The Country Bears is one of the earliest movies based on a Disney park attraction. Something that would become a bit of a trend moving forward. Why they thought making an entire movie centered around the “Country Bear Jamboree” was a good idea is beyond me. I didn’t see the movie until very recently. Despite being 7 at the time, my initial thought was that it looked bad. Not to mention how creepy the bears looked. Seeing it now I have to say that the movie has a weird kind of dumb charm. If I did give it a chance as a kid, I might have enjoyed it. The Country Bears treats the fictitious group like a genuine country band. The sheer amount of celebrities that agreed to be in this is truly baffling. Beary Barrington is a boy bear who doesn’t realize he’s adopted (despite having a human family). So he sets out to find the Country Bears. Most of the human stuff, along with Christopher Walken’s overacting, is probably the funniest stuff in the movie. The rest is just a generic “getting the band back together” to “save the beloved building” story. Only with animatronic Bears! Which I must admit are impressive. Since I’m not a big fan of country music, I found the random musical numbers to be unbearable (pun intended). Seriously, was anyone really asking for a Country Bears movie?
A Star is Born (2018) is the third remake to the 1937 original. Following the 1954 and 1976 remakes. It wasn’t until the trailer dropped that I decided to do my research. This excessively R rated version managed to take on a life all its own. Since it’s the first one released during the digital age of memes. Little do they know the “Hey, I just wanted to take another look” moment is present in every single version of A Star is Born. As the moment is very important to the relationship of the main characters. Bradley Cooper directors, produces, writes, and stars as Jackson Maine. The alcoholic, drug addicted, hearing impaired country singer who gives the leading lady her big break. While she has acted beforehand, this is Lady Gaga’s big break as well. As Ally, Gaga appears with no makeup or crazy clothing. I didn’t even recognize her before she started singing in the trailer. Jack and Ally also meet in a bar while she’s performing as a drag queen. Since no one will give her a chance because of how she looks. It’s not until after he let’s her sing with him on stage that her rise to fame begins. Where she becomes a 2010’s pop star. Meanwhile Jack’s career starts to spiral. Only it’s a lot more heartbreaking than the other versions. He passes out at the Grammys, goes to rehab, and his final moments are far less accidental. Every performance helps to make it all the more tragic. Sam Elliot was nominated along with the leads. Their natural chemistry is just as good as the music. In keeping with tradition, the signature song “Shallow” won Best Original Song. Officially making Lady Gaga an Oscar winner. A Star is Born (2018) proves some stories will never get old no matter how many times they’re retold.
Remake of: A Star is Born (1976)
A Star is Born (1976) is the second remake to the 1937 original. Following the 1954 remake. In order to avoid repeating themselves, the story was changed a lot more drastically. While still keeping the basic rising fame story in tact. Now rock stars are the focus instead of movie stars. Since traditional musicals weren’t as big anymore, but they still wanted to have original music in the movie. Plus Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson were really big at the time. So they just remade A Star is Born as an excuse to use them both. Because of that, this version is the weakest of the 4 movies. Streisand is of course a wonderful singer and her appearance fits the character perfectly. She plays the newly renamed Esther Hoffman. A small time bar singer who confronts drunk rock n’ roll singer John Norman Howard while performing. Since the 70’s were all about female empowerment, Esther has several moments of this. She’s never a pushover, she refuses a stage name, and keeps her maiden name after marrying John. Although he doesn’t say “Hey, I just wanted to take another look” until after the wedding. Kristofferson’s John Norman has plenty of passionate moments with Esther, but he’s a bit of a jerk. Being R rated, he’s now a drug addict on top of being an alcoholic. He also berates an audience when Esther wins what is now a Grammy Award. And to top it all off, he cheats on her. Their relationship is given far too much focus. Making the music the remakes only saving grace. Still managing to get Oscar attention with a Best Original Song win for “Evergreen.” Recognized by the lyric “Love, soft as an easy chair.” Aside from the songs, A Star is Born (1976) does nothing groundbreaking.
