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National Lampoon’s Vacation, sometimes referred to as Vacation, is a 1983 American road comedy film directed by Harold Ramis and starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Dana Barron and Anthony Michael Hall. John Candy, Imogene Coca, Christie Brinkley and a young Jane Krakowski appear in supporting roles. The screenplay was written by John Hughes, based on his short story “Vacation ’58” which appeared in National Lampoon.
The film was a box-office hit, earning more than $60 million in the U.S. with an estimated budget of $15 million, and received positive reviews from critics. As a result of its success, four sequels have been produced: European Vacation (1985), Christmas Vacation (1989), Vegas Vacation (1997), and most recently, Vacation (2015) which serves as both a reboot and a continuation. In 2000, readers of Total Film voted it the 46th greatest comedy film of all time. It continues to be a cult film and a staple on cable television.
Clark Griswold, wanting to spend more time with his wife Ellen and children Rusty and Audrey, decides to lead the family on a cross-country expedition from the Chicago suburbs to the southern California amusement park Walley World, billed as “America’s Favorite Family Fun Park.” Ellen wants to fly, but Clark insists on driving, so he can bond with his family. He has ordered a new car in preparation for the trip, but the dealer claims that it will not be ready for six weeks. Clark is forced to accept a Wagon Queen Family Truckster, an ugly, out-sized station wagon, as the 2nd generation Vista Cruiser he brought to trade in has already been hauled away and crushed.
During the family’s travels, they experience numerous mishaps, such as being tagged by vandals in East St. Louis, Illinois, while Clark is tantalized on numerous occasions by a beautiful young woman driving a flashy red Ferrari 308 GTS. They stop in Coolidge, Kansas to visit Ellen’s cousin Catherine and her husband Eddie, who foist cranky Aunt Edna and her mean dog Dinky on the Griswolds, asking them to drop her off at her son Norman’s home in Phoenix. After stopping at a decrepit and dirty campground in South Fork, Colorado for the night, Clark forgets to untie Dinky’s leash from the bumper before driving off the next morning, killing the dog. A state trooper pulls the Griswolds over and angrily lectures Clark over animal cruelty but accepts Clark’s apology; Edna learns of her dog’s death and becomes more irate with Clark. Exiting Colorado, Ellen loses her bag which had her credit cards.
While Ellen and Clark argue during a drive between Utah and Arizona, they crash and become stranded in the desert near Monument Valley. Clark and Rusty have a bonding experience explaining why he wants to take this vacation. After setting off alone in the desert to look for help, Clark eventually reunites with his family, who have been rescued and taken to a local mechanic. The mechanic extorts Clark’s remaining cash only to render the car barely operational. Frustrated, they stop at the Grand Canyon; when Clark is unable to convince a hotel clerk to cash a personal check because his credit card was reported stolen, he takes cash from the cash register behind the clerk’s back and leaves the check. Leaving, they find that Aunt Edna has died in her sleep. They tie her corpse to the roof of the car, wrapped in a tarpaulin. When they reach Norman’s home, they discover he is out of town so they leave Edna’s body by the back door with a note. The family has a small memorial for her. Having enough of the road-trip and of the mishaps they encountered, Ellen and the children want to go back home, but Clark has become obsessed in reaching Walley World and they continue on. After an argument with Ellen, Clark eventually meets the Ferrari-driving blonde beauty at a hotel and goes skinny-dipping with her in its pool, but they are discovered by the family before anything intimate happens. Ellen forgives Clark, and the couple goes skinny-dipping themselves.
Despite the family’s misfortunes, they finally arrive at Walley World the next day, only to discover the park closed for the next two weeks for repairs. Finally slipping into madness and realizing that all his efforts have been for nothing, Clark buys a realistic-looking BB gun and demands that park security guard Russ Lasky take them through Walley World; Ellen and the kids follow, attempting to placate Clark. Eventually, a LAPD SWAT team arrives, along with park owner Roy Walley. Roy understands Clark’s impassioned longing to achieve the perfect vacation, bringing back memories of his own family vacation headaches. He decides not to file criminal charges against the Griswolds and lets the family – along with the SWAT team – enjoy the park as his guests.
During the Chicago Blizzard of 1979, writer John Hughes began developing a short story entitled “Vacation ’58” for an issue of the National Lampoon. While the story ended up being bumped from the initial vacation-themed issue, it was eventually published in September 1979 and subsequently optioned by Warner Bros. “When I brought it to Hollywood, the first guy I brought it to was Jeff Katzenberg who was at Paramount,” recalled producer Matty Simmons, who worked as a publisher at the National Lampoon. “He said it would never make a movie, it was too episodic, too consequential. I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a road trip. It’s supposed to be episodic. You go from town to town, place to place.’ But he didn’t like it, so then my agent brought it to Warner Brothers, and I met with them. Most of them said the same thing, but there was one executive over there—a guy named Mark Canton—who really pulled for it and it got made.” Upon Simmons’ agreement with Warner Bros., Hughes was assigned the task of adapting his original story into a screenplay.
