Franchise Fred Blu-ray Review: Vacation – The Griswold’s Are Back!

Now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital

Now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital

The Griswolds were so important to my life, I probably went on more vacations with them than I did with my own family, for all the times I re-watched their movies on VHS. Yes, even Vegas Vacation. I really think you could have sent the Griswolds anywhere and had a fun story. I wish they had made more with Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, but grown-up Rusty (Ed Helms) is the perfect way to continue the Griswold legacy.

Ed Helms and Christina Applegate are Rusty and Debbie Griswold

Ed Helms and Christina Applegate are Rusty and Debbie Griswold

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s Vacation gets the Griswolds. Rusty has taken after the old man. He’s cluelessly well meaning, which leads to so many scenarios that are just plain wrong. In Deb (Christina Applegate), he found a partner who is effectively supportive and her own woman. They’re a passionate couple, like Clark and Ellen were, which is frankly nice to see married parents allowed to be sexual.

A Vacation movie really only needs to be a series of sketches in different locations, but Daley and Goldstein get the tone of those sketches. Their film honors and updates the classic Vacation. I’m just glad it opened with the right song, but it’s also got Rusty’s attempts at heart to heart talks with his older son (Skyler Gisondo). Trying to bond over awkward, goofy activities feels true to the Griswolds. Again it’s well meaning and endearing but it’s just wrong. The kids have a nice edge with the younger brother (Steele Stebbins) accurately depicting the volatility of rambunctious youth, without being precocious.

Steele Stebbins and Skyler Gisondo are the new Griswold kids.

Steele Stebbins and Skyler Gisondo are the new Griswold kids.

Vacation shenanigans have slightly new contexts in 2015. Sexual misunderstandings are no longer innocent when everyone in the world is aware of sex offenders. Plus, kids are exposed to a lot more sex now than Rusty was, even when he went to the Parisian strip club. Spoofing the ridiculous accessories on the Griswold travel car is relevant to today’s auto tech and harken back to the old Truckster. Visiting Deb’s old sorority rightfully acknowledges the Girls Gone Wild/Dude Bro culture so Deb laments what she’s wrought. Social media sort of ruins travel, so leave it to the Griswolds to put it in its place.

One thing this Vacation lacks is a sense of escalating disaster. In all the previous ones, even Vegas, Clark’s bad decisions or bad luck nearly threatened the Griswolds’ safety, finances or fidelity, let alone the completion of their travel. So even though it was a series of sketches, they had consequences. Here, losing all their money, or more, doesn’t even seem to alter their triptych. It doesn’t make the scenes any less funny, just something I noticed.

Christina Applegate and Ed Helms in Vacation

Christina Applegate and Ed Helms in Vacation

Some of the humor is a little meaner than even the original R-rated National Lampoon’s Vacation. I’m talking about a movie where they strap a dead body to the roof and leave her on the doorstep of their relatives, and dragged a dog behind a station wagon for miles. Somehow head on vehicular murder and cow guts seem unnecessary to the humor. I don’t think Vacation needs to compete with the Hangover movies or old school Farrelly Brothers movies. It’s already edgy with the kids and the political incorrectness, but the violent extremes are few and far between. If that’s what Daley and Goldstein dreamed of adding to their Vacation movie, I celebrate them.

It would have been nice if they spent a bit more time at Wally World, but they do incorporate the new climate of theme parks well. It’s not like they had an entire reshoot to film a Wally World centric third act this time.

Daley and Goldstein have impeccable instincts for setting up brilliant comedic scenarios. The elements are clear, but then they unfold into an unexpected payoff. That also includes a strong directorial eye for comedic staging and editing. You need only look at the tumbleweed scene or the copilot scene to see Goldstein and Daley are bringing back almost vaudevillian comedy. If their instincts veer dark or sweet, it still made me laugh out loud. I want to see these Griswolds take many more vacations. Franchise Fred approves.

The Blu-ray

Goldstein and Daley shot a beautiful film and it looks it on Blu-ray. All the different places the Griswold visit give you a virtual travelogue in your living room. Lush green forests and farms are bright, and desert canyons looks crisp and sharp, especially epic in the widescreen frame.

