Insanity, by one definition, is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Memory can play tricks on you.
Clichés don't make for exciting reading, but, in the case of those above, they can add up to great movie comedy. At least that's the hope for “Vacation,” the latest sequel to the family trip series that kicked off in 1983 and has been driving off the road, careering deep into the cross-generational pop cultural consciousness, via TV repeats, ever since.
Wednesday’s attempted return to Walley World, to paraphrase another cliché, will test whether you can't leave home again.
Ed Helms stars as Rusty, the youngest member of the Griswold family, who wants to recreate the best vacation of his youth (even better, we can all agree, than subsequent jaunts to Europe and Las Vegas). Time has a way of softening harsh recollections – like Aunt Edna's post-death ride atop the family station wagon, her dog's grimmer fate and papa Clark’s high-speed, somnambulant detour.
Time hasn't dimmed the appeal of the original, which remains a relatable exaggeration of a journey into familial torment, brimming with futility and frustration. The first film tapped into the mix of excitement and vulnerability that comes with leaving home, as well as the high expectations of childhood adventures, which only ever get met in retrospect.
The original National Lampoon epic flourished in large part to Beverly D’Angelo and Chevy Chase, who wielded a sardonic edge as well-meaning suburban parents bent on making their ingrate children happy, whether they like it or not. D'Angelo and Chase turn up in the new movie, starring worthy successors Christina Applegate and Helm, whose boyish charm positions him as a potentially effective foil for the crush of adult circumstances (usually) beyond his control.
The past, though, might be the new film’s biggest roadblock – the premise invites comparisons to the widely seen original. Even a comedy built on humor, by turns gross, morbid and bawdy, can be beloved, and inspire its audience’s protective instincts (a similar challenge faces the planned reboot of another early 1980s comedy classic, “Ghostbusters”).
The new “Vacation,” perhaps not coincidentally, arrives amid the 60th anniversary commemorations of Disneyland, which endured some early, all-but-forgotten, bumps of its own. The reality, though, doesn’t matter as much as the memory. Check out a preview as a new generation of Griswolds hit the road, which has a nasty habit of hitting back.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.