Yesterday afternoon, film fans across the Twitter-sphere banded together to groan over the news, reported (exclusively!) in Variety, that a sequel to the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life is “in the works.” Our rage came from a number of places: the continued despair over Hollywood’s lack of originality and insistence on remaking and sequel-izing every beloved thing ever; an unapologetic love for the original (which, as you surely know, topped our recent list of the most heart-wrenching movies ever, the results of an informal poll between me and my tear ducts); and the seemingly out-of-vogue idea that some things should be sacred, dammit. But as we’ve allowed the news to sink in, a few ripples have surfaced, indicating that maybe we shouldn’t be all that worked up about this thing.
1. Variety or no, this project sounds shaky. Two producers are listed in the Variety story, Allen J. Schwab and Bob Farnsworth, and according to IMDb, they have a grand total of zero completed projects to their names. Farnsworth’s company, Hummingbird Productions, isn’t even a film production entity; according to their website, they are “one of the longest standing companies in the world producing music for commercials.” (They did the music for Larry the Cable Guy’s Prilosec OTC ads!) The motor behind the project, it seems, is Karolyn Grimes, who played sick daughter Zuzu in the original, and will apparently star in It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story as an angel. Look, nothing against Grimes, who was a very cute young actress and seems a lovely person. But she’s been riding the IAWL gravy train for decades. On her website, zuzu.net, she sells $20 autographed photos and ornaments, $65 throw pillows of the “petal scene,” and copies of the four (four) books she’s written about her work on the film. (One is a cookbook.) However, her last credited film role was in 1951, so the idea that she’s going to front a $35 million sequel to one of the most beloved movies of our time may be less “news” than “wishful thinking” — the TCM equivalent of when Tara Reid was telling everyone about The Big Lebowski 2.
2. The rights are mighty sticky. One of the first to talk people off the ledge on Twitter was the New York Post’s Lou Lumenick, who tweeted, “Don’t worry, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE sequel not gonna happen. Rights hopelessly tangled, as those behind 1980s Broadway musical discovered.” He’s right; A Wonderful Life, with music by Joe Raposo (Sesame Street) and book and lyrics by Sheldon Hamick (Fiddler on the Roof), had its hopes of a Broadway run dashed by controversy over the material. It’s a Wonderful Life is based on the Phillip Van Doren Stern story “The Greatest Gift,” and it was that branch of its origination that ultimately rescued the film from the public domain — a lapsed copyright on the film itself led to the proliferation of shabby VHS releases, Ted Turner’s ill-advised colorization, and the endless holiday screenings that ultimately made it a seasonal favorite. So a sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life would have to clear the rights to not only the screenplay (by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling, and director Frank Capra), which changed names and added characters, but the original Stern story as well. None of those clearances are mentioned in the Variety story. Not that such accommodations can’t be made…
3. We’ve been through this before. Those with knowledge of the more obscure corners of moviedom (and made-for-TV-moviedom) have been quick to point out that the picture is not exactly untouched. In 1977, ABC aired It Happened One Christmas, a gender-reversed remake starring Marlo Thomas, Wayne Rogers, Cloris Leachman as the angel “Clara,” and Orson Welles as Mr. Potter. It’s mostly forgotten today, never issued on home video (possibly due to those same rights issues). And in 1991, a made-for-TV sequel called Clarence, featuring Robert Carradine in Henry Travers’ guardian angel role, aired to mass indifference.
Nobody remembers those movies, and everyone remembers It’s A Wonderful Life, and that’s kind of the point: for all of our wailing and gnashing of teeth and natural instincts, as film lover, to “protect” the classics, we don’t actually have to worry about them. They remade Casablanca and turned it into a TV series (twice!). They made a TV-miniseries sequel to Gone with the Wind. They made Return to Oz. None of them extinguished our affection for the original—and nothing could. The notion of an It’s a Wonderful Life sequel is sad, sure, but it probably won’t happen. And if it does, it will end up yet another long-forgotten footnote in the long history of people trying, and failing, to recapture Hollywood magic.
And if you really needed more closure on George Bailey and the family, well, there’s always this: