Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Take Two: Willy Wonka/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I struggled with whether to make this one a book-to-film review or a Take Two review because each one would be equally valid. I ultimately decided on a Take Two because 1) most of my movie comparisons have to do with which one I feel is closer to the book on this one and b) most people have never read the book anyway. Maybe this will inspire you to do so, you uncultured swine.

By the very nature of the review, there will be spoilers.

The Plot:

Mysterious recluse and confectionery genius Willy Wonka makes, without doubt, the most wonderful, most amazing candies in existence. So amazing that other candy manufacturers have had spies trying to steal his candy recipes for years. Wonka eventually lost faith in his workers and locked himself away in his factory, seemingly all alone for ages. But then one day, without warning, the factory started up again. Candy was still leaving the factory, but oddly enough no one ever enters or leaves the factory. The candy, it seems, is made by magic. People speculate about what goes on in there, but speculate is all they'll ever be able to do. Until one day...

Wonka issues a press release that he is hosting a contest. Five golden tickets have been hidden in five ordinary Wonka bars and shipped out across the world. For the children who are lucky enough to find these tickets, a wonderful prize awaits them: a personal guided tour of the factory by Wonka himself, a lifetime supply of chocolate, and one very special prize, given to one very special child.

No one would like one of those tickets more than little Charlie Bucket. His family, consisting of mom, dad (at least in the remake) and two sets of bedridden grandparents barely have enough money to put watered down cabbage on the table, let alone buy something as luxurious as a chocolate bar. That only happens once a year, on Charlie's birthday. Fortunately, said birthday is just around the corner. And with 4 of the 5 tickets already snapped up, Charlie's odds of finding one are dwindling fast.

Of course, you know he gets one. The book wouldn't have been called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory if he didn't. Matter of fact, as far as the book goes, the ending is rather predictable. You know the very special prize is going to Charlie almost from the moment he's introduced. For one thing, as I've said, his name is in the title of the book. For another, out of all the children who find tickets, Charlie isn't the only one who isn't a royal brat. But for the sake of this review, let's take a look at the competition, shall we?

Augustus Gloop: German, chocoholic, future competitive eater (trust me on this one)
Veruca Salt: British, extremely wealthy, "instant gratification" in her middle name
Violet Beauregard: American, loudmouth, overachiever
Mike Teavee: Also American, television enthusiast and general smart-mouthed know-it-all
And then of course, there's kind, angelic, sweeter-than-a-chocolate-river Charlie:
Seriously. This kid will give you more cavities than an entire truckload of Scrumdiddlyumptious bars
As though this was some sort of horror flick, the kids get picked off one by one, usually due to their own vices. The whole thing is basically a cautionary tale to parents on how they raise their kids and a personal injury lawyer's dream come true. Since both films have slightly different endings, however, this is where we split the difference.

The Original- Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

The Good:

This film is heralded by many people as a classic. The acting is decent, especially Peter Ostrum as Charlie (the only movie he ever played in, interestingly enough. He's currently living a quiet life as a veterinarian.) He makes Charlie seem like more of an actual kid than the Charlie of the book was. Jack Albertson's Grandpa Joe is a bit more ornery than the Grandpa Joe in the remake which I do think is a bit cute. The set design is rather whimsical and looks like it was designed by a child. It has several delightful songs that give it a Broadway sort of feel to it...

The Bad:

Except that one song. You know the one I mean. That "Oopma Loompa Doopity Doo" song. I probably wouldn't have minded if they played it once. But they play it every single time one of the kids gets voted off the island, so to speak. Sometimes the lyrics don't even make sense. Suggesting that kids read a book just because there are no commercials? Yeah, can't use that reasoning anymore. Hello, Netflix! Couldn't come up with a better reason, like exciting the imagination? But I digress. The chocolate river looks more like sewage water than actual chocolate. I'm still not sure why Oompa Loompas are orange with green hair (but then, it *was* the 70s!) and the factory doesn't really look like much of a factory. There are very few actual machines producing anything. It's more like a giant playroom conjured from the mind of a demented man-child. Which brings me to...

The Ugly:

I know I'm gonna get hate for this. But Gene Wilder's Wonka freaks. Me. OUT. Seriously. Tell me this doesn't look like the face of a serial killer:

It *might* have something to with the fact that before I saw Wonka, I saw Young Frankenstein. But what's also disturbing is the fact that he seems to know beforehand exactly what's going to happen to each kid, does nothing to stop it, and we never see any of those kids again. Chocolate factory? More like torture factory, amiright?