Filming began in July 1982 and lasted 55 days. Parts of the film were shot in Monument Valley, Utah; Flagstaff, Sedona, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona; Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia and Magic Mountain in California; and St. Louis, Missouri.
In Hughes’ original short story, the theme park was Disneyland. To avoid legal troubles, all of the names associated with Disneyland were altered to sound-alikes. For instance, the park became Walley World, itself a good-natured parody of the Anaheim location, and the mascot, Marty Moose, is reminiscent of Walt Disney’s own Mickey Mouse. Similarly, Roy Walley’s appearance bears similarities to that of Disney and his name is similar to that of his brother Roy Disney.
In the film, the Walley World theme park is represented by Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California. Santa Anita Park’s large parking lot and blue-tinged fascia served as the exterior of Walley World, while all park interior scenes were shot at Magic Mountain. The two roller coasters seen in the film are La Revolución, which can be recognized by the vertical loop, and Colossus (currently Twisted Colossus), the double-track wooden roller coaster.
The movie’s popularity gave rise to an ongoing cultural running gag of using the name “Wally World” (spelled as “Wally” without an “e”) as a nickname for real-life retailer Walmart.
Wagon Queen Family Truckster
The Wagon Queen Family Truckster station wagon was created specifically for the film. It is based on a 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon. The car was designed by George Barris, and it lampooned American cars of the late 1970s. The Truckster features a pale avocado metallic green paint scheme; extensive imitation wood-paneling decals; eight headlights (the second pair was taken from another Crown Victoria/Country Squire and mounted upside-down below the stock pair); a grille area largely covered by bodywork with only two small openings close to the bumper; an oddly-placed fuel filler door; and an airbag made from a trashcan liner.
In the 2015 film Vacation (a sequel to the original), the Wagon Queen Family Truckster reappears at the bed-and-breakfast garage of Clark and Ellen Griswold. The Truckster used in this later film is the creation of Lisa and Steve Griswold, a real-life family living in Atlanta, who created the replica wagon to take family trips with their two daughters. In July 2014, the real-life Griswolds drove across the United States, visiting the locations seen in the original film, and ended their journey on the 31st anniversary of the film at Walley World (Six Flags Magic Mountain), so they could ride the Colossus before Six Flags’ planned closure of the roller coaster.
The musical score for National Lampoon’s Vacation was composed by Ralph Burns, featuring original songs by Lindsey Buckingham. A soundtrack album was released in 1983 by Warner Bros. Records. While the album did not chart, Buckingham’s single “Holiday Road” reached number 82 on the Billboard Hot 100.
- “Holiday Road” – Lindsey Buckingham
- “Mister Blue” – The Fleetwoods
- “Blitzkrieg Bop” – Ramones
- “Deep River Blues” – Ralph Burns
- “Summer Hearts” – Nicolette Larson
- “Little Boy Sweet” – June Pointer
- “The Trip (Theme from Vacation)” – Ralph Burns
- “He’s So Dull” – Vanity 6
- “Christie’s Song” – Ralph Burns
- “Dancin’ Across the USA” – Lindsey Buckingham
National Lampoon’s Vacation opened theatrically in 1,175 venues on July 29, 1983 and earned $8,333,358 in its opening weekend, ranking number one at the domestic box office. The film grossed $61,399,552.
The film received positive reviews from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 93% rating based on 43 reviews. The site’s consensus reads, “Blessed by a brilliantly befuddled star turn from Chevy Chase, National Lampoon’s Vacation is one of the more consistent – and thoroughly quotable – screwball comedies of the 1980s.”Metacritic reports a 55 out of 100 rating based on 13 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews”. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “C+” on an A+ to F scale; the company’s founder said in 2016, “I loved it … I couldn’t figure out for anything why people didn’t love that more”.
Janet Maslin of The New York Times gave the film a positive review, saying, “National Lampoon’s Vacation, which is more controlled than other Lampoon movies have been, is careful not to stray too far from its target. The result is a confident humor and throwaway style that helps sustain the laughs – of which there are quite a few.” Entertainment magazine Variety called the film “an enjoyable trip through familiar comedy landscapes” and praised “director Harold Ramis for populating the film with a host of well-known comedic performers in passing parts.” Conversely, Richard Rayner of Time Out magazine said, “The visual gags come thick and fast, and are about as subtly signposted as the exit markers on a freeway. An exercise in the comedy of humiliation which is the stuff of shamefaced giggles.”
National Lampoon’s Vacation was first released on VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, and CED in late 1983. It was later released again on VHS in 1986, 1991, 1995 and 1999. It was first released on DVD in 1997. The DVD was presented in an open-matte full screen presentation. Its only feature was the film’s theatrical trailer. A 20th anniversary DVD was released in 2003. It included an anamorphic widescreen transfer. Its bonus features included an audio commentary with director Harold Ramis, producer Matty Simmons, and stars Chevy Chase, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, and Randy Quaid. It also included an introduction with Chase, Simmons, and Quaid, a family truckster interactive featurette gallery, and the film’s theatrical trailer. A Blu-ray was released in 2013. It included the same features from the 20th Anniversary DVD and included the A&E documentary: Inside Story: National Lampoon’s Vacation.
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