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Fresh takes on film favorites

July 28, 2018 GMT

Hollywood always has liked to play it again, Sam, so to speak, when it comes to making sequels and remakes. In many cases, original movies have either undergone entire reboots or have had sequels made years or even decades later. In this issue, four Generation Next writers reviewed film transformations made apparent through gender-swapping lead characters, multiple renditions of the same storyline or just by extending the original storyline by a few years (or more).

Steps forward for women

By Natalia Payne

Women in film are still often portrayed in supporting roles as the love interest, the arm candy, the housewife or the secretary. Well-known movies with female leads and casts are largely limited to rom-coms and comedies about just how “catty” and “dramatic” girls can be. This is not to say that contemporary films and television shows haven’t made progress with strong and realistic female characters; it has become increasingly common remake a film with female protagonists replacing male protagonists or reboot a successful movie featuring male leads with a sequel showcasing female leads.

The 2016 version of Ghostbusters is a great example of this, featuring an all-new cast of characters and story as well as swapped-out genders, with the ghostbusters all played by women and the secretary character played by a man. Such new approaches raise the question as to whether we as viewers want women put in the place of men or whether we want fresh, original female characters who can stand out equally. For example, Ocean’s 8 (2018), follows the younger sister of the main protagonist from both the original Ocean’s 11 (1960) (starring The Rat Pack) and the remake Ocean’s Eleven (2001). This sequel not only made sense but features authentic female characters who stand alone and allow for the film to be remembered as independent of the original.

These remakes can be a bit of a cash grab that builds on people’s nostalgia, but perhaps seeing nontraditional female roles in unique and powerful blockbusters that can become as iconic as those being remade would be much more impactful. Hollywood could seriously benefit from creating entirely new franchises with contemporary, nonstereotypical, non-hypersexualized female superheroes and villains. It also could benefit by tapping the massive amount of unused female writing and directing talent in the industry.

In this way, filmmakers could explore the complex and rarely appreciated motivations and interactions of women without using the scope of male desire (what men think women want, or how men want or choose to see women). In Ghostbusters (2016), while the element of the women “fawning over the hot guy” isn’t too prominent, my issue with it is the way that the humor is used. Seeing the characters behave as “dumb” and having them “mess up” constantly for the sake of comedy isn’t uncommon, even in male-driven movies. But the original Ghostbusters (1984) had such witty humor and intelligent characters that it seemed like a missed opportunity when the all-women remake came around. The women in the movie are, just like the original, supposed to be scientists and engineers. It felt like a cop-out from male writers to avoid having to understand and convey they way that educated and competent women talk to one another and approach challenges.

Although gender-swapping remakes aren’t necessarily the originals an audience might desire, it is a step toward women becoming more recognized by the film industry, media and public. Some more remakes starring females coming up are Overboard, which is set for release late 2018, The Hustle (2019) and What Men Want (2019).

Natalia Payne will be a sophomore at Santa Fe High School. Contact her at nataliapayne@icloud.com

‘Mamma’ matures

By Hannah Laga Abram

Ten years after the 2008 release of Mamma Mia!, its sequel “cha cha-ed” into theaters nationwide this month. In a summer marked by its suffocating political climate, indulging in the superfluous fun that is Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again seems almost obscene. But the guilty break from news clippings is well worth it, not least because the sequel is, like its viewers, more mature than the original.

The original, based on the ABBA-themed 1999 stage musical of the same name, is a frivolous rom-com about a young woman’s quest to meet her father before she gets married. The idyllic Grecian setting and lighthearted musical numbers, brought to life by the likes of Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, combine into the uber bubbly and fun sing-along that many remember from childhood. Aware that a sequel would inflict pangs of nostalgia among fans, Ol Parker, the director of Here We Go Again, embraced the challenge and spun the movie into an unapologetically nostalgic sequel-prequel.

Half of the movie takes place in 1979 and tracks the love affairs, journey to Kalokairi and pregnancy of young Donna, who is played with spunk and charm by Lily James. Meanwhile, in the present, Sophie (Seyfried) prepares the newly renovated Bella Donna Hotel for its grand opening, one year after her mother Donna’s (Streep) passing. Thus, though Mamma Mia 2 retains the sweet, life-is-wonderful quality of its prequel, added in is a tone of bittersweet melancholy, both for young Donna’s carefree days as a recent college grad and for Donna today, now just a spectre who supportively haunts Sophie’s imagination.

Other than my disappointment that the young versions of Bill, Sam and Harry look nothing like they did in the faded photographs displayed in the original, the new Mamma Mia! exceeds expectations. The movie keeps fans singing and dancing — and potentially cringing — with renewed renditions of “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper” and “Mamma Mia,” while sprinkling in some fresh ABBA tunes such as “Waterloo” and “When I Kissed the Teacher.” Bringing in an established pop star to add to a film’s appeal almost feels like cheating, but when Cher elegantly flirts her way down an outdoor staircase singing “Fernando,” with fireworks blooming in the background, one can’t help but swoon.

Not only did Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again have to live up to a crazy, fun, feel-good musical, but it had to do so at a time when its audience is desperately in need of reasons to smile. It made me crack a grin and even shed a few tears during the moving “My Love, My Life” (shh, don’t tell anyone), not only because it overdoes everything we loved about the first one but because it is more emotionally mature. Mamma Mia! grew up. And so did we.

Hannah Laga Abram will be a senior at the Santa Fe Waldorf School. Contact her at ceciliasycamore@gmail.com.

Incredible growth

By Aurelia Valente

The Incredibles was my childhood.