Bonus features are fun too. The deleted scenes made me legitimately laugh with more Hemsworth, Chase and D’Angelo, plus some new characters who didn’t make the cut. That Burning Man scene, or rather non specific Burning Man-like art festival, looked like a beast to stage with all the colorful extras.

The behind the scenes extras capture the tone of the movie as well, with most of the cast and filmmakers being sincere. Then you cut to Chevy Chase for some random nonsense! More Chevy, I’m happy!

Franchise Fred Interview: Chris Bender on Vacation


When I talk about Franchise Fred, people may assume it’s the big franchises, the Fast and the Furiouses (Furiae?) and Terminators. Some have already expressed surprise that Vacation is one of my number one franchises. I think you could send the Griswolds anywhere and it would be funny, so I was thrilled when they decided to bring them back, with Rusty (Ed Helms) all grown up and taking his kids on a road trip.

The Griswold Family 2.0

The Griswold Family 2.0

With the new Vacation hitting theaters this week, I got a chance to speak with producer Chris Bender, of BenderSpink about the newest, fifth Vacation movie, which includes Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in cameo roles. Rusty and his wife (Christian Applegate) take their kids back to Wally World and it goes just about as well as it did the first time. Vacation is in theaters Wednesday, July 29.

Franchise Fred: I always loved the Griswolds and I thought you could take them anywhere and have it be funny. I actually wish there had been more Vacations with the original Griswolds. What did it take to bring them back in this form with Rusty’s family?

Chris Bender: I think like you, everyone involved had a deep love for the original franchise, the original cast and the tone of those movies. I know me personally, Vacation is probably my favorite comedy hands down. I’ve watched it hundreds of times in college and remember doing Vacation marathons when I was abroad. I’m a big fan of Chevy Chase so everyone had a love for the movie, a fear of potentially doing a disservice to the franchise, a healthy fear I think. When John and Jonathan thought about what the approach would be, as opposed to just taking the idea and remaking it with a new cast, I think they were thoughtful about it. Even though it doesn’t seem like a groundbreaking huge high concept idea, it is respectful to the original franchise because thematically it does connect our family with the original by making it Rusty. So they felt they didn’t need to stray too far from the notion of the first one. They didn’t need to weave in some sort of crime plot or big high concept idea and just make it simple like the first one. A family going on vacation and everything that happens that all of us experience in one way or another. Going back to Wally World was a debate because they could’ve been going anywhere. It kind of tied nicely to Chevy Chase’s character and how he had, in his mind, this memory of family vacations going a certain way and wanting to create that for his family, that his sons would feel the same way. As a dad myself I can completely relate to that.

Franchise Fred: I would’ve been really disappointed if you’d made a remake when it’s built in that it could just by Rusty. Was there ever any development on another Chevy Chase Vacation?

Chris Bender: It’s funny because I see that in some of the chatter online. There’s this notion of why didn’t they just bring back the original cast?

Franchise Fred: Well, you did.

Chris Bender: Meaning like the kids but that’s hard because there wasn’t really an original kid cast. There were multiple kids through the years. I think the idea was always to keep it in line with the original.

Franchise Fred: That’s interesting, I hadn’t heard anyone suggest using the original kids. Even if you went back to Anthony Michael Hall, was that ever a consideration?

Chris Bender: When you’re doing these movies, you’re always going to have a generational debate where you have an older audience wanting it to be more like the original or holding the movie in such high esteem that you can’t touch it. And then you’ve got a group that’s under 30. A lot of them have never heard of any of the actors in the original or even seen the original. Now hopefully they will. They’ll go back and watch them all. So you’re trying to walk that line of reintroducing the best aspects of the franchise to a new generation with a cast that they can relate to, while at the same time being respectful of the audience that loved the original. Since we all were part of that audience, having Chevy and Beverly in the film as grandparents and the passing of the torch was very important to us. I think without that, it would’ve been very hard for us to get behind making it.

Franchise Fred: Was Cousin Eddie ever on the table?

