Have you seen any movies lately? When you choose what to watch, are you more likely to go for something new and original, or rather a remake of an old favorite?
Have you seen any of the remakes that have hit the big screen recently, like “Mean Girls” or “The Color Purple”? Or “Wonka,” the musical origin story of a chocolatier? If so, what did you think of them?
Here are takes by The New York Times’s movie critics:
In her review of “Mean Girls,” starring Reneé Rapp, Manohla Dargis writes:
Can a movie musical based on a Broadway musical based on a film comedy that in turn was based on a parenting book be any good? Sure — if only because the writer-producer Tina Fey and the producer Lorne Michaels have made sure that little has changed in their money-printing property since the first movie hit theaters in 2004. Few stories, it turns out, are as comically and horrifyingly reliable as those set in high school; few villains are as dependably hissable as a desirable young woman with an ostensibly cold heart.
In keeping with this material’s cheerfully derivative history it seems right to start with the New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell, who called the original film — directed by Mark Waters and starring a preternaturally self-assured Lindsay Lohan — “tart and often charming.” Fast forward to 2018 when the paper’s former theater critic Ben Brantley described the Broadway musical as “likable but seriously over-padded.” For its part, the new “Mean Girls” lands somewhere between these two takes. It’s not especially tart and is undeniably over-padded, but its charms and ingratiating likability remain intact.
In her review of “Wonka,” starring Timothée Chalamet, Dargis writes:
Younger, sweeter and significantly less weird than his prior screen incarnations, the latest Willy Wonka — played by Timothée Chalamet — sets off on his adventure with a dream and a smile. For the next two hours, he keeps smiling, while sometimes singing, kind of dancing and concocting idiosyncratic treats like chocolates salted with, as Willy explains, “the bittersweet tears of a Russian clown.” Called hoverchocs, this particular delectable sends its nibblers flying. Alas, they weren’t given out at the press screening so I remained earthbound.
Movie franchises live forever, it seems, hence “Wonka,” a new musical origin story set in an earnest key about the first business ventures of the young Willy. It’s a bright, light movie — in palette and temperament — that’s stuffed with talented performers who seem to be having a pleasant time, even when pretending to be meanies. Its most distinctive quality is that it’s nice, with scarcely a hint of the misanthropy that burbles through Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the 1964 best seller that generated adaptations in assorted media, including two earlier films and a Broadway musical. (This movie has different music.)
And in her review of “The Color Purple,” starring Fantasia Barrino, Alissa Wilkinson writes:
In addition to Barrino, the cast has the incredible Danielle Brooks reprising her role as Sofia from the Broadway revival, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, the singers H.E.R. and Ciara, and Taraji P. Henson as Shug Avery, a role she seems born to play.
There’s a lot to like about this “Color Purple,” which is more inspired by the musical than a straight adaptation of it. Some songs from the show have disappeared; others have been added, and “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister),” from the 1985 film, even shows up. Marcus Gardley’s screenplay in some ways hews closer to the book — specifically in the romance between Shug and Celie, which is far from explicit but is obviously intimate. That’s an important layer in Celie’s life. If “The Color Purple” is a story about an abused Black woman learning her worth in the company of other women, then Celie’s relationship with Shug, which shows her what it means to feel pleasure and safety, is a key component in her evolution.
Students, read one or all of the reviews, and then tell us:
Did you see the previous versions of these three films? Have you seen the new versions? If so, what did you think of them? How did they hold up compared with the originals?
In general, are you a fan of film remakes and prequels? Do you find comfort in seeing the stories and characters that you know and love again and again? Or do you prefer to see fresh and original works? Why?
Is there a remake that you’ve seen that you think was as good as or even better than the original? What do you think made it work?
What do you think makes some remakes or reboots flop? Can you think of an example of a recycled film that you thought ended up being terrible? What made it so bad?
Movie remakes aren’t new (The Times was writing about them at least as early as 1977, and they’ve been around much longer), but why do you think we’re seeing so many right now? Do you want to see this trend continue? Is it interesting to see stories updated for modern times? Or do we lose something important when fewer original works hit the big screen?
If you were a movie producer, what film, if any, would you like to remake? What, in your opinion, makes it worth rebooting? Which actors would you cast in the leading roles? How would you update it for today’s audiences? Or, if you’re a purist, tell us why you think films shouldn’t be remade.
Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.