What also disturbs me is the infamous boat trip scene. Emphasis on "trip". It is perhaps one of the biggest "Big Lipped Alligator Moments" in cinema history. (Be warned when you click on the link: once you start reading TVTropes, you never come back. So save it till after the review, m'kay?) It's creepy. It's gross. And it's completely unnecessary. Watch if you're ok with losing sleep.

Well, I dunno about you, but I'm never going through a tunnel again.

My other big problem with this is the whole Slugworth subplot. It was nowhere in the book, and frankly, it makes both Charlie and Wonka act ludicrously out of character. It detracted from the overall whimsy of the story and I really could have done without it. That being said, the book itself is so straightforward and predictable, I suppose they had to do something to up the conflict a bit.

The Remake- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

The Good:

The set. Holy cow, the set! I can't remember the last time I saw a movie set I wanted to eat. The chocolate actually looks like real chocolate (mostly because it was, donated courtesy of Nestlé, who actually owns the Willy Wonka Brand) and nearly everything on the set was actually edible to some degree. The performances of the children are spot on. They often get critiqued as being cliche, but you kinda have to realize that the children in the books were themselves cliches. They were stereotypes of the kind of children author Roald Dahl couldn't stand. Really the main thing I like though, is how much closer this film is to the book. For one thing, four out of the five musical numbers are the actual songs from the book (yes, the book had songs in it!) and I love the treatment Danny Elfman gave to them of making each one a successive decade (50s samba, 60s disco, 70s psychedelic, and 80s rock opera). They also included Mr. Bucket's job at the toothpaste factory, the story of the Indian Prince Pondicherry, and several other interesting moments from the original novel that appealed to my childhood nostalgia. I give extra kudos to actor Deep Roy, who played every single Oompa Loompa himself and had to be filmed over, and over, and over, and over, get the point. He probably had the hardest job out of anyone. Johnny Depp's performance is also a bit truer to the source material in terms of his childlikeness, energy, and aversion to children (an actual piece of Roald Dahl's personality as, even though he wrote children's books, he disliked the majority of children in general). Which kind of brings me to...

The Bad:

While I like Depp's performance as Wonka a bit better than Wilder''s still really awkward and uncomfortable. There are times when his immaturity becomes overwhelmingly annoying. Maybe the perfect Wonka lies somewhere in between the two. Until then, the imagined version I conjured while reading the book will have to do. The ending is an interesting twist on the novel, but as with the 1971 film, didn't need to happen and was probably only written to extend the drama as long as possible on the very predictable ending. Also, you will NEVER get this song out of your head. (You're welcome.)

The Ugly:

I found it odd that for a movie titled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory...there's very little Charlie in it. The focus is mainly on Wonka and his relationship with his father, who was created entirely for this film, and is a dentist of all things! It was a weird, crazy subplot that didn't need to happen. I don't understand it, it distracts from the main protagonist, and some parts of it (like Willy's entire house disappearing and being relocated in the middle of nowhere for no reason at all) make positively 0 sense.


Once again, I'm gonna have to go with the remake on this one. Only, this time, that isn't saying an awful lot. Each film had it's positives and negatives, and the remake only outweighs the original by a tiny bit. Which isn't to say I particularly hate either film. I'll watch them both again eventually, if only for the nostalgia (the original) or the literal eye candy (the remake).

And technically speaking, the 2005 version (directed by Tim Burton) isn't even a remake, since he'd never seen the 1971 version to begin with! His was a fresh adaptation of the original source material. Tim actually said that after he'd gotten the screenplay written, he went back and watched the 1971 version and thought it was even darker than his version. That's right. The original childhood classic that you love...darker than a Tim Burton film according to the King of Dark himself. Think about that next time you watch it.

Rumor has it that Roald Dahl was so upset at the original film, that he refused to watch it ever again after the premier and also refused to ever allow the sequel "The Great Glass Elevator" to be adapted for film. How would he have felt about the Burton version? Hard to say. He was a rather cantankerous old man, much like Wonka in that respect. I do think he would appreciate how much more faithful it was to his writings (evil dentist father aside), but would he have appreciated Johnny Depp as Wonka? The world will never know as Dahl died in 1990.

