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Has 'Footloose' been given a conservative makeover?

October 14, 2011 |  9:21 pm


Watching the original "Footloose” again, it's striking just how flippant the film is toward religion. If the late Herbert Ross’ 1984 dance-themed movie about an outsider who shakes up a small town doesn’t show outright animus toward conservative values, it hardly goes out of its way to embrace them, either.

But that's not exactly true for Craig Brewer's film. What's striking about the director’s new take on Ren McCormack is how many of those rough edges have been sanded off. It’s probably a stretch to say the new "Footloose," which stars Julianne Hough and newcomer Kenny Wormald, panders to the religious right. But the movie fits a heck of a lot more comfortably in Rick Perry's America.

If that seems like the musings of film bloggers with too much time on their hands, just take Rev. Shaw Moore, the preacher who serves as the film's dance-hating, fun-killing bad guy. In the Dean Pitchford-penned original, John Lithgow incarnates Moore as a fire and brimstone tyrant, someone who fulminates that rock 'n' roll is a pestilence and calls dancing pornography. (His strict views only soften at the end of the film – but even then, only because his hands are tied.)
Dennis Quaid's Moore, by comparison, is a teddy bear. Sure, he offers up some strict sermons and doesn't like dancing. But he's basically a decent guy who has some misguided ideas.

The original also makes a point of drawing Ren's uncle, whom he lives with, as a judgmental Bible-thumping type who doesn't have Ren's interests at heart--not exactly a favorable portrayal. But in Brewer's version he's just a likable guy who stands up for his nephew.

There’s an even more significant change when it comes to the origins of the dancing ban. In the first movie there is a clear, and clearly unsympathetic, reason: music and dancing lead to flaming sin. But that gets seriously tempered this time around: The ban arose after a number of teenagers died in a car accident on the way home from a dance. Fundamentalist religion is hardly trying to stop anyone's fun, you see. It's just there to protect the children.

The dancing in the new film -- save for one scene that is more grind-happy -- is also surprisingly chaste, especially considering how much more explicit dancing has gotten in the real world. In fact, for all the tight clothes, the attitudes about sex generally lean toward the prudish.

In the original, Kevin Bacon's Ren talks gleefully about putting a "Playboy centerfold" inside prayer hymnals. But Kenny Wormald's Ren makes no mention of any such tawdriness, and wouldn’t even dream of checking out any Internet porn. (Unlike the PG original, the new movie is rated PG-13, which wasn’t around when the first “Footloose” was released.)

And just for good measure, it’s impossible not to notice the artist who sings the film's theme in the 1984 movie is Kenny Loggins--basically an old hippie who just a few days ago said in an interview that "the repression of marijuana is taking a long time to be overthrown." Brewer's movie? It uses Blake Shelton, a Bible Belt-friendly country singer whose latest hit is "God Gave Me You."

Basically, much of what a Christian audience might find objectionable in the film—some of which made the original so slyly provocative--is gone, and in such a way that there's almost no chance the movie will run afoul of conservative audiences.  Wormald even said that "we’ve showed [the film] in the Bible Belt; they love it.” It’s hard to imagine any actor promoting the original making the same claim.

Of course, it’s all just a teen movie, and a diversionary one at that. But for a remake that is so faithful, as it were, to the structure of the original, it also makes some pretty telling changes.

Brewer acknowledges that this was all semiconscious on his part. “I didn’t really feel like this was the time to demonize faith in terms of the narrative," he told 24 Frames. I didn’t feel like it was important that this be about teenagers against God, because I don’t know if that is relevant today."

When the movie was announced, the first question on some commentators’ minds was: how do you remake a movie that was at times hostile to religion for today’s mainstream American audience? Now we have our answer: You don’t.


Footloose has familiar steps (and missteps)

Footloose trailer hits: Ren McCormack is reborn

Movie review: Footloose

--Steven Zeitchik and Amy Kaufman



Photo: Julianne Hough in "Footloose." Credit: Paramount Pictures