Chris Bender: I think everybody knows the Cousin Eddie issue. We’d have to go kidnap him from Canada I guess and bring him back. I think if he were acting and working and present, that would’ve been a conversation.

Franchise Fred: You’ve also produced the Hangover movies with Ed Helms, so with movies like that so popular, does it raise the stakes for what a disastrous vacation needs to be?

Chris Bender: Yes, it does. It definitely does. I think in general with comedies, it makes the PG-13 comedy hard to do because if you have to be as close to the way that real people speak and real issues to create a must see in the theater reaction from the audience these days. So rated R and pushing the envelope and taking big swings comedically, even if sometimes you fail, are really important. When you’re going to make these films, you can’t be safe.

Ed Helms and Chevy Chase as Rusty and Clark Griswold

Ed Helms and Chevy Chase as Rusty and Clark Griswold

Franchise Fred: When you got Chevy Chase to do his passing the torch scene, did he add a lot of slapstick comedy on his own?

Chris Bender: Yeah, he came to Atlanta and the night before, we obviously had the script and we sat down with both him and Beverly and went through all their scenes, and talked about things that we could do and try. He let us know the things that he felt Clark would not do or say. It was one of my favorite meetings of my career was sitting with the two of them and being able to talk about Vacation and hearing them give notes on the script from the perspective of their characters and their experiences. It was fantastic, so yes. There was a fair amount of input. On the day, while we were shooting, he had some ideas. The guys of course tried everything he wanted to do. In the end, for he and Beverly it was really fun. It was fun for them to come back and be those characters again. They were really enthusiastic about it and it was a fun few days of shooting.

Franchise Fred: Like fiddling with the guitar or the spray bottle?

Chris Bender: That’s a perfect example. The guitar was something he wanted to try which as he was doing we all were just giddy because even if it’s not for the next generation, for anyone that knows Chevy Chase, you can’t help but love it.

Franchise Fred: When he picks up the kids, was that a stunt double? Because I understand Chevy’s in his ‘70s now. 

Chris Bender: Yes, it was. It was his idea I believe to do that, if I remember correctly. But, yes, we had to bring in a stunt double and figure it out really quickly. I think he did the initial pickup, but then up the steps we needed somebody.

Franchise Fred: While you were producing Vacation, did you by any chance get to see the notorious ending of the original where they take the Wally family hostage?

Chris Bender: No, I’d love to see it. Chevy was telling us all about it. I’m trying to remember. I want to say that he or Beverly, someone has it or a version of it maybe. I would love to see that. It sounds crazy.

Franchise Fred: Me too. It’s never been on a DVD.

Chris Bender: And you’ve got to think, it’s one of the things, you hear it in the moviemaking world of today and you look back at the movies you loved as perfect, and then you realize they had some of the same issues that we all have in making movies today. Endings get reshot. It was actually similar with the remake of Arthur. The ending of the original was reshot as well.

Franchise Fred: I think we’re all glad to hear “Holiday Road” and “Chariots of Fire” in the movie again. Were any of those music rights difficult to wrangle?

Chris Bender: “Holiday Road,” no. That was always in the cards as something that had to be a part of the movie. What was cool was we discovered, as the filmmakers were putting it in the film, the original version just was too good to mess with too much. So it’s reprised in the film a few times. And then the “Chariots of Fire” thing was something that wasn’t in the film from the beginning. When they first cut it together, they just laid it in and we all laughed because you mentioned it’s a great callback and then we subvert the callback.

Franchise Fred: Did any cameo get cut out of the movie?

Chris Bender: There a reunion of John Daley, Martin Starr and Samm Levine. They shot a Desert Fest scene but that whole sequence, we ended up doing something different for, so unfortunately the reunion will live on the DVD at some point.

Franchise Fred: Were they all Wally World employees?

Chris Bender: Well, John Daley plays a Wally World employee. The car originally ended up crashing a desert music festival and that’s where the car ended up getting destroyed at one point. So they were part of the music festival in crazy costumes and things like that.

Ed Helms and Christina Applegate are Rusty and Debbie Griswold

Ed Helms and Christina Applegate are Rusty and Debbie Griswold

Franchise Fred: Do you already have ideas of where else you could take The Griswolds?

