The new film Saving Mr. Banks, about the making of Mary Poppins, will be coming out in December and while it is not a remake it has put me in mind of revisiting a classic story. For various reasons Hollywood occasionally feels the need to look back at a classic movie and give it another try, sometimes successfully, sometimes – not so much.
As I began to research remakes, reboots, and reimaginings I found the list growing at an alarming rate. Because of this I’ve chosen to narrow my focus on pairs that each have something to recommend them. In future I’ll sort the wheat from the chaff and highlight the better film either original or, to a lesser extent, remake.
I’m presenting this list in order based on the release date of the original.
The Wizard of Oz (1939 G) / Oz the Great and Powerful (2013 PG)
The original is an all-time classic, beloved by generations, and a hard act to follow. Unfortunately Oz the Great and Powerful is nowhere near strong or magical enough to live up to the original. It does have the advantage of not being a direct retelling of the Wizard of Oz and it has some fantastic visual effects but I would not recommend it for young audiences who were charmed by its progenitor.
The Absent-Minded Professor (1961 G) / Flubber (1997 PG)
Ok, I’m breaking my rule about redeeming features because the remake, Flubber, starring Robin Williams has nothing of value – not even Robin Williams. The Absent-Minded Professor is a wonderful comedy that deserves recognition as a family classic on par with Mary Poppins. Perhaps people don’t remember it fondly because of the dismal failure that was Flubber. Or perhaps it’s been confused with the Jerry Lewis film The Nutty Professor (itself remade with Eddie Murphy). Whatever the reason, you must watch The Absent-Minded Professor and forget the others.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971 G) / Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005 PG)
Enough slamming on the remakes. Occasionally there is a justification for revisiting the source material and I think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an excellent example. We can start with the title which mirrors the Roald Dahl book as does the tone and sinister nature of the story. That’s not to say the new film doesn’t take liberties with the story, tacking on a strange origin for Willy Wonka that doesn’t exist in the book. However, as an adaptation Charlie is a better interpretation than the Gene Wilder original. Willy Wonka is still a worthwhile film although at times it can be almost painfully dated and with a doubly painful early 70s aesthetic.
Freaky Friday (1976 G) / Freaky Friday (2003 PG)
There are so many Lindsay Lohan remakes of classic Disney live action she could have an entire list all her own. Considering what a train wreck she is these days the idea of watching one of her movies could turn you off but it’s important to remember there is a reason she became famous in the first place. There was a time when she was an adorable child star and spunky teenager who made decent movies. Both versions of Freaky Friday are worthwhile based on their own merits but the original can feel quite dated. Parents will enjoy watching Jodie Foster as a kid, however.
The Karate Kid (1984 PG) / The Karate Kid (2010 PG)
The remake of the Karate Kid is not bad although I found myself a little surprised at the savagery of the fighting. Everyone in this movie, good and bad, would have left the villains of the original lying in the gutter in a bloody heap. I’m generally a fan of Jackie Chan, and now that Pat Morita is no longer with us, he is really the only person I would consider a suitable heir to the mentor role in this story. Having said that, however, I will always prefer the original because the remake doesn’t have anything as iconic as wax on, wax off.