Twenty-seven years. That’s how long it’s been since Kevin Bacon boogied his way into the hearts and minds of 80s kids as Ren McCormack in Footloose. It’s been so long that Bacon’s kids are now old enough to enjoy the 2011 remake.
And I bet they just might.
As one of those (devout) aforementioned 80s kids, I was more than a little skeptical headed into Footloose 2.0. From the trailer, it looked like it would be an unnecessary, Step Up-ified version of one of the 80s more memorable pop culture hits.
Rest assured, it’s a solid, honest tribute– more akin to a Broadway revival than a remake or re-imagining. Entire conversations are lifted from the original, along with the red boots, the yellow VW, the maroon tux jacket, the songs, and much of the choreography.
The story itself is a carbon copy, with few changes; the most obvious is the fact that the fatal, teen-involved car crash that prompted a small town’s ban on dancing is actually shown in this version. And when Ren arrives in town from Boston three years later, he’s not reluctantly following his mother; here she’s recently passed from leukemia.
Sure, this new version has also been ‘updated’ to appeal to today’s generation– there’s a hip-hop dance scene early on, the jean shorts are a little shorter, the moves are a little racier, and the cast is not nearly as homogeneous– but the spirit is the same, and the feel-good story of one kid’s crusade to just dance and have a little fun holds up surprisingly well.
Professional dancer Kenny Wormald steps into Bacon’s shoes and fills them more than adequately. He doesn’t have the chops that Bacon did, but his fleet feet make up for it. Fellow pro Julianne Hough takes over Lori Singer’s role as Ariel, the preacher’s rebel daughter, and she makes her way through the festivities here with spunk and sassy-pants moves.
Dennis Quaid takes over the daddy/preacher role and brings more of a down-home feel instead of the puritanical sternness that John Lithgow originated. It’s a welcome change… and certainly more believable in this day and age. And then there’s Willard (Rabbit Hole‘s Miles Teller), the lovable, young lunk who single-handedly steals the movie right out from under everyone.
Director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) has a clear, true love for the source material. He wisely recognized that major plot changes may very well have caused revolt among us ‘old timers’, and that, frankly, since it ain’t broke, he didn’t need to fix it. And having original screenwriter Dean Pitchford back for this go-round didn’t hurt, either.
So is this 2011 re-do of Footloose necessary? Probably not… but if it was gonna get done anyway, you couldn’t do it much better than they did here.
When Ren pleads his case to have the dance ban revoked he tells the town council, “This is our time.” And this indeed seems like the right time for a whole new generation to find out what made us 80s kids get up and dance, way back in 1984.