Chris Bender: We’re definitely talking about it. We haven’t landed on the thing yet, but obviously we want to take them on an adventure that allows us to do something fresh and different from what this would be. If everything goes well, we’re all ready to go. We had a great time making the film. I’d make Vacation movies forever if I could. I’d be thrilled. It’s such a great group and everyone really cared. Everyone would be excited to get back in and do their best to make another great movie.

Franchise Fred: Any destination, any of those resort, the Griswold attitude makes it funny. That clueless, well meaning, well intentioned disaster.

Chris Bender: I agree. I totally agree. I think that’s the part of it that’s so relatable. I know I’ve felt that in my dad. I know I feel that now as a dad, always trying to make the best of even the disasters and spin it positive until you eventually lose it. It’s a great character, great theme and it’s be fantastic to continue to be able to explore it and put it in different environments and settings.

Franchise Fred: For We’re the Millers 2, where are the Millers going next?

Chris Bender: We’re probably going to put them in the suburbs somewhere. We haven’t exactly figured out where but we like the idea of them having to continue to live this double life as a family but in a different context.

Franchise Fred: Are you still developing a Butterfly Effect remake?

Chris Bender: No. I don’t know what that was all about. One of the other producers on the film was trying to ramp that up but it wasn’t something we were involved with.

Franchise Fred: It sounded interesting if Eric Bress wanted to do it. 

Chris Bender: You could explore a lot. After that film, one of the other producers did proceed to do a bunch of direct to DVD versions of it. That was one of those movies that a lot of weird things came together to make it work and work for the specific audience that responded to it. Ashton in that part was unusual and surprising to people. It was obviously very dark. For me, I’m happy to leave that one alone.

Franchise Fred: Do you really think The Hangover is over? I understand concluding the trilogy but do you think maybe in 10 years or more you might want to get the gang back together, or send a different group on another hangover?

Chris Bender: That’s a Todd [Phillips] decision and that gang, because I was peripherally involved in conceiving it. I wasn’t involved very much in making the movie so I don’t know. I think kind of like the American Pie franchise, it seemed like a fun idea to do the reunion. It felt organic. What’s nice about those ensemble comedies is people fall in love with the characters and the cast so there’s a television series, you just want to see what they’re up to next. So if it feels right and all those actors are available, they’re inspired by a fun reason that they would get back together, I could see that happening, sure.

Franchise Fred Interview: Vacation Writer/Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein


John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein on the set of Vacation with Ed Helms and Skyler Gisondo

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein on the set of Vacation with Ed Helms and Skyler Gisondo

This may be the ultimate Franchise Fred interview. Vacation was maybe my number two franchise to revive. I still want Back to the Future IV, but it’s too late to have it come out in the real 2015. You can always take the Griswolds anywhere though, and if it’s been nearly 20 years since the last one, having Rusty all grown up, and played by Ed Helms now, makes perfect sense.

So I introduced Vacation writer/directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley to Franchise Fred, and they asked me the question I’ve been waiting for. So we discussed the joy of sequels, all my Griswold superfan minutiae, and the new aesthetics of Vacation. This was also the day after Daley and Goldstein were announced in talks to write the new Spider-Man but all day they were saying they couldn’t even acknowledge it. That’s fine by Franchise Fred. I only want to talk about the Griswolds. Vacation opens Wednesday, July 29.

Franchise Fred: You should know I’m Franchise Fred because I believe every movie should have more sequels indefinitely, no exceptions. So I thank you for bringing the Griswolds back.

Jonathan Goldstein: Interesting. I’m going to think of an exception. What about Schindler’s List?

Franchise Fred: I have been waiting for someone to say that. Thank you. So here’s how you do it.

Jonathan Goldstein: He’s got a pitch.

Franchise Fred: I know no one really wants to do Schindler’s List 2 but to prove how you could do it and not be offensive, Oskar Schindler saved over 1000 people. There were not 1000 characters in Schindler’s List

John Francis Daley: Ooh, the other 500.

