Let’s talk about remakes.
It wouldn’t be revolutionary for me to point out the multitude of issues with the merry-go-round of remakes Hollywood has been obsessed with churning out these past few years. Nor would it be profound for me to criticize the many producers who have set aside new content from young, diverse filmmakers in favor of modernizing classic films nobody asked to be remade. And while I’m sure every film student, disgruntled screenwriter, and cinephile with access to a blog has the same opinion as me, I would feel remiss not to comment on this growing trend in the filmmaking community. Especially because this time, Hollywood made it personal by turning its eye towards my all-time favorite childhood film, The Princess Bride.
I recently went on my good friend and fellow film-lover, Lauren Mosier’s, podcast, titled Please Don’t Remake This, to discuss the media’s growing obsession with profiting off of Millennials’ nostalgia by revamping their favorite childhood movies. Our movie of choice: The Princess Bride. It was a natural choice, being a childhood favorite of mine that instilled in me (some would say) an unhealthy, love for adventure, pirates, and sword fighting. Not only that, but it’s probably one of the most quotable movies next to Mean Girls, as Lauren pointed out, while the love story, comedy, and action creates a movie close to perfection.
To understand the complexities of why The Princess Bride should remain fossilized in history, you should first understand why I, and so many others, hold this movie so near and dear to our hearts.
The Princess Bride is an enigma. In the forward to Cary Ewles’ book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, director Rob Reiner stated, “When it came time for the movie’s release, no one had any idea of how to sell it. Was it a fairy tale? Was it a swashbuckling adventure? Was it a love story? Or was it just nutty satire? The fact is it was, and is, all of the above.” The charm of the film lies in its ability to transcend multiple genres, appealing to the hearts of movie watchers with either the action, romance, or comedy, all of which was perfectly encapsulated in the masterful screenwriter, William Goldman’s script.
The Princess Bride is based on the novel of the same name, also written by Goldman, who is probably most well known for writing the hit 1969 movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The movie was placed into the hands of actor and director, Rob Reiner, who had been enamored with Goldman’s book ever since he was given it as a gift from his father. Reiner realized he wanted to make a film adaptation of The Princess Bride after his success with This Is Spinal Tap in 1984. After packing the cast with talent, The Princess Bride quite literally leaped from page to screen when it was released in 1987.
While the film was well-received by critics at the time, it was only a modest box office success. It then grew into a cult classic over the years, essentially becoming one of the most prominent and culturally significant movies of a generation, as movie lovers everywhere became obsessed with the quirky comedy of The Princess Bride.
The story follows a young boy (Fred Savage) stuck in bed with a fever during Christmas (yes, it’s canonically Christmas during the Grandson/Grandfather scenes, which means The Princess Bride is now a Christmas movie in my book). His Grandfather (Peter Falk) comes to visit him, bringing his own favorite childhood story along to read to his bedridden Grandson. While hesitant at first, the Grandson’s intrigue is piqued at the Grandfather’s mention of, “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, [and] miracles.” The Grandfather begins to read and thus begins our tale.
Throughout the movie, we follow Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Cary Ewles), a couple whose love is so pure it defies even death. Their romance is ridden with peril and adversity though, as Buttercup is forced into an engagement with the rotten Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). The lovers struggle through challenges – from Humperdinck’s sadistic sidekick, a six-fingered man named Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), to the legendary ROUSes (Rodents of Unusual Size) that live in the Fire Swamp.
Along the way, our protagonists encounter a myriad of characters. There’s the sharp-tongued and mocking leader, Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), the sarcastic and revenge-obsessed swordsmith, Inigo (Mandy Patinkin), and the warm and gentle giant, Fezzick (André the Giant). After surviving sword fights, a machine that sucks the life out of you, the Cliffs of Insanity, and death itself – cured by the hilarious Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) and his comedic partner in crime, Valerie (Carol Kane) – Buttercup and Westley live happily ever after, riding off into the sunset as they embrace in a passionate kiss straight out of a fairytale.
