Movies of the 80s: National Lampoon’s Vacation

You may know that John Hughes wrote 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller, but did you also know he wrote National Lampoon’s Vacation starring Chevy Chase? There have been a total of seven National Lampoon movies made with the original company and dozens of others made as spin-offs. John Hughes only wrote and directed three of them; 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, European Vacation (’85), and Christmas Vacation (’89).  

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The movie National Lampoon’s Vacation originally appeared as a story in National Lampoon’s Magazine. It was written by Hughes and titled “Vacation ’58.” In fact, you can still read the original short story at the following link:

http://www.bizbag.com/Vacation/Vacation%2058.htm


When a story starts off with the sentence “If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever,” how can you possibly resist?

Prior to National Lampoon’s Vacation, Hughes had only directed a handful of other projects. They include the TV series Delta House, and the films Class Reunion and Mr. Mom. At the time, he did not have the star power he would later go on to achieve.

The synopsis on IMDB says “The Griswold family’s cross-country drive to the Walley World theme park proves to be much more arduous than they ever anticipated.” This brief description doesn’t even begin to cover the “adventures” the Griswolds go in in pursuit of Wally World. Substitute “Disney World” for “Wally World” and you may get a better sense of the movie. If you have grown up in or near Orlando you may have trouble understanding the lengths the Griswolds go to in order to visit a theme park. As someone who was born and raised in Winter Park, I didn’t quite understand the draw of driving cross-country in a crowded car with your siblings just to visit an overcrowded and overpriced amusement park. The hour-long drive I had to undergo as a child in order to visit Mickey Mouse seemed daunting enough. However, if you’re not local, you might have a better understanding of the excitement that surrounds a family trip to one of the most popular amusement parks in the world. Either way, this film is still funny thirty years after its release.

Chevy Chase, of Saturday Night Live fame (and currently NBC’s Community), stars as Clark Griswold. He really was an excellent comedic actor when the film came out. His timing was fantastic and he played a perfect frustrated and overly-stressed father.

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If you haven’t seen the film, it’s worth a watch; it currently has a “fresh” review of 94% on Rottentomatoes.com, which is extremely positive. As alluded to, the movie is about a family trying to make their way to Wally World, “America’s Favorite Family Fun Park.” Chevy Chase’s character, Clark insists on driving, despite his wife’s insistence that they fly. This is a decision he will ultimately come to regret. He and his two children pack up their station wagon and attempt to drive cross-country (from Chicago to LA) to visit the infamous theme park. Multiple mishaps occur along the way, resulting in maximum frustration (and plenty of humor for the viewer). Surprisingly, the movie has a body count. Without spoiling anything, I will say that two characters die. This only serves to amplify Clark’s anxiety and nearly drives him (no pun intended) mad. By the time the remaining family members do reach Wally World, chaos–and hilarity–ensues.

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