Jonathan Goldstein: Yeah, one by one, one movie each. The girl in the brown dress, the girl in the yellow dress.

John Francis Daley: He didn’t save her though.

Christina Applegate and Ed Helms in Vacation

Christina Applegate and Ed Helms in Vacation

Franchise Fred: No, the red dress was a metaphor.

Jonathan Goldstein: I didn’t get that, I didn’t get that.

John Francis Daley: We right sh*t scenes. We don’t know nuances.

Franchise Fred: So I know Spielberg would never want this to happen, but I appreciate the example of your testing my philosophy. You could theoretically do a story of other survivors or what Schindler did after the world. 

John Francis Daley: I think you’re onto something.

Jonathan Goldstein: All right, franchise away, Franchise Fred.

Franchise Fred: So when Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo agreed to do a scene, did you ever have a thought of bringing the grandparents along on the vacation in more of a central role?

John Francis Daley: We did consider that but ultimately we wanted it to be about Rusty’s direct family. Because we have so many different character arcs for each of them, it would’ve muddied it if we had Clark and Ellen along for the ride.

Jonathan Goldstein: Plus, they would not have fit in the Prancer, so we would’ve needed a bigger car.

Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo are still Clark and Ellen Griswold (and you're not)

Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo are still Clark and Ellen Griswold (and you’re not)

John Francis Daley: Another row, but no, our attempt was to make this its own movie while nodding to the original. We had to incorporate them because it wouldn’t have been a Vacation movie without their stamp of approval.

Jonathan Goldstein: We wanted to include them because we also wanted it to be clear that this is a sequel, not a remake. They’re the grandparents now.

Franchise Fred: Grown-up Rusty is absolutely the right way to approach a new Griswold family vacation at this point.

Jonathan Goldstein: Thank you.

Franchise Fred: So in a sequel do you keep recasting Ed or now do his kids get recast every time?

Jonathan Goldstein: Shh, don’t tell him.

John Francis Daley: He’s going to be recast by Johnny Galecki. No, we love them so much.

Jonathan Goldstein: If there’s a sequel we would love to keep this cast.

John Francis Daley: We would break the mold of the franchise by being loyal to the actors.

Franchise Fred: Did you ever reach out to Anthony Michael Hall in any capacity?

John Francis Daley: We did not, although I will say he’s an incredibly talented performer and so very versatile. The fact that he made that jump from being the geeky guy to being a sort of sullen hulking, he’s huge now.

Jonathan Goldstein: Yeah, we felt that because he already exists in this universe, it would be weird to ask him to come play something else.

Franchise Fred: Was Cousin Eddie ever on the table?

Jonathan Goldstein: No. Not just because of Randy Quaid’s issues but rather we felt like he inhabits the broader side of the franchise that we were moving away a little bit from. Some of the later sequels had some pretty broad aspects.

Dinner at Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth)'s house.

Dinner at Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth)’s house.

John Francis Daley: We wanted there to be that secondary character who’s related to them, but we also didn’t want it to be that same embarrassing gross guy. Stone Crandall is sort of the replacement to Cousin Eddie, only now he’s the one that emasculates Ed and basically makes him feel like less of a man. In a way, Stone Crandall makes the Griswolds look like Cousin Eddie’s family.

Franchise Fred: Did you ever pitch an homage to the old poster with the sort of oil painting epic image?

Jonathan Goldstein: We talked about it.

John Francis Daley: Yes, we wanted to have at least an alt poster for that but Warners marketing was too busy actually marketing the movie.

Jonathan Goldstein: That was another case where we didn’t want to be too enthralled to the original. We want it to be its own thing.

Franchise Fred: Right, you can see how much minutiae I remember, so I was happy to pick out what you chose, but I’m also curious about all the other decisions you had to make.

Jonathan Goldstein: We also didn’t do a Pac-Man on the television planning the trip.

Franchise Fred: I do have one more superfan question though. Did you ever consider the other Lindsay Buckhinham song, “Dancin’ Cross the USA” for the end titles?

Jonathan Goldstein: [Laughs] We did not.

John Francis Daley: No, that’s funny. We have two songs from the original in there counting Chariots of Fire as well so we figured it would’ve been overload if we had any more.

