Monday 20 May 2024

Vacation (1983)


Off-List: Vacation

The National Lampoon’s Vacation movies are incredibly popular in my family. The favourite is the “Christmas Vacation”, but it was “Vacation” from 1983 that started the party. In my family the movie is known simply as “Walley World” and we reference it every time a trip (of any sort) is becoming an expedition. This happens surprisingly often as my inner Clark Griswold asserts itself.

Obviously, this movie, or at least “Christmas Vacation” must earn a place on my 1001 movie list.

The Griswolds is a nice, middle class suburban family as families are most. Except that Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is a bit, well, quite a bit, extra. He has his own ideas of how things should be, tries to do everything right, but through a combination of optimism, over-confidence, self interest and poor decision making, he always ends up in a series of disasters. The rest of his family, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), his wife, Audrey (Dana Barron) and Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall), their children, have a hard time keeping up with him.

Clark has a two-week vacation and has planned the greatest family vacation ever: A road trip across the US to California to visit the theme park Walley World. The vacation gets a bumpy start when the car Clark had ordered did not arrive and, instead, he is stuck with the “Wagon Queen Family Truckster”. Probably the unsexiest family car in the history of mankind.

Every step of the way, Clark Griswold’s unique qualities lead the family from either near-misses to outright disasters. We are introduced to Ellen’s cousin Cathrine (Miriam Flynn) and her hillbilly husband Eddie (Randy Quaid), recurrent characters in the franchise. The family is coerced to take the intolerable Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and her monster of a dog along with them to Phoenix. Going through all the roadblocks would take the fun away, so let me just say that somewhere in Arizona this is no longer a vacation but a mission, a quest for fun. Clearly, Clark Griswold has lost his marbles.

Finally, finally, the family arrives at Walley World, only to find out it out of business for maintenance. Take one guess at what that does to Clark...

I do not know how many times I have watched this movie. No matter how well I know the jokes, I still laugh every time. The humour stands up surprisingly well and I think it is a combination of not running the jokes too far and that we can, at least a little, see ourselves in this family vacation not going according to plan. Clark’s “giving up is not an option” attitude is also a very recognizable spoof on the virtue of persistence. Maybe sometimes it is okay to call it off and cut your losses. I am myself the master of over-ambitious plans and whenever I plan a hike or a trip, I inevitably get that look from the rest of the family, oh oh, Griswold. Yeah, movies work when we can laugh at ourselves.

Everything in “Vacation” works, although I learned that apparently the original ending did not, so that half a year or so after the original shooting had ending, a new sequence had to be shot at Walley World. Only, teenagers grow a lot in half a year and if you look closely, you see that Rusty is suddenly a lot taller. Still, I am happy they did redo this ending because it totally works. Taking the roller coaster at gunpoint is so Clark Griswold.

The “Vacation” generated a long living franchise with varying success. The “Christmas Vacation” and the “Vegas Vacation” are great while the remake of “Vacation” from 2015 is a real stinker.

For us, Walley World is not a place or a movie, it is a concept.


  1. There are great road movies from Europe and all over the world including here in the U.S. but... none of them hold a candle to this as I think this is the greatest road movie ever made. It is a film ever since its release where I was only 2 years old when it came out as it is a family staple. Anytime it's on TV, we stop whatever we're doing and watch it. It's just so goddamn funny and it sill holds up.

    1. I agree on all points. I don't know if it is the greatest road movie ever, but it is certainly the funniest.