Part of raising little nerdlings is wanting to show them all the things you loved when you were young. Now that my son is almost 13, I finally felt he was old enough to watch National Lampoon’s Vacation. And why stop there? Last week, my wife and I watched all four of the hilarious Vacation series with him (with a few edits). So let’s take a trip down the holiday road…
Chevy Chase is Vacation. There’s no other way to say it. Chase plays the bumbling father that just wants to give his family the best experience possible, and that is what gives these movies some heart. He really is trying to provide wonderful experiences for his family. And he just keeps failing. Without Chevy Chase, the Vacation movies just wouldn’t work. This is obvious when you look at the straight-to-video Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure starring Randy Quaid (and, let me save you the rental… it sucks!). Without Chevy Chase that horrible spin-off is just a waste of valuable space on the DVD shelf.
Beverly D’Angelo does a good job as the supportive wife Ellen. Always encouraging the children to listen to their father, even when she doesn’t necessarily like his ideas. However, she never really connects with the audience. She’s mostly there to give Chase someone to play off of.
One unique characteristic is the ever changing Griswold children. More proof that Chevy Chase is the only element really necessary to the sereies. In four different films, four different sets of kids play Rusty and Audrey, and no one seems to care. That’s not to say the kids do a bad job. Some of the kids are really funny. Some really aren’t.
- Vacation (1983)
Based on an article that John Hughes wrote for National Lampoon magazine, this brilliant comedy still entertains over 30 years later. Clark and Ellen load up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster (“If you think you hate it now, wait till you drive it!”) and take the kids cross country to Walley World in California. Everything works so well in this film. The car, the kids (Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron), Aunt Edna (“A dead person breathed on me!”), John Candy, and of course the song! From the opening credits to Clark’s flirtations with the gorgeous Christie Brinkley along the road, Lindsey Buckingham’s Holiday Road keeps us going. To this day, I play that song first whenever we go on a road trip! This R-rated movie required a little bit of fast-forwarding of a swearing tirade and covering my son’s eyes for some brief nudity.
- European Vacation (1985)
We loved it in the 80s because it was all we had, but looking back at it now, it’s really the worst of the lot. The acting from the kids (Jason Lively and Dana Hill, who?) is horrible, the fashions and dialogue are dated (“Wanna go scarf some grimace proportions?”), and the plot is completely missing. It’s just a series of things happening in different countries. In the original film, the Walley Word destination was always ahead but in this there is no goal. They’re just… there. It has some great bits from Chase (I still say, “Look kids, Big Ben. Parliament.” every time I’m in a roundabout), but little else makes this movie enjoyable. Also rated R for language and nudity.
- Christmas Vacation (1989)
So, so funny! It’s hard to fit this movie into the series because it’s so different from the others. But that doesn’t make it bad. The family stays in their Chicago home, no Holiday Road song, and of course a new set of kids (Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis). This film became a watch-every-year Christmas classic the moment it opened. The sequences are relatable and funny (“Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?”) and the one-liners are hilarious (“Oh, Eddie… If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am now.”). This one is PG-13.
- Vegas Vacation (1997)
This one was not well received. It had been 8 years since the previous film and I think audiences had moved on. But it really is a funny movie and worthy of the rest of the series. The kids (Ethan Embry and Marisol Nichols) get a little more screen time in this one, each having their own adventure away from their parents (“You’re Nick Papagiorgio from Yuma, Arizona.”). Along the way, Clark develops a gambling problem and Ellen gets a famous admirer (“Wayne Newton’s hittin’ on mom!”). They even take time to tour Hoover Dam while they’re in town! And it’s all PG.
- Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure (2003)
I’m a completionist, so we watched this one too. But my best review on this movie is to just skip this awful piece of garbage. It’s not funny. It has no Chevy Chase. It was made directly for video. And again, it’s not funny! The best part of this movie for me was that for the first time to date, we had an actor return to play one of the Griswold kids (Dana Barron (No Rusty)). Other than that, just bad, bad, bad.
- Hotel Hell Vacation (2010)
This 14 minute short-film was teased during the Superbowl in 2010. Made as a long advertisement for HomeAway, Inc, we watch Clark and Ellen as they stay in a hotel on their way to visit Rusty (Travis Greer (No Audrey)). This was an entertaining short and Chevy Chase was looking older, but still up to his usual antics.
- Vacation (?)
Yep, another one is on the way. This time, Rusty is the father taking his kids on a trip to Walley World. Will it work without Chevy Chase in the lead? We’ll see. Chase and D’Angelo are scheduled to be in it, at least as a cameo, but it stars a grown-up Rusty and Audrey (Ed Helms and Leslie Mann). Christina Applegate and Chris Hemsworth play their spouses.
My son totally loved what he saw. And now he gets a lot of the quotes I use when we’re on family vacations! They are silly-fun entertainment, but the first two are not good for younger kids. And their ratings say so.
Which was YOUR favorite Vacation? And what are some of YOUR favorite lines from the series?