Perhaps the best version of the Wonka story is the one you imagine yourself as you read a well worn copy of the book in the comfort of your own (or your children's) bed. I know I've still got mine. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Disney Movies- Inside Out: Feeeeeeeelings. Nothing more than feeeeelings....

Where do our emotions come from, anyway? Well, I suppose it depends on whom you ask. If you were to ask a biologist, they'd say something about the complex hormones racing through your body. A psychologist might suggest that your subconscious has something to do with it all. But if you were to ask the folks at Pixar, they'd tell you that your feelings come from tiny people that live in your head.

Meet Joy. Joy lives inside the head of Riley, an 11 year old girl from Minnesota. Riley is a pretty happy girl, all things considered. Joy largely takes credit for that. Since the day Riley was born, Joy has been doing everything in her power to keep Riley perky and positive. Yeah, the other emotions help sometimes. Anger takes over when Riley doesn't get her way. Fear keeps Riley safe. Disgust is responsible for Riley's aversion to broccoli. But they never get to spend much time at the controls because Joy always pops up with a happy thought. And then, there's Sadness. She has a nasty habit of doing horrible things to Riley, like making her cry. Not that she does it on puprpose. It just sort of happens. Joy can't stand for that. So she delegates Sadness to something reading the manuals for memory storage protocol.

Ah, yes. Riley's memories. Memorieeeeeeees light the corners of my mind. Misty water-colored memorieeeeees... Oh. Erm. Sorry. Where was I? Oh. Right. Riley's memories. Well, whenever something memorable happens in Riley's life, it takes the form of a memory- a brightly colored ball that get stored away in Riley's mind. The color of the ball relates to the emotion connected with it. And the majority of them are "Joy yellow". When a particularly important memory is made, it becomes a core memory, stored in the vaults of Headquarters. These core memories are responsible for the Personality Islands that make Riley, well, Riley. Hockey Island, Goofball Island, Friendship Island, Honesty Island, and Family Island are all key parts of who Riley is. And nothing can ever change that.

Or not. How about moving 2,000 miles away to San Francisco? Riley's dad has taken a new job there.  But it's cool. Joy can deal with it. She skillfully navigates Riley through making the most of her dingy new house, her tiny new bedroom, the fact that their moving van got lost, and the local pizza place selling only broccoli pizza (yech!) with a positive attitude. But something's wrong. Sadness just can't seem to keep her hands to herself. Quite by accident, she touches one of Riley's newly formed core memories of her first day at her new school. The ball turns blue. And try as she might, Joy can't seem to change it. But it's not just new memories. Riley's old core memories seem to be succumbing to Sadness's touch, too. In her effort to preserve Riley's happiness, Joy accidentally gets herself, Sadness, and all of Riley's core memories sucked up a pipeline and deposited in the long term storage center of Riley's brain, far away from Headquarters. Without Joy there to man the controls, will Riley ever be happy again?

OK, can I just say... I LOVE this movie. I about near cried like 3 times. Once again, Pixar presents an absurd-sounding premise for a film (a gourmet chef rat, a fish lost in the ocean, no less than three separate movies about toys, and now, feelings), and not only make it work, they make it excellent. There is so much going on that's right with this movie that I hardly know where to begin. I'm sure psych majors would have a veritable field day with it.

Joy's quest to make Riley perpetually happy is, on the surface, a noble one. After all, it falls perfectly in line with the Disney philosophy. "Happiest place on earth." "Dreams come true." "Happily ever after." But for Riley herself, or anyone for that matter, that approach is unhealthy. Yes, it's good to look on the bright side of things. But it's also important to realize that God created us as fully human, with a wide range of emotions. And all of them need to be dealt with. Including sadness. But we'll come back to that.

While Joy and Sadness are trying to navigate their way back to Headquarters, Disgust, Anger, and Fear are trying to hold down the fort. And they're failing miserably. Riley's inability to work through her emotions has begun to render her unable to feel anything at all. Apathy takes over. And apathy is a dangerous, dangerous thing. Without her core memories, Riley's islands of personality begin to collapse. So Anger decides to give Riley an idea. Since all her happy core memories were made in Minnesota, maybe it's time for Riley to go back there. But since mom and dad likely wouldn't be willing to pack up and move back again, Riley's going back alone. She steals her mother's credit card and buys a one way bus ticket home. It's certainly a situation that warrants a parent/child discussion if you're watching this movie with your little ones.

