Mom & Pop Culture: Remakes

The other day I came across a trailer for a new movie. Apparently, somebody thought it was a good idea to turn Dr. Seuss’ beloved book, The Lorax, into a March 2012 blockbuster.


Why take a book that skillfully tells the story of how overzealous industrialization can lead to environmental destruction and turn it into…this?

I read The Lorax as a child, and now read it (sometimes multiple times daily) to my son. It’s not the most uplifting, happy story, but it is one that inspires important conversation, at least in our house. My son has had lots of questions, and we do our best to explain the connection to the environment and why it’s important for us to take care of it. And…(not so) surprisingly, he gets it. Without all the bells and whistles and giddy Polyphonic Spree background music.

This trend of remaking something that was perfectly wonderful in its original form and translating it for “today’s children” is incredibly frustrating. First, it assumes that the original was not as good as it could be, and could stand to be “improved” upon, which is usually inaccurate. Most remakes hardly make things better, only eye-rollingly worse. Second, remaking things for the sake of “the children” insults today’s youth. To say that they wouldn’t be able to “get” the original because it was written in another time is a stretch. Most classics are classics because they supersede trends and changes through the years. Just look at Star Wars if you need further proof of that.

Lastly, I think we all know that the real reason behind most of these remakes is that they’re hoping the nostalgia will pull in the adults, and the flashy pictures and stories will grab the kids in hopes of doubling their profits. Sadly, this is what most of these decisions boil down to: money.

Strawberry Shortcake is a perfect example of this.The original was everything her name encompassed: Sweet, adorable and cutesy. 

Original Strawberry Shortcake

It might have helped that I also wore similar “Holly Hobby”-type dresses as a little girl, but even as an adult I feel a bit of affinity towards the original Strawberry Shortcake.

Then she was re-imagined in the ’90s. I was “too old” for cartoons then, but managed to catch a few episodes in passing. I liked that they made her a bit of a tomboy and kept her same cheerful disposition and friendly attitude.

1990s Strawberry Shortcake

She looked just like any other kid, running around and playing with friends. Looking back, that’s the kind of remake that seems acceptable. Change the character to fit the times without losing any of the original message. But then, somebody thought they could do one better than the first remake.

Only…they couldn’t. 

The new Strawberry Shortcake seems to have turned into a teenager overnight. She wears bikinis and “trendy” clothes and poses in lounging positions the original would never dream of.

Original vs. Current Strawberry Shortcake

Oh sure, that obnoxiously big pouf of a hat remains, but not much else from the original is left. (Also of note: Poor Custard the Cat has been traded in for a cell phone!)

So how did it come to this? Can we really say that the changes occurred because kids “can’t relate” to the originals? I just don’t buy it. My son has seen a few “old-school” cartoons via YouTube, and not once has he complained that he can’t get into it because he just can’t relate. He loves them. He laughs along and jokes with me about them afterward.

So perhaps it’s not the kids at issue here, but the marketability. Perhaps it’s easier to market wide eyed, Bratz-like dolls in Strawberry Shortcake wear. By having Strawberry Shortcake “grow up” the hope is most likely that she’ll appeal to an older, and therefore wider age range. From the marketing end it makes sense, but it doesn’t make it any less wrong.

Taking a character that originally was geared toward toddlers and young girls and turning her into something more akin to the Hannah Montana set is disconcerting. Strawberry Shortcake doesn’t need teenage appropriate clothing and cell phones. She was perfectly fine the way she was, and changing her up completely sends a whole other message—you need to dress and act older to be relevant and interesting.

I don’t think I have the energy to even get into the travesty that was the Smurfs movie.

Still from the Smurf movie

Why, Neil Patrick Harris, why?

This trend of remaking childhood classics holds no nostalgia for me. It only inspires anger that companies feel that they can update a part of my childhood in order to double their profit margins and, in the same breath, insult my child by suggesting he won’t enjoy something with a simple, timeless message.

*Note: All hope is not lost. In the next couple of posts I’ll give some credit to when remakes get it right.

Previously: Mom & Pop Culture: Totally Terrible Toys

by Avital Norman Nathman
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Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer and fulltime feminist killjoy. Find her tweeting @TheMamafesto

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8 Comments Have Been Posted

Bad, bad, bad, bad.