The movie ends with the Grandfather echoing the phrase, “as you wish,” which had come to be Westley’s way of saying, “I love you,” to Buttercup throughout the story. It’s a heartwarming moment, and we see how this tale has united Grandfather and Grandson in an unexpected, touching way.
The Princess Bride is so many things wrapped into one. It’s filled with adventure and breathtaking fight sequences that keep you on the edge of your seat. The script is viciously funny, filled with wit and wry comments made by the unique band of characters that permeate the screen. And the fairytale aspects of the story help viewers escape into a simpler world of princesses, pirates, villains, and heroes. But most important of all, The Princess Bride is so, unbelievably cheesy.
When I say cheesy, I say it with nothing but love. There is an undeniable eighties charm to The Princess Bride that gives us some of the fan-favorite staples of the film. The most notable of these is the grotesque ROUSes, which are quite clearly actors in handmade rat costumes. What makes the fight between Westley and the ROUSes so entertaining is the knowledge that this aspect of the film was created with eighties movie magic, despite all the campiness of the final product.
Now, why do I bring this up? Why are the creepy and somewhat disturbing-looking ROUSes so close to my heart? It’s because, nowadays, physical special effects like this would be substituted with semi-realistic CGI, taking a lot of the life out of the monsters. It’s one of the reasons I am partially against a remake – there is no way to ever truly replicate the charm, awkwardness, and cheese that came along with most films made in the eighties.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think all remakes are bad. The 2018 remake of A Star is Born is a fabulous example of a movie that successfully recreated a well-known storyline, but with revamped characters, interesting new plot points, and a star-studded cast. While A Star is Born is in no way perfect, it emulates what makes a good remake: the right combination between the old and the new to birth something unexpectedly charming, yet rooted in a nostalgic appreciation for the original.
But with every, A Star is Born, there’s a Lion King. Disney has been particularly obsessed lately with chugging out live-action remake after live-action remake, especially after the release of the highly anticipated Disney+ streaming platform last year. The 2019 live-action Lion King was heavily criticized for its lifeless animation and shot by shot remake of the movie. Despite it’s loaded cast, audiences found the Lion King remake unimpressive and unengaging, the CGI taking away a lot of the charm and heart from the original 1994 film.
So what’s the difference between these two films? I think it’s best to look at a movie that encapsulates everything a good remake should be. In my opinion, the 1997 version of Cinderella, starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, is one of the best remakes in modern-day cinema. The film brought new life to an old story, adding color, pizazz, and interest to a tale audiences have heard a thousand times before.
The 1997 Cinderella also did a magnificent job of filling the cast with big-name stars who had the talent to carry the movie both vocally, and acting-wise. We are seeing, more and more often these days, celebrities shoved into singing roles who don’t have the vocal ability or talent to sustain the character. It leaves the film feeling hollow and disappointing (listen to any song from the 2017 Beauty and the Beast and you’ll understand what I’m referencing). But the 1997 Cinderella had vocal powerhouses like Brandy, Whitney Houston, and Bernadette Peters carrying the film, all of whom delivered fantastic performances because they had the training to do so.
Most importantly, in the 1997 Cinderella, the cast was extremely diverse and filled its roles with actors of color. This allowed the actors to inhabit characters that had previously been restricted from them. We saw a young African American woman play a princess and a young Filipino man play a prince. This “colorblind casting” allowed people of color into the world of fairytales in a way that hadn’t previously been seen before in a Disney film. This is the kind of decision that is missing from current remakes. If we are going to continue remaking films, especially fairytales, then it should be of the utmost importance to allow children of all races and ethnicities to see themselves represented on screen.
The Princess Bride actually did get a quarantine makeover this past summer. In June, the short-lived streaming service Quibi began to release chapters of a fan-made movie every day for two weeks. It was shot entirely at-home by a slew of famous cast members using their phones and DIY costumes and props. The star-studded cast included big names such as Joe Jonas, Sophie Turner, Common, Tiffany Haddish, Neil Patrick Harris, Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Garner, Keegan-Michael Key, Taika Waititi, and many, many more. The roles switched off each week between celebrities, and the actors had to rely on at-home fixes for some of the special effects, including using a corgi as an ROUS, garden steps to emulate the Cliffs of Insanity, and Lego figurines and stuffed animals for crowd scenes. The remake was also for a good cause, and everyone involved donated their time and talent free of charge for charity. At the end of the process, Quibi donated $1 million to chef José Andrés’s charity World Central Kitchen, which provides meals to those who have been most affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.