Remake of: A Star is Born (1954)
A Star is Born (1954) is the first remake to the 1937 original. Being released in the 50’s, the type of star was changed from Hollywood actress to musical starlet. Since musical productions were the biggest thing at the time. So it only made sense that they cast Judy Garland as the lead. Her role was something of a comeback considering she hadn’t acted since 1950. It’s easily one of the best performances of her career (after The Wizard of Oz). Which is why her Best actress loss is perhaps the biggest upset in Oscar history. Unfortunately some of the movie’s footage was lost too. So it had to be replaced with black & white images. This version of A Star is Born is the closest to the original. Esther Blodgett (Vicki Lester) and Norman Maine have the same names and motivations. Only the story picks up when Esther has a modest career as a stage singer. She meets a drunk Norman Maine while she’s performing. He wastes no time trying to convince her to quit her band and become an even bigger star. Her only concern is believing she doesn’t look good enough. That’s when he tells her “Hey, I just wanted to take another look.” English actor James Mason plays this Norman as both assertive and sympathetic. Especially during the Oscar sequence when he begs for a job. Big musical numbers are given a bit more focus than their relationship, but it’s still a strong part of the 3 hour movie. Their best moment has to be when she performs exclusively for him. Thanks to the strong performances Norman’s alcoholic spiral is a lot more tragic. With the addition of songs like “The Man that got Away,” A Star is Born (1954) set the standard for this simple tale of rising fame.
Remake of: A Star is Born (1937)
Since the High School Musical craze refused to end, Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure was made. The only spin-off made for the musical franchise. Most people don’t know it exists since it was released direct-to-video. Sharpay Evans is the “antagonist” of the three High School Musical movies. Played by Disney Channel “it girl” Ashley Tisdale. I say antagonist, but really she never did anything outright villainous. Of course Disney couldn’t keep her bad forever either. So she was always redeemed at the end of every movie. Sharpay is definitely the protagonist of Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure. Which has just about the most generic/cliché plot imaginable. After graduating from East High, Sharpay now yearns to star on Broadway. So she moves to New York, stays in a crummy apartment, doesn’t get the part, meets a guy that helps her, and eventually becomes a star. Its been done a million times and the only standout is the character. The songs don’t even standout. I also wasn’t happy to see her love interest change. Since she’s supposed to be with Zeke (the baker). The only real connection to the trilogy is a cameo from her brother Ryan. Which can only be seen on TV. Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure is at best a colorful distraction.
Spin-off of: High School Musical
High School Musical 3: Senior Year was simply too big to contain on the small screen. After the even bigger success of High School Musical 2, it was clear to Disney that the final installment deserved a theatrical release. Which meant bad news for parents. Since they now had to take their kids to see the movie. My parents were lucking, because not even its big screen status was enough to break me. They take full advantage of the higher budget by immediately showing the sweat on Zac Efron during the big game. High School Musical 3: Senior Year is as the title suggests, about the last chance East High students have before graduation. Before going to college and possibly parting ways. Troy and Gabriella are closer than ever before, but that big decision gets in the way. It also gets in the way of Troy and Chad’s friendship. They also have prom to think about, but the real focus is on a school musical within a musical of the same name. Sharpay and Ryan are no longer antagonistic because they’re all in this together after all. It’s just those real world adult decisions that make up the conflict. Although it’s still squeaky clean enough to maintain a G rating. Not even a scandal involving Vanessa Hudgens was enough to distract from it. Everything comes full circle at the end during graduation. When the entire cast sings about the joys of being in a high school musical. High School Musical 3: Senior Year makes me wish my school experience was this much fun. “What team?! Wildcats!”
Preceded by: High School Musical 2
High School Musical 2 dominated the summer. After the massive hit that was High School Musical, a sequel needed to be made immediately. I of course remember when High School Musical 2 came out as well. Still, I stayed away from the hype. Which was arguably even bigger than the first. In fact, the Disney Channel Original Movie’s premiere had the highest viewership of anything on TV at the time. Despite its title, High School Musical 2 doesn’t spend much time at high school. Instead school is out for the summer. Set to the beat of the even more infectious song “What time is it?” A song that was so big it reached Billboard success. It’s easily there best song and they put it at the very beginning. Even though they aren’t in school, the entire East High class works things out at Sharpay and Ryan’s country club. Sharpay’s intentions are somewhat more devious this time around. She only wants two things, all things fabulous and for Troy to sing with her instead of Gabriella. Her plan backfires since nothing could ever pull Troy and Gabriella apart. Except maybe the possibility of being accepted to play basketball at a prestigious college. That’s really the only obstacle in the sequel. While a club talent show is the big climax. Zac Efron actually sings this time and Vanessa Hudgens is much more comfortable in her role. More screen time given to characters like Chad or Ryan is also welcome. High School Musical 2 is just as carefree and energetic as summer should be. “What team?! Wildcats!”
