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Monday, July 29, 2013

National Lampoon's Vacation

My childhood memories were for the most part good (well, aside from the whole school thing). I remember doing so many things and having so much fun when I was younger. I used to love going to the library. I enjoyed spending time at the home of my grandparents. When I was staying with my grandparents for a while, nothing gave me greater pleasure than walking down to the convenience store just across the railroad tracks and buying a comic book or a handful of penny candies.

(Yes, back in 1985, some candy still cost only a penny. And here we are 28 years later, and pennies are now as extinct – or at the very least endangered – as the penny candy itself.)

I still have fond memories of things that I used to do during my summer vacations when I was younger. Going to the carnival was one of those “must-do” things. Swimming at the local beach was also something that I had to do at least once or twice. Having water balloon wars was especially something that I looked forward to when the mercury in the thermometer topped thirty degrees Celsius. And, who knew that a simple garden hose could provide so much relief in the hot, scorching sunshine?

I even went to a summer camp program held at several of the local playgrounds in the area for six years straight, which was a lot of fun. I made a lot of friends, I played a lot of games, and I think I ate a LOT of food.

(Seriously, every week, we would have some sort of food-related event, whether it was a Hawaiian luau, or a make your own ice cream sundae party, or sampling different foods from around the world. Who needed to eat lunch?)

Yes, my childhood memories of summer were absolutely fantastic, and I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world. However, there is always one thing that I didn't get a chance to do during any of the summers that I have lived through (even as an adult) that everyone else I knew did.

I've never gone on a real, honest vacation with my family.

I will make a confession though. 80% of the reason why my family never went on vacations during the summer break was finance related. I've talked about this before, but my family did not have much disposable income to work with. There were many times in which they had NO income to work with. Penny pinching and cutting back was just a way of life during my childhood. Sure, my parents made sure that we had food on the table and clothing on our backs, and to their credit they did an amazing job at stretching a dollar most days.

Still, as a young boy I couldn't help but feel small pangs of jealousy eating away at me whenever the following September rolled around and the teacher always asked us all what we did on our summer vacations. Many of the kids in my class would talk about all of the exciting adventures that they had during their summer holidays. They talked about meeting Cinderella and Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. They talked about going surfing on Myrtle Beach. They talked about seeing a Broadway play in New York City. I think one kid even went to London, England for a couple of weeks one year. And hearing their stories made me feel sad and ashamed in a way. Sad because my classmates got to experience all of these new places and I didn't, and ashamed because the highlight of my summer experience was going on a boat tour leaving from Gananoque (a small town just down the road from my hometown). Certainly taking a day trip around the 1000 Islands of the St. Lawrence River was nothing compared to riding around in a double decker bus around Piccadilly Circus.

And it wasn't my parents fault. They did all they could to make sure that we had a roof over our heads. I'm sure that if they could, they would have done everything in their power for us to have some wonderful vacations. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Now back in those days, I was a little bit angry that I didn't get to have the same experiences as my classmates did. But as I grew older, that anger subsided. If anything, I think that I felt bad that my parents never really had the chance to go on a vacation themselves. I don't even think they even had a honeymoon when they got married.

Of course, nowadays my family often joke about what it might have been like had we had the money and the time to plan a real family vacation and we now all have come to the same consensus.

If we went on a family vacation, none of us would be alive to tell the tale. We literally would have murdered each other on the way to our destination.

I mean, think about it. Almost every “perfect” vacation has its hiccups along the way. And in many ways, those hiccups actually make a vacation even more memorable. And looking back on it, I don't know if I would have necessarily enjoyed going on a week-long vacation with my family because I know that we more than likely would have gotten into some intense fights, and we would have had more than a meltdown or two occur, and in all likelihood, one of us would have wandered too far from the rest of the family and would have gotten lost.

(And yes, I'll admit that I would have been the one to have gotten lost.)

I almost certainly would think that if my family had chartered an R/V for a cross-country trip from Vancouver, British Columbia to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, we would have a experience.

Why I bet it would be almost similar to the family who starred in today's Monday Matinee. In fact, this was the very movie that helped me realize that maybe missing out on going on a real family vacation in my childhood wasn't such a bad thing after all.

I mean, just ask the Griswold family.

The Griswold family, of course, being the main characters of the 1983 film “National Lampoon's Vacation”, a movie based on a short story that writer John Hughes had published inside National Lampoon Magazine, which was based on a fictionalized account of a family vacation to Disneyland in 1958, when Hughes was eight years old.

(And, yes, this is the same John Hughes who was responsible for “Sixteen Candles”, “The Breakfast Club”, “Ferris Bueller's Day Off”, and “Home Alone”.)

The film was directed by Harold Ramis, and when it was released on July 29, 1983 (exactly thirty years ago today, might I add), it made a grand total of $61,399,552 at the box office, which for 1983 standards was a huge success.

Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo played the roles of Clark and Ellen Griswold (both Chase and D'Angelo would play the same roles in all but one of the subsequent “Vacation” movies), a couple from Chicago, Illinois who want to spend more time with their children Rusty and Audrey.