Jonathan Goldstein: And we have a couple covers of “Holiday Road” in the movie too.

Franchise Fred: Since you were working on Vacation, were you ever privy to the original ending of National Lampoon’s Vacation where they take Roy Wally hostage?

Jonathan Goldstein: Yes, Chevy told us about it.

Franchise Fred: Did you get to see it? It’s never been on a DVD.

John Francis Daley: We haven’t seen it. We are aware of it.

Jonathan Goldstein: He said he has it I think, Chevy did.

John Francis Daley: Locked away. We’d have to break into his house and find it.

Jonathan Goldstein: That sounded like a pretty grim ending. It didn’t sound cheerful.

Franchise Fred: I’d just love to see it though. Are you big theme park fans that you knew all of the crazy new developments you deal with when you go to one now?

John Francis Daley: He’s afraid of roller coasters. I love them.

Jonathan Goldstein: Hey, I’m not afraid. I just disagree with them. I don’t believe in them.

John Francis Daley: They’re against his religious ideals. No, I am a huge roller coaster fan. We had to embellish digitally on the Velociraptor.

Jonathan Goldstein: I think there was a concern that Wally World as a concept would date the movie too much back in the ‘80s so we made sure we made Wally World really cool looking. That involved a lot of digital amplification of the rides.

John Francis Daley: Also we liked the idea of the cynical updating of Marty Moose who now has a camera out and is taking a selfie. He’s got a deep V-neck and a beanie.

Jonathan Goldstein: It goes by quickly if you didn’t notice it.

Trying to recreate cinema history.

Trying to recreate cinema history.

Franchise Fred: I’ve seen it now. They let me take a picture with it and I tried to pose like I’m punching Marty Moose but I couldn’t quite get the angle. 

John Francis Daley: Oh, is it here in the lobby? Oh, nice.

Franchise Fred: When I post in on Facebook, everyone’s going to know what it is. An aesthetic question, it looked like you filmed a lot in low angle hero shots. Was that part of your aesthetic?

John Francis Daley: That was the intention, especially for Rusty since a lot of it is scene from his POV and he fancies himself the hero of the family. It only seemed right to see it in that way. When he’s standing there looking at the Prancer with the family, we intentionally shot that as a low angle because it is basically he’s so proud that he was able to acquire this amazing vehicle for them.

Franchise Fred: What did the swastika button do?

Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) and the new family travel vehicle the Prancer

Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) and the new family travel vehicle the Prancer

John Francis Daley: We’ll never know. If he pressed it then the Nazis win. This is our way of sticking it to them. Schindler’s List 2 all of a sudden comes out in theaters if he presses it.

Franchise Fred: Since I’m Franchise Fred, are you excited to be part of a franchise you can’t even talk about?

John Francis Daley: We can’t even talk about it.

Jonathan Goldstein: I don’t know what you’re talking about, but we are going to pitch Schindler’s List 2: The Reckoning.

Ed Helms: The Naked Gun Is Still “A Big If”

nakedgunToday was the press junket for the new Vacation, starring Ed Helms as Rusty Griswold, Clark Griswold’s son from the four earlier Vacation movies, now grown up taking his own family on a vacation. Helms told us that he initially passed on Vacation because the original was a sacred cow to him. His manager convinced him to read the script, and Helms was won over by the idea he was not replacing Chevy Chase. He could make Rusty his own and Chase cameos in the movie as grandpa Clark Griswold.

Helms is also attached to play Leslie Nielsen’s character, Lt. Frank Drebin, in a remake of The Naked Gun. Helms assured us that is another sacred cow to him. “Absolutely 100%,” Helms said. “With all these things, you just have to trust your judgment as far as does the script do the name justice? I think in this case [with Vacation], I really felt strongly that it did. If Naked Gun goes, it’s a big if, I don’t know if that’s happening or not, but if it does and I’m in there, I’ll only do it if I feel the script does the Naked Gun legacy justice.”

Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant are writing The Naked Gun. We’ll have more on Vacation at Nerd Report when the film opens July 29.