mario Bros. game leading up to its premiere in 1993. And in fact, in a move still puzzling to this day, 10-year-old me and my friends weren’t even remotely the target demographic for Super Mario Bros.
It’s a lesson in just how wrong things can go in Hollywood. When the wrong producers champion for a film around a topic they hardly understand (only knowing it has a highly profitable brand behind it), and then when those producers get two incredibly green and totally wrong directors to helm the film, just add a couple subpar writers who literally do re-writes every day of production and crank out a script so weird and so completely removed from the video game that it might as well be completely unrelated, and it’s a recipe for a flop.
My parents must have realized this film wasn’t meant for children, as I never actually saw it in theaters. Instead, at a sleepover where someone else’s parents were blissfully unaware, we rented the film on VHS. I remember feeling like I must have missed something in the video games. All the characters were there (or at least characters’ names matched up), but nowhere to be seen was the happy green grass and cerulean blue skies of Mario’s world. The plumber brothers live in a seedy version of New York. There’s no Princess Peach, instead Princess Daisy (Samantha Mathis), the paleontologist(??). And the boys travel to an alternate universe where a creepy human version of King Koopa (Dennis Hopper) is trying to merge and control both universes. Bob Hoskins always said this was the worst filmmaking experience he ever endured, and watching it is almost as torturous. [Ananda]
Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat (2003)
There’s hardly a child in North America (and probably world-wide) who wasn’t exposed to Dr. Seuss as a child. And the book none of us missed was The Cat in the Hat, the tale of two kids stuck inside on a rainy day who are paid a visit by a mischievous cat who basically destroys their house in a series of games and then redeems himself with a rather magical quick clean-up. Unfortunately there isn’t a magic in any world, real or fictional, that could save 2003’s live-action film rendition of, what I would consider, this sacred text.
Once again here’s a perfect example of a studio taking a risk on a newbie director, to have it backfire. Bo Welch had plenty of production design under his belt when he took on Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat but nary a feature film. As a result, the film is quite pretty, doing a great job of mimicking the art familiar in Dr. Seuss’ books. However, rather than let the zany humor of Dr. Seuss win over its young target audience, the studio opted to let Mike Meyers infuse a touch of Austin Powers’ crude humor and base gags. Meyers has always had a flair for over the top spectacle in his humor, unlike children’s film favorite Robin Williams who can make a single joke last longer and thus not fly right over the heads of the target demographic. So instead the film is a mile-a-minute with its wisecracks, throwing in a few early 2000’s silliness including Paris Hilton in a strange rave scene.
It’s a train wreck, which is exactly the opposite of the neatly composed poetry of Dr. Seuss, and surely caused the poor man to roll most aggressively in his grave. [Ananda]
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
It is often our first movie experiences that shape our tastes. For me, there were two formative films I remember seeing when I was between the ages of 2 and 5 that will always stick with me — two films I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to see: Hellraiser and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Despite the questionable parenting, these films (and all horror films of this era) were a spark in my love for film. The Nightmare on Elm Street series, in particular, has been incredibly important in my life. When I was ten years old, stuck in the hospital with kidney problems the original A Nightmare on Elm Street was playing late one night on WGN. When the hospital staff gave me a stuffed frog during some painful tests, I naturally named him “Freddy.” Fast forward to high school when I would put together an all-day marathon watching every Nightmare film in order before I knew this was actually something other people did or when I was having trouble falling asleep the night before a big speech tournament, throwing that movie on ensured that I wouldn’t have trouble staying awake.
Samuel Bayer’s 2010 remake isn’t among the worst films I’ve ever seen, but it certainly lacked the grit and entertainment factor that made Wes Craven’s original so palpable. Some of the elements seem to be there, especially in the cast: Jackie Earle Haley seems a worthy successor to Robert Englund, Connie Britton has built up plenty of clout as the perfect mom on Friday Night Lights, and we would all soon see the full potential of Rooney Mara. Bayer, though his first feature film, had long been a visually innovative director of music videos for the likes of Green Day, Metallica and Nirvana, bands with a darker sensibility that suit Freddy’s world. With all this talent, though, the remake was bland, with a few alluring images, but no real substance. Freddy, in particular, was a disappointment, with an awkward character design and no personality. The remake lacks much of the humor found in the first film (which is much more serious than the many sequels), and overall that’s fine, but not at the expense of personality. If you want an ultra-serious version of Freddy that remains menacing and interesting, I’d point you to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare as a better example.