When Joy is forced to make a choice between Riley's happiness and abandoning Sadness, she chooses unwisely. That choice causes Sadness to spiral into all out depression and leaves Joy stranded in the memory dump, soon to be erased forever. Stuck in there with her is Bing Bong, Riley's childhood imaginary friend.

Since Riley has grown beyond the need for such things, Bing Bong is something of a hobo, wandering around the recesses of Riley's mind. He occasionally visits her memories, probably to relive all the fun times they had. In some ways, he was kind of like Joy on steroids. All he ever wanted was to make Riley happy. To "take her to the moon". And while his saccharine Prozac-like happiness is almost grating, it's a reminder of what people who force themselves into a state of denial can be like. They're exuberantly joyful to the point that even they no longer believe it. But beneath his cotton candy exterior (and yes, I mean that literally), Bing Bong has a good heart. And when he realizes that the only way for Joy to save Riley is to sacrifice himself, he cheerfully accepts his fate. As long as Riley is happy, that's all that matters. It's one of the scenes that pushed me to tears.

Ah, Bing Bong. We hardly knew ye.
Down in the dumps (quite literally), Joy revisits one of Riley's core memories: her being cheered by her parents and hockey team. It's perhaps one of her most cherished memories. But as Joy rewinds the memory back even further, the ball changes from gold to blue. Seems Riley's team lost that game. It was only after the defeat that her parents and team rallied to cheer her up. And so Joy learns, often times the memories we hold most dear have a twinge of sadness to them. Indeed, one cannot truly appreciate joy unless one has also experienced pain. And as we mature, we recognize that emotions aren't quite so solitary. Many of our life experiences are filled with multiple emotions at once.

From a personal standpoint, I can tell you this is true. The day I became a mother was one of great joy. But it was also tainted with fear. The moment that child was placed in my arms, my whole world changed. And that can be a very frightening thing. The day my grandmother died was certainly one of sadness. But there were also hints of joy. I knew that she was no longer suffering and was in the arms of Jesus. Our lives are too complex to only experience one emotion all the time, or even one emotion at a time.

When Joy finally reunites with Sadness and manages to get them both back to Headquarters, you'd expect Joy to be the one to save the day. But you'd be wrong. Joy knows that this time, she needs to hang back. Sadness needs to take the controls. When she finally does, it wakes Riley up from her apathy. She begs the bus driver to stop and races home to her parents, who have been searching frantically for her. As they embrace their daughter, she confesses everything. She misses her home. Her friends. Her old life. And then, she breaks down. All the pain and sadness that Joy had been repressing comes flooding out as if from a broken dam. Mom and Dad confess that they, too, miss home. That this whole situation has been difficult on them all. And that feeling sad when we lose a part of our lives is ok. Better than ok. It's good. Losses, changes, disappointments can and should be grieved.

Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Disney is actually telling kids that being happy all the time isn't healthy. I never thought I would say those words. But there they are. In an era where we medicate ourselves en masse to avoid feeling sad, Inside Out is telling us that we should embrace sadness. That we should embrace all of our feelings. It's very validating in a way. As a matter of fact, it's downright biblical.

Most parents have heard the 60s folk song by The Byrds called "Turn, Turn, Turn". If you haven't, I've included a video.

But this isn't just some hippie protest song. It's scripture. It's pulled almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes 3:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
(Emphasis added)

God made us human. He made us in His image. And as God has a full range of emotions, so do we. They make us a complete person, and we need to experience all of them in moderation.

After Riley's breakdown and talk with her parents, a new core memory is formed. And this little ball is multicolored. A little sadness. A little joy. Her emotions are maturing. And so is she. Eventually, she adjusts to the move, finds her joy again, even joins the local hockey team. It seems everything has changed for the better. Everyone gets an equal chance at the controls. A new console gets installed at Headquarters that helps create these multifaceted feelings. And Joy? Well, she's living the life of Riley. (See what I did there?) Yes. It seems that once again, all is right with the world.

Oh. I wonder what happens when you press that shiny new button marked "puberty"...