TRIVIA: In this movie, Rusty is played by Anthony Michael Hall, and Audrey is played by Dana Barron. In each of the sequels, the kids were recast. In actuality, the reason why the kids were recast for the second sequel – 1985's European Vacation – was because Hall had already committed himself to shooting “Weird Science”, and was unable to return to the sequel.

The plan for the vacation was supposed to be a simple one. Take the kids to a place called Walley World. Not THAT Walley World.

I mean a huge, fun, and exciting amusement park in the heart of Los Angeles (which looks almost similar to Disneyland right down to the owner of the theme park Roy Walley (Eddie Bracken) looking almost like a hybrid of Walt Disney and Roy Disney.

At first the family is looking forward to the vacation and the kids are more than excited to go on the rides and attractions once they arrive at the park which is dubbed “America's Favorite Family Fun Park”. But almost immediately a conflict arises in how the family plans on getting there. Since the theme park is all the way in California, Ellen suggests booking a flight from Chicago, but Clark puts the ixnay on the ightflay. Why would he waste money on a set of airplane tickets when he could rent a sportswagon for a cross-country trip on the highways of America? It was a win-win situation as far as Clark was concerned. He could see the sights of America while having a once-in-a-lifetime bonding experience. What could possibly go wrong?


And, this. (And, yes, that is supermodel Christie Brinkley dancing near the Ferrari.)

We can't have a Vacation movie without an appearance from Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid).

And...well...this rather unfortunate incident which features Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca)...a rather “lively” gal.

And when they finally arrive at the park? Well...let's just say that it didn't exactly end the way that the Griswold family hoped that it would.

Now that's all that I will reveal about the plot of National Lampoon's Vacation. I figure that the movie clips were worth more than a thousand words anyway, and besides, the ending is such that you really kind of have to see it to believe it. Let's just say that when Clark finds out that the theme park is shut down for repairs, he goes even more postal than...well...the guy from that video game “Postal”.

So, since today marks the thirtieth anniversary of this film, shall I share with you some behind the scenes trivia for this movie? There's quite a lot of it to share!

1 - Fleetwood Mac singer Lindsey Buckingham composed the theme song for this movie, “Holiday Road”. It didn't exactly do that great on the charts though, only peaking at #82 in 1983. Still, it remains a cult classic – much like the film itself.

2 – The setting for Walley World was actually Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California.

3 – The childhood pictures of Audrey hanging on the wall of the Griswold's living room were actual shots of Dana Barron that were taken while she made commercials.

4 – Dana Barron would later achieve minor success after joining the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 in 1992 as recurring character Nikki, who had a relationship with Brandon Walsh.

5 – Although the Walley World amusement park was fictional, a real life Walley World water park was opened up in London, Ontario, Canada a few years after the film was shot!

6 – Did you ever notice that Anthony Michael Hall seemed to grow three inches taller than Beverly D'Angelo at the very end of the film? There's a reason for that. The film's original ending kind of flopped with test audiences, so a new one was shot four months after principal filming ended – during which time Hall experienced a major growth spurt.

7 – Anthony Michael Hall would later join the cast of “Saturday Night Live” in 1985 at the age of just seventeen...the same show that his on-screen father, Chevy Chase starred in a decade earlier.

8 – Harold Ramis makes a cameo appearance as a police officer towards the end of the film.

9 – Harold Ramis' daughter Violet plays the role of Daisy Mabel – Cousin Eddie's tongueless daughter.

10 – Imogene Coca nearly turned down the part of Aunt Edna because she felt the character was too mean. She changed her mind, and ended up being one of the stars of the whole movie!

11 – The original ending was somewhat reused in parts of the 1989 film “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation”. And, no, I won't reveal what the original ending is supposed to be, because I never spoil endings...real or fictional.

12 – The film was voted by Premiere as one of the 50 Greatest Comedies of All Time in 2006.

13 – The only film in the National Lampoon's Vacation series to be rated R.

14 – Director Harold Ramis stated on the DVD commentary of the film that the scene in which the Griswolds get lost in a St. Louis ghetto was one of the most politically incorrect scenes he has ever filmed in his lifetime, and that if he could go back in time, he would not have let it air the way it did.

15 – The scenes at the amusement park were not at all fun for the cast members. Three-quarters of them ended up getting violently ill. In Dana Barron's case, she had to take motion sickness pills in order to get through them.

16 – Audrey was supposed to be younger than Rusty, but in actuality, Dana Barron was born in 1966, while Hall wasn't born until 1968.

17 – Both Chase and D'Angelo recreated their roles in a 2010 Super Bowl commercial.

18 – This was the feature film debut of actress Jane Krakowski. Shortly after filming this movie, she landed a job on the soap opera “Search for Tomorrow”, but is probably best known for her role on the FOX series “Ally McBeal”.

And, that's our look back on "National Lampoon's Vacation"...a movie that almost made me feel happy that I didn't get a chance to go on a family vacation.  After all, it could have ended up like the Griswold's!

Still though...although I can't go back in time and change things...I wonder what it would have been like if I could have had that chance.  

One thing is for sure.  It's something that I want to rectify.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! Love the Vacation films. Thanks for the info!