Whoever pegged the new Footloose as a remake put the wrong label on it, because the 2011 version of the beloved 1984 classic is more like a modernized update.
There’s really not that much of a difference between the two movies. The “remake” is fairly allegiant to the original script, and doesn’t really change anything as much as it tweaks it and gives it a more modern twist. However, in some ways, it does fall short of the original’s ability to really speak to its audience.
In the original, high school senior Ren McCormack (played by Kevin Bacon) moves from Chicago with his mother to the small town of Bomont, Utah after his father leaves the family. In the update, Ren (this time played by newcomer Kenny Wormald), is moving from Boston to live with his aunt and uncle in Bomont, Georgia after his mother dies of leukemia. The one thing both Rens have in common is that by Bomont standards, they are trouble-making hell-raisers. Ren arrives in town three years after five seniors were killed in a car accident, causing the town, led by the Reverend Shaw Moore (in the original, John Lithgow, and in the remake, Dennis Quaid), to pass laws against rock and roll music and underage dancing, which doesn’t sit well with the Reverend’s rebellious daughter, Ariel (Lori Singer in the original, Dancing with the Stars alum Julianne Hough now).
Most of the little stuff remains the same in both films though. Ariel is still fond of a pair of red cowboy boots her father hates, Ren still drives a yellow VW Bug, and country boy Willard (Chris Penn in the original, Miles Teller in the update) still learns how to dance to the classic Deniece Williams dance-friendly number “Let’s Hear it for the Boy.”
The only major noticeable difference between the two versions is how the film opens. In the original, the film opened with Ren’s arrival in town after the opening credits, amid allusions to the accident that caused all the laws. The update begins with a group of high school seniors at a party, and after a night of drinking, the very real scene of the car accident that killed the five students happens. It adds a more emotional element to the story, and introduces another crucial plot point earlier on. In the original movie, Ren learns that one of the students killed that night was actually Ariel’s older brother Bobby. In the update, this fact is revealed early on, at the very same meeting where Reverend Shaw and the town council move to enact the laws against dancing.
Aside from this fact though, the two films are virtually the same. A few scenes are moved around and tweaked, and the music and types of dancing have changed. There is no question that this film is set in the present day, which is where the original tends to still stand just a little bit stronger. Some of the morality lessons that were a part of the original’s charm are lost in a movie set in a modern age of Internet and cell phones—both of which didn’t yet exist in the lives of the original Bomont High School senior class.
Naturally, the cast has changed and no one from the original makes a cameo in the update. The casting of the original is a bit stronger. Kenny Wormald does a decent job of holding his own as Ren, but his skills need to be amped up a bit more before he can really hold a candle to Kevin Bacon. His most obvious work needs to be on fixing his accent. Wormald’s Bostonian accent slips in and out in the film, a shame because he is a native Bostonian, which should have added more authenticity to his character’s background. However, he can definitely dance, and perhaps this skill will help to further his career. Julianne Hough makes for a likable Ariel, Miles Teller is an endearing Willard, and Ziah Colon is an okay Rusty (originally portrayed by a very young Sarah Jessica Parker). Overall they did a decent job casting this film, sticking to the tradition set by the first of plucking actors out of either complete or virtual obscurity, save for the adults, who have been established for some time and perhaps serve as the only true star appeal as a result.
Overall, the “remake” isn’t horrible. Naturally it does not stand up to the original’s classic appeal, but the way it sticks to its roots gives it a new appeal that will perhaps let it speak to a new generation of misunderstood teens who just want to dance. As long as another version isn’t released in another 20-or-so years trying to appeal to a third generation of teens, the Footloose legacy will remain safe.