Friday, November 6, 2015

Disney Films: Pocahontas- I hope you don't like history

Or logic. Because there isn't much of either in this film. All in all it's not a bad film. It just doesn't live up to its predecessors in the Disney Renaissance. So, let's discuss the film that was considered the beginning of the end of the golden age of Disney Studios:

Oh, also, be forewarned:
As I said in the subtitle, I seriously hope you don't like history. The plot itself is based on a tale told by the real John Smith, who was, for all intents and purposes, notorious for telling exaggerations and sometimes straight-up fiction. The beginning of the film is somewhat historically accurate. The opening scene and accompanying narrative song give exposition on the brave adventurers (or mercenaries, depending on how you look at it) of the Virginia Company in 1607, sailing for glory, God, and gold (not necessarily in that order). The crew is led by Governor Ratcliffe (who actually existed and was nothing at all like he was portrayed in the film. More information about him can be found here.) and joined by rock star of his day, Captain John Smith (who also actually existed and was also very much unlike his film portrayal. More information about him can be found here). Along for the ride is young Thomas, who isn't vitally important to this story until close to the end, so we won't focus on him much. To say he's not cut out for adventuring would be a gross understatement. That's really all you need to know about him.

Most of the historical accuracy ends here. And we haven't even seen the title card yet. We cut to scenes of the Powhatan Indians singing a rather native-sounding song. I can't verify how accurate it actually is, since Eisner (then-head of Disney) refused to let actual Native Americans collaborate on the film at all. We eventually run into the titular character herself. Pocahontas, the real one I mean, was probably about 10 or 11 years old in 1607, and, based on the one engraving we have of the woman, she wasn't quite what one would call attractive:

What Not to Wear, 17th Century edition
Then again, with that ridiculous outfit she's wearing, anyone would look horrid. I'm sure in her native clothes, she was probably half-way decent if not pretty. No, what we see in the film is a rather lithe, buxom 18-year-old woman with an Asian face and a Caucasian body. But at least she looks good standing on ledges and stuff.

So, you know the story. White people show up, misunderstandings ensue, both sides are cautious of one another. It's only a matter of time before handsome hero meets winsome princess. And if the title card is where the historical accuracy stops, then this is pretty much where the logic stops. Very little that happens from here on out makes much sense. Actually, most of it isn't even possible. Pocahontas, by listening to her heart, is able to learn English. She doesn't even have an accent. Man, it's a good thing that doesn't actually work. Rosetta Stone would go out of business. As if that wasn't weird enough, apparently, you can learn a language by osmosis, because the rest of her tribe is apparently able to speak English, too. Don't believe me? Check out Powhatan chatting it up with the new neighbors (skip to the 2:00 mark):

Yeah. Magic English. Go fig. It's not the last time he does it, either. He also thanks John Smith at the end of the film. Then again, I guess magic isn't too far fetched in this movie. How else do you end up with talking trees (weeping willows, no less, which aren't even native to North America) and neon pink leaves? Not to mention, the coast Virginia has now moved inland a couple hundred miles. Because that's how far away the mountains are. So, I guess you'll just have to suspend your disbelief for this one a little more than usual.

Now, I know I've picked on this movie a lot so far. And I've had a lot of good reason to. But I by no means dislike this movie. Because if there's one thing this movie has going for it, it's the music. Howard Ashman may have died before he got to work on it, but that doesn't change the fact that this is some of long-time co-writer Alan Menkin's best work. While the lyrics do invoke a little native spiritualism (I know every rock and tree and creature/Has a life, has a spirit, has a name) it's pretty easy to navigate around. Whether it's jaunty chorus numbers like "Mine Mine Mine", Academy Award winner "Colors of the Wind", or intense battle march "Savages", the music in this film is truly something to behold. A lot of people at the time got incensed with the lyrics to "Savages" because they portrayed a lot of racism. I have no problem with the song because the entire film is portraying the dangers or racism. Of course they'd have a song about racism in it. How can you show two groups overcoming prejudice, if you don't show the prejudice in the first place? Kinda lessens the impact of the moral, doesn't it?

Perhaps the best song in the entire film, though, is the one that never made it. "If I Never Knew You", the love ballad between Smith and Pocahontas is simply gorgeous. Mel Gibson (voice of John Smith) even does his own singing. And surprise of surprises, it's not half bad. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's actually good. Not as good as Broadway veteran Judy Khun (singing voice of Pocahontas) but still pretty good. The song was cut for time, and because children in test audiences found it boring. But it's a real shame because the actual theme of the song shows up in several places in the score despite the fact that it was cut. Fortunately, a special edition DVD was released a few years ago that restores the song (and it's reprise) to its original position in the film. If you don't have the special edition DVD, you can check out this clip:

The reprise (the animation for which is a little awkward) can be found below as well. Awkward animation aside, though, having the reprise gives the ending an extra punch of emotion. Growing up, I probably would have liked this movie a lot more if they'd left these two scenes intact.