In the spirit of this assignment, I simply can’t imagine A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) having as strong an effect on a youngster today than what the original had for me. There is the bigger problem of the horror genre in general not making much of an impact, and this seems to be a pretty good example of that. Instead of bold, inventive horror films being made today (admittedly, there are a few), studios are more keen on spending less effort and sparking less talent to rehash films, often without capturing or even knowing what made those original ideas great in the first place. [Aaron]
Hands down some of the best Disney live-action films are the ones produced before the 80’s. And I say this, as a child of the 80’s. The Apple Dumpling Gang, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Freaky Friday, The Parent Trap, Pollyanna, and the one my grandparents and I especially liked to watch together – 1961’s The Absent-Minded Professor. Granted, Disney has a grand tradition of remaking it’s older movies, and they aren’t always terrible. Lindsay Lohan rebooted many of them almost single-handedly in the early 2000’s, and even a remake of a simple film about a funny college professor who accidentally creates a rubber-like material that gains energy when bounced rather than loses it, sounds like a simple enough premise to update for a modern audience.
The film starts off as a near-identical remake with Robin Williams playing the goofy professor who is so easily distracted by his experiments that for the third time he fails to show up to his own wedding and who is hoping to save his college from going under by inventing something spectacular. And then they introduce Weebo, the professor’s flying robot, and things. Get. Weird. Apparently Weebo is in love with the Professor. And she even confesses this love, forcing him to sort of nicely turn her down (but not explain that she’s a robot with fake love feelings??). So she creates a holographic persona version of herself and creepily comes on to him while he’s sleeping in bed. Then later (SPOILER ALERT) when Weebo “dies” protecting the house from thieves stealing flubber, we’re supposed to feel even more emotional for the robot? It doesn’t fit and it’s certainly not right for children who’d rather see robots as friends not strange love interests.
Not even a script by comedy-legend John Hughes could salvage a film bogged down by silly CG (the flubber has a whole dance scene!?!) and poorly chosen modern elements. It always stings to see major talent involved with major flops. Thankfully Robin Williams’ very next film was Good Will Hunting, which won him an Oscar and helped erase the Disney film from our minds. [Ananda]
Jem and the Holograms (2016)
Ok so this one hasn’t come out yet either, but I’m so scared it’s going to flop, I’m putting it on this list in anticipation. This live-action remake of the cartoon that my girlfriends and I were obsessed with as kids was teased about at Comic-Con this year, with the movie poster planted in Hasbro’s section of the exhibition hall. The TV show ran from ’85 to ’88 and followed the adventures of Jem, a fashion-forward pink-haired rocker who would alternate between being Jerrica Benton, the owner of Starlight Music and manager of the band Jem and the Holograms, and the holographically projected Jem, whose star-shaped earrings and the help of her holographic computer Synergy produced her persona. (They were really into the idea of holograms apparently in the 80’s.)
Considering every episode pits the rockers against some new evil, usually their rival band The Misfits, features ridiculous fashion, and has at least three music video style segments per episode, this seems like it could easily play out like Spice World. Director Jon M. Chu may be able to handle the challenge, as he’s directed a Justin Bieber movie and a few Step-Up films, but I’m dying to see how he manages the love triangle of the cartoon between Jerrica, her alter ego Jem, and Jerrica’s purple-haired boyfriend Rio. Maybe by doing something the short-lived show was never able to do, have Jem tell Rio the truth? The film is tentatively planned for release in 2016, guess we’ll find out then if the film tramples our childhood memories, or kickstarts a new generation of Jem fans. [Ananda]