High School Musical is the most successful Disney Channel Original Movie ever made. As it was the first one that spoke to an entire generation. That’s no small feat for a made-for-TV movie. Regretfully, I wasn’t part of the High School Musical trend initially. I was 10 at the time and I remember the movie being a big deal. I just didn’t watch enough Disney Channel to have caught on to it. So I instead waited for the hype to die down before checking out the trilogy. High School Musical is all about the status quo and whether or not someone can break free and have other interests. Not exactly deep, but then again this is a very kid friendly teen movie. All his life Troy Bolton has been the basketball guy. It’s not until a chance encounter with Gabriella Montez that his musical talent shines through. She’s always been a brainy bookworm, but they both realize this is the start of something new. They both end up attending East High School where they must decide between who they’re expected to be and what they choose to be. All the while developing a cute relationship. Which is difficult when their friends (Chad and Taylor) and family try to keep them apart. Really the only antagonists are Sharpay Evans and her brother Ryan. Who simply want to keep their positions in the school musical. High School Musical is full of infectious songs that all became big hits. My favorite will always be the upbeat final song “We’re all in this together.” The TV movie was also responsible for launching the careers of several stars. Ashley Tisdale was already a Disney star, but Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens both got their start here. High School Musical was indeed a cultural phenomenon that will never be duplicated. “What team?! Wildcats!”
Followed by: High School Musical 2
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, my my, how can I resist you? While Mamma Mia! was very much a guilty pleasure, its sequel was a surprise hit that no one could have predicted. They succeed because they went the Godfather Part II route. By having it be both a sequel and a prequel. The sequel portion focuses on Sophie trying to reopen her mother’s Greek hotel after her death. Since Meryl Streep doesn’t usually do sequels. She also happens to be pregnant, so she enlists the help of her friends and fathers. Her grandmother also drops by for an unannounced visit. Cher’s presence is always welcome even if it’s hard to buy her as Meryl Streep’s mother. The prequel portion of the movie is a far bigger highlight. It details the crazy adventures Donna went on when she was younger. Including how she ended up with Harry, Sam, and Bill all around the same time. It’s quite remarkable how well every younger actor matches their older counterparts. Especially Lily James as young Donna. I didn’t think it was possible for someone to upstage Meryl Streep, but she pulls it off. Her singing voice is better and her story is much more interesting. I was also pleased to hear a few more ABBA songs that I was familiar with. Like “Waterloo” and “Fernando.” Of course they couldn’t resist doing “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia” again. With the removal of what didn’t work previously, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again was really when I had the time of my life.
Preceded by: Mamma Mia!
Mamma Mia! is all about ABBA. A swedish musical group popular in the 70’s and 80’s. Save for there two biggest hits, I never considered myself an expert of ABBA songs. So I never really considered seeing Mamma Mia! At least not until I listened to more of their music. All I knew about the movie was that it was considered a guilty pleasure. Mamma Mia! is based on a jukebox musical of the same name. It takes place on a Greek island during a wedding. Amanda Seyfried plays the bride to be Sophie. She has a dream that her father will be able to walk her down the aisle. Her only dilemma is not knowing who that is. So she decides to invite every potential father to the wedding in the hopes that she figures it out. Since her mother Donna was with three separate men at the same time. All played by familiar actors. Pierce Brosnan as Sam, Colin Firth as Harry, and Stellan Skarsgård as Bill. She tries, but I think it’s safe to say this is one performance Meryl Streep ain’t winning awards for. Her singing voice isn’t exactly suited for pop. Speaking of singing voices, Pierce Brosnan should stick to acting. Mamma Mia! mostly suffers from common rom-com clichés. There’s also a problem with the placement of songs in the story. Since ABBA songs are pre-existing, they have to fit them in whether they make sense or not. Not that it isn’t a lot of fun seeing elaborate dance numbers for songs like “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia.” Mamma Mia! is beautiful to look at and can be very enjoyable if you’re willing to accept its silly plot.
Followed by: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again