Wow. Now that's an ending to a movie. Arguably one of the greatest in the Disney canon. (It's still not Beauty and the Beast...but I'm biased.) If there's one other thing this movie has going for it, it's definitely the ending. And not just because of the music. It's not your typical Disney ending. The "princess" doesn't get what she wants in the end. Ariel wanted to be part of Eric's world. She got it. Belle wanted adventure. She got it. Pocahontas? She stays behind to keep two nervous factions from breaking out into all-out war and lets the man she loves sail away to a far-off land, in all likelihood never to see him again* (until the sequel, anyway). I get the feeling she didn't start out looking for a difficult job with multiple people's lives depending on her diplomatic prowess. But that's ultimately what she ended up with. I give kudos to Disney for being bold enough to break away from their "happily ever after" formula and try something unexpected. It's one of the most touching, poignant, and mature endings to a Disney film. This is probably why adults tend to like the film a bit more than children do.

Love it or hate it, this movie isn't all bad. Yeah, it has its flaws, but it also has its positive points. When it's bad, it's really bad. When it's good, it's really good. It's just one of those movies you just have to take at face value. It did spawn a direct-to-video sequel (as did practically every Disney animated film in the 90s) which I'll review on its own merits another time.

I will say this, though. While Disney cut out parts of Pocahontas to make it more appealing to children, it seems their next film was targeted almost entirely at adults, with no concern for what kids would think of it at all.

*It's worth noting that the real John Smith was sent back to England to receive treatment for a powder burn he sustained, but that wasn't until 1609, two years after his arrival in Jamestown. And once back in England, he never set foot in Virginia again. He did sail to a few other parts of the North American coast, however, so it's not like he retired or anything.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Take Two: Sabrina

Is it just me? Or does every other movie these days seem to be a remake?

Is a remake always a bad thing? Are there instances where the remake is good, or even (dare I  suggest) better than the original? Or are they simply a sign that the writers in Hollywood have lost all sense of originality and have some sadist need to pile dog droppings all over your favorite flicks? Are some films sacred ground, that are so perfect in every way that a remake would just be an insult?

Never one to shy away from a challenge, I intend to plumb the depths of movie remakes in a new segment I like to call "Take Two!".

Today's remake review: a classic Cinderella tale of unrequited love, growing up, and, um... social classism?

The Plot:

Since the plot is roughly the same for both films (not a complete rewrite, as some remakes are), I'll sum up the plot here noting the differences before I start comparing what I like and dislike about each film. Sabrina Fairchild is the daughter of the chauffeur of the Larrabee family, an old money clan living in a large mansion on the North Shore. The family consists of mother Maude and two sons: Linus (the more business-minded brother and CEO of the Fortune 500 family business) and David (the flighty playboy). The original also includes father Oliver Larrabee, but he was written out of the remake (largely because he did very little to advance the plot). Sabrina has been in love with David from time immemorial, but he's so busy with his fling of the week that he doesn't notice she exists. Sabrina takes the opportunity to get away to Paris (for cooking school in the original and a Vogue internship in the remake). There she meets some wise friends who help turn her into a sophisticated socialite and Sabrina returns home, almost immediately catching the eye of David.

There's a problem, though. In her absence, David has become engaged to Elizabeth Tyson, whose father just so happens to own a company that Linus would love to merge with. It's a match made in corporate heaven that would land the Larrabee Corporation millions. And Sabrina turning David's head puts both unions in serious jeopardy. Linus isn't about to stand for that. At first, he makes veiled attempts to pay her off. But she proves to be a woman who can't be bought. Then, Linus changes tactics. If she's determined to love a Larrabee, he's going to make sure she falls in love with the one who will do the least amount of damage. So he begins to seduce Sabrina. He has no intentions of staying with her, of course. But that's a necessary evil if Linus wants to preserve the greatest business deal of his career.

Will Sabrina be turned on by the charms of the cold, calculating businessman? Will David abandon his fiancee for the chauffeur's daughter? Will Linus lose out on a multi-million dollar merger, especially when he starts falling in love with Sabrina for real?