I bring up this low budget adaptation because I think it pays homage to the original movie in just the right way. It united people for a common good during a tumultuous time, while also opening up the performance space to actors of all genders, ethnicities, races, and sexualities. Furthermore, it honored the cheesiness of the original, without taking away from the central message of the film. While it was in no way a true “remake”, it certainly had qualities I would consider appropriate for a potential future remake of The Princess Bride.
So. Do I think The Princess Bride should be remade? Sure. But, I have a few suggestions:
The Princess Bride is a wonderful movie, but it does not feature a diverse cast by any means. I think that were Disney – the current rights holders of The Princess Bride – to remake the film at all, adding diversity would be a wonderful way to revamp the original with new, inclusive talent. If they wanted to go even further with this idea of modernizing the story, I think the best and boldest decision they could make would be to switch Westley’s gender from male to female and make the love story between two women.
I know, that’s a bold statement for me to make, and one I’m sure not every fan of The Princess Bride would agree with, but I think it would enhance the story greatly. Not only would the yearning between Westley and Buttercup get amped up tenfold, but the complicated dynamic between Buttercup and Humperdinck would be strengthened immensely. During Lauren’s podcast, we discussed how on our last rewatch of the film, we both noticed Humperdinck is a heavily queer coded character. The chemistry and banter between him and Count Rugen is overtly domestic and layered with not so subtle hints at a relationship that transcends friendship. Humperdinck’s homosexuality could explain his complete lack of interest in Buttercup, despite her being deemed the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Now, if the remake did make Westley a woman, this would make Humperdinck’s character arc much more tragic. Humperdinck is a Prince with an elderly, ailing father, who is required by the laws of his Kingdom to find a Princess to marry in order to produce heirs. Therefore Humperdinck, after seeing these two women freely living the life he always wanted for himself and Rugen, would have immense jealousy and anger towards Buttercup, thus giving him the motive to kill Westley later in the film.
Now, do I actually think Disney will make The Princess Bride a love story between two women? No. Am I still hesitantly hopeful they will consider it someday? Yes.
In 2019, Disney Theatrical Productions announced that work was currently underway with creating The Princess Bride musical, with collaborators including co-book writers Rick Elice (Peter and the Starcatcher, Jersey Boys), Bob Martin (The Prom, The Drowsy Chaperone), and composer-lyricist David Yazbek (Tootsie, The Band’s Visit). While there is still little known about the musical version, my hope is the Broadway cast will at least be more diverse than the original movie, even if we don’t get the chaotic bisexual female Westley the world deserves.
Remaking movies is a complicated equation – one I think most producers and directors often get wrong. Yet, despite being disappointed by remake after remake, I still hold on to a sliver of hope that one day Hollywood will get it right. Modern-day audiences don’t want to see lifeless remakes used to fuel the greed of producers, they want to see their favorite stories appreciated and lovingly reworked into something new and beautiful. I believe we’ll figure out how to do that one day, but until then I’ll enjoy the classics as they are and buy tickets to the new, original works that don’t nearly get as much appreciation as they should nowadays.
At the end of the day, The Princess Bride will remain one of my favorite movies. I’ll forever swoon anytime I hear Westley whisper, “as you wish,” into Buttercup’s ear. I’ll laugh every time Vizzini says, “inconceivable,” and I will never stop booing at my friends with the same timbre as the Ancient Booer from the film. Art like The Princess Bride, or truly any film that touched your heart as a child, is meant to remind us that happily ever after does exist, and sometimes if done right, those happily ever afters can be just as magical the second time around.
To hear more of my thoughts on The Princess Bride, or to listen to hot takes on other childhood movie favorites, check out Lauren Mosier’s podcast, Please Don’t Remake This on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.