Oh! Baby! Oh! How my business did grow! Now chopping one childhood memory at a time is too slow.

I share the same sentiment.

I absolutely agree. I've always hated remakes, and they're not limited to children's cartoons, books, and movies. Last year there was talks for MTV to do a remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as if the original wasn't perfect enough or something! Anyways, My thoughts and feelings about these things are the same as yours. It's as if kids today won't "get it", that they need updating, or that the original was somehow less than.

One thing I also HATE is CGI in movies, and specifically, CGI movies. Some are great, like Toy Story and the other Pixar movies (my love for CGI animated movies is limited to Pixar). But when you have a character who isn't human in a children's movie now, it's CGI, not a puppet like how it was back in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. Part of movie magic is how puppets came to life. I love Jim Henson's work, and what he did for children was phenomenal. And puppets made everything just so much more magical about the movies. But now, movies are totally ruined when a CGI-animated character walks on screen. It could just be so much better (and cheaper!) with puppets. I'm so glad that Jason Segel is taking on the role of puppetmaster with his new Muppets movie.

Anyways, let's hope that studio execs start thinking movie magic instead of dollar signs.


I cannot begin to comprehend what would happen if MTV attempted to remake RHPS. I had reservations when Glee took it on (but have to admit to liking their "take" on it). I can only imagine that an MTV version would completely miss the original message/intent of RHPS and I'd be spitting nails and venting angrily - and really, we don't need anymore of that, ha!

And yes - SO happy that the Muppets haven't gone the CGI route, and I hope they continue to stay true to the Jim Henson ideal. I'll definitely be writing up a Muppet-themed post later on in the series (probably after I catch the new movie...)

Thank GOD it got dropped!

Thank GOD it got dropped! Whew!

Oh, I know the Muppets will definitely stay true to their Jim Henson ideal, I have a good feeling that the Henson estate will never ever let the Muppets or any of his creations and original movies go CGI.

PLEASE do a Muppet-themed post! I just adore the Muppets and the Muppet show was so funny, and still is funny so many years later. Whenever I'm sad or feeling depressed, I just YouTube the Swedish Chef and it instantly puts me in a better mood. I can't wait for the movie, and I have a really good feeling that Jason Segel and Amy Adams did them justice.


It's not fair to bash CGI across the board when it can be so phenomenal when used well. I'm all for a strong return of the practical/mechanical effects but they aren't always cheaper than CGI and can look just as bad when done poorly, just like CGI. The best uses of CGI are when they're used around real effects not in place of them. A good example would be Lord of the Ring which used a ton of CGI but grounded it on a framework of real actors, sets, and props. I also think it's important to acknowledge the films that build entire CGI worlds around their actors so thoroughly it's more akin to an animated feature than a live action film. Stuff like Avatar and 300 look incredible and once the initial shine of the new tech wears off, I look forward to films with stronger stories being created in that style.

I guess, in summery, it's not fair to compare mid level GCI fair against a master like Henson when there are plenty of films with middling to so-bad-it-hurts practical effects around. Bad CGI has never triggered the uncanny valley effect which is something you really, really don't want in any film.


And this doesn't just apply to children's films (though I realize that's the focus of this post). Disturbia as a skewed remake of Rear Window? Terrible!! I'm 23 years old, I loved Shia LaBeouf (sp?) when he was on the Disney channel, and I in NO WAY found Disturbia more relatable (or interesting, or better) than the original Rear Window. Old entertainment, even dated entertainment, does not mean that it's bad or totally uninteresting to new generations.


THE LORAX!!! *sob*

I love the lorax. Why, oh why? That story is beautiful enough without compulsory heterosexuality and cheezy one-liners!
The last line was just the icing on the cake..."THAT'S a WOMAN???" Uggghhhh.

I'm guessing the film isn't going to explore the awesome concept of giving voice to those who have been silenced, either..."I am the lorax, I speak for the trees..."


Kids films should be G-rated

Great piece! As a Gen-X Mom who grew up with these characters, I get very frustrated that every updated version strives for a PG rating. Any movie about the Muppets should be rated G, period. Why do the marketers feel that they need to create "edgier" versions than the originals, and inject an unhealthy dose of attitude in the mix? It doesn't make me want to buy a ticket.

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