If you haven't seen either of the films, I suggest you stop reading here, because spoilers are ahead. Ye be warned!

The Original

The Good:

The original has a lot going for it. It was based on a rather popular Broadway play called "Sabrina Fair". Having the gorgeous and ever-classy Audrey Hepburn as the elegant and sophisticated Sabrina is a major plus. There's wit and humor, particularly on the part of father Oliver Larrabee (played by stage actor Walter Hampden as one of the last performances before his death), who just wants his boys to be sensible and marry within their class like they're supposed to. He's not bitter about the classism. It's just the way things are done and he's a man too old to be pushed far out of his comfort zone by newfangled ideas. John Williams shines as Thomas Fairchild, Sabrina's loving but cautious father. The scene of Linus rescuing Sabrina from a failed suicide attempt does help hint at a future relationship. Overall, it's a sweet film that doesn't overstay its welcome.

The Bad:

The opening narration by Hepburn is clunky and monotone. Humphrey Bogart's performance as Linus is one-dimensional and forced. Bill Holden's David is neither charming nor dashing, and I find myself wondering why Sabrina is interested in him to start with. The fact that he goes through several marriages in the original and only "relationships" in the remake says a lot about his character in this version. An odd thing, considering marriage was considered much more sacred in the 50s than in the 90s. We spend very little time seeing Sabrina's transformation from awkward shy chauffeur's daughter to elegant debutante, and so don't get too attached to her journey.

The Ugly:

Perhaps my most irritating problem with the movie is the fact that it ends on a very simple note. After all the lies, betrayal, and manipulation, Linus and Sabrina just sail away together to Paris without so much as an apology. Look, I know "love means never having to say you're sorry" (yes, I know, wrong movie) but come on! If it were me, I'd expect at least some acknowledgement that deceiving a woman just so you can make a ton of money was a bad idea. But no. Linus just strolls into frame, they embrace, fade to black. Ugh. Makes me nuts.

The Remake

The Good:

If there was a lot going for the original, there's ten times more going for the remake. Directed by Sydney Pollack of all people, this PG rated romance is big on charm, wit, and warmth. Harrison Ford kills it as Linus. He has all the emotion and expression that Bogart lacked in his performance. Greg Kinnear pulls off a believable David. Certainly a much better performance than Holden's. He's a dashing, yet immature man-child playboy who has a severe commitment phobia. I may have liked the performance a bit more if Kinnear were a tiny bit...better looking, but if I had to choose between eye candy that can't act and this "adorkable" performance, I'd rather have Kinnear any day.

The subplot relationship between Thomas Fairchild and Joanna the housekeeper is sweet but not distracting. The upgraded status of Mrs. MacCardle, or "Mack", Linus's longsuffering secretary is a welcome one. She almost acts as a barometer for Linus's emotional transformation because she knew what he was like before Sabrina. A lot more time is spent on Sabrina's time in Paris and it becomes obvious why she's so in love with the place and the people there. Her relationship with her supervisor at Vogue, Irene, is one of mentoring and maturing. Truly, it is Irene that turns Sabrina from wallflower to rose blossom. Julia Ormond's Sabrina is sweet and gentle. She lacks some of the refinement of Hepburn's performance, but in her defense it's hard to go against the queen of class. Had you never seen the original, you'd never know the difference.

For me, though, it's the payoff at the end that makes the whole movie totally worth it. The final scene of Linus and Sabrina in Paris just sells the whole romance, and the book-end narration was the perfect touch. I couldn't think of a better way to end such a great film.

The Bad:

Not much, actually. I did miss father Oliver's presence in the story line (he was killed off in the opening monologue), but maybe because of the humor injected elsewhere in the story, his role may have been redundant, as he was almost entirely comic relief. I'd also have liked to have seen a bit more of Linus's background. The original tried to paint him as a suicidal depressive, which was a bit off-putting, but at least they explained why he never settled down. Linus's excuse for being single in the remake was that he was too busy, which, given the 90s setting when multi-billion dollar CEOs manage to find a wife and a mistress, seems a bit flimsy. But that's probably just me subconsciously trying to spend more time watching Harrison Ford.

The Ugly:


I think it's safe to say that in this case, remakes aren't always a bad thing. I'd rather watch the Sydney Pollack version any day of the week. The writing is great, the performances are out of this world, even the music is amazing. While I will forever love both Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart for their various other films, in my heart, there is only one Linus and Sabrina.