I knew every word by heart. Every comment and action, every detail of the plot — they were stamped in my brain. It was a source of comfort. The original award-winning animated movie, released in 2004, follows the lives of a family of superheroes living a secluded suburban life in a world where superpowers have been outlawed. But insurance agent Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson), aka Mr. Incredible, moonlights as a vigilante in a futile attempt to return to the “old days.”

Looking back on it, I didn’t fully understand at age 7 the original touches on social issues — bullying, prejudice and ignorance. It brings audiences into the mind of a teenage girl living with social anxiety and touches on the difficulties of marriage and partnership — all while maintaining a lighthearted sense of humor. It was an instant hit, and there was pressure for a sequel.

After 14 years of waiting, Pixar finally delivered.

Like many others, I was skeptical at first. It had been years since the original, and they planned to pick up where the first movie left off, leaving me wondering if they would allow room for character development and a new story line. I doubted the sequel would ever leave the shadow of the original movie. I decided to see it anyway. I wasn’t disappointed.

The June release of the Incredibles 2 brought audiences back to the family’s fight against the Underminer, the supervillain who appears destroying the city at the end of the original movie. But the destruction caused by the fight once again forces the family into hiding as society remains wary of superheroes. Living in a hotel with nowhere to go, things seem to go downhill for the Parr family.

That is, until Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a CEO with deep pockets and a soft spot for superheroes, and his sister, Evalyn (Catherine Keener), offer to help normalize societal views of supers by making Elastigirl the face of superhero justice.

Tackling female empowerment, family dynamics, technology, equality and politics, Pixar milks social justice issues in Incredibles 2 as a source of entertainment and popularity. The incorporation of modern issues results in a darker tone compared to the original movie — even Elastigirl ends up rocking a darker, sleeker super suit — that, at times, seems unnecessary for a kid’s movie. However, I also found the focus on Elastigirl, and the use of technology for evil thought-provoking. And with the current social and political climate, these choices are increasingly meaningful for young viewers growing up in the modern world.

With the return of many familiar voices and the addition of new characters, director and writer Brad Bird’s latest installment in the franchise stays closely aligned with his original movie. But while I would have liked to see more character development for Dash, who was given a wider focus in the original, and for the relationship between Violet and Tony, many of the original characters are given a deeper storyline. Elastigirl becomes a face for not only superheroes, but for female empowerment, and Jack-Jack’s story becomes central to the plot, as he becomes every parent’s most incredible discovery and absolute worst nightmare.

While there are many aspects of the original movie that can never be replaced — including my personal favorite scene when Frozone classically asks his wife, “Honey, where’s my supersuit?” — Incredibles 2, like the original, lives up to its name.

Aurelia Valente, a 2018 graduate of Santa Fe High School, will attend the University of Colorado Denver in the fall. Contact her at aureliatanei@gmail.com.

A familiar tale

By Ramona Park

Over the years, Walt Disney’s animated Cinderella (1950) has lent itself to be the underlying structure of countless modern retellings. Here’s three recent adaptations featuring stepsisters, glass slippers, fairy godmothers and all.

Another Cinderella Story (2008)

Selena Gomez plays Mary Santiago, a senior with dreams of dancing her way to a prestigious Manhattan academy. Her servant-like everyday routine is disrupted when Joey Parker (Drew Seeley), a pop star sensation, transfers to her school and they dance at the masquerade ball. With only her MP3 player as a clue, he sets out to find his newfound muse. Gomez and Seeley’s dancing ability and their character’s witty comebacks were some of many likable elements to this film, and I like how there was no frustration with the masked “mystery girl’s” character. Unlike others where the “princess” refuses to come forward, Santiago mustered the courage to do so many times, only to be brushed off by a love-struck, but apparently not observant, Prince Charming.

Rags (2012)

In this gender-bender remix, “Cinderella” is a singer-songwriter who performs under the stage name Rags. His face unknown to the world, he makes his masked debut at a record label party, and pop artist Kadee Worth (Keke Palmer) takes it upon herself to find and sign him. She enlists her friend Charlie Prince (Max Schneider) to help her along the way, but little does she know he’s the person she’s looking for. This one’s at the top of my list because unlike other adaptations, the prince and princess already know each other well, and their interactions alone could have been an original rom-com, but it still successfully incorporates an evil stepfather, twin stepbrothers and a fairy godfather. In addition, something that the other movies fail to address is the class difference between Cinderella and the prince. Here, Rags highlights the disparities between Prince, who works part time as a janitor and busks to collect change, and Worth, a millionaire performing in sold-out stadiums.

A Cinderella Story (2004)

An above-average girl, Sam Montgomery (Hilary Duff) gets the chance to meet her online mystery man in person at their school’s Halloween dance. She discovers he’s the most popular guy in school, Austin Ames (Chad Michael Murray, and after a romantic evening, she runs. Perhaps this one is another favorite because there are no gimmicks — like record label deals and frustrated pop stars — keeping it afloat, and it follows the Cinderella plot accurately. Maybe it’s Ames’ twist on “perfect guy” attributes like being captain of the football team, student body president and closeted poet. Regina King’s portrayal as a powerful fairy godmother in roller skates won me over, but above all, it’s Montgomery’s independence that grabbed me. Unlike other rom-coms, she’s no “damsel in distress” waiting for Prince Charming to make her life easier. Not only does she end up standing up to and even suing her stepfamily, but she lets Ames know she’s done waiting for him, too. A trademark quote from the movie, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game,” sums up her bold attitude and initiative to achieve her goals, making her the perfect role model.

Ramona Park, a recent graduate of Santa Fe High School, will attend Harvard University in the fall. Contact her at yoharamona@gmail.com.