You probably weren't expecting a profound existential enigma in the new Footloose, co-writer/director Craig Brewer's remake of the affectionately remembered 1984 film. But during the opening credits, characters dance and sing along to Kenny Loggins' familiar theme song. Later, other characters pop in a tape of Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It for the Boy." The people in the 2011 Footloose clearly live in a world in which the 1984 Footloose exists - with no apparent self-awareness that they're reliving the exact same story.
The fidelity with which Brewer attempts to reproduce the original Footloose is something rarely seen in contemporary remakes. In interviews, he has described it as akin to a Broadway revival. Brewer has concocted a 21st-century Footloose that's mostly the 1984 Footloose with different actors. And by virtue of doing very little that's different, he does a whole lot right.
There are a few minor tweaks. The automobile accident that inspires the small town of Bomont to enact radical laws against dancing and other risky behaviors, only alluded to in the original, is depicted. Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald), the newcomer from the big city, doesn't move to Bomont with his single mother, but as a teenage orphan now staying with his uncle and aunt. But Ariel (Dancing With the Stars' Julianne Hough), the daughter of the town's preacher (Dennis Quaid), is still a thrill-seeking rebel who's soon interested in Ren. And Ren is still ultimately determined to shake up the town's conservative status quo. Large chunks of dialogue and individual scenes are reproduced virtually verbatim. "Let's Hear It for the Boy" still accompanies a montage of Ren teaching his pal Willard (Miles Teller) to dance.
So why do it again if you're going to do it the same? There is, of course, the simple reality that a different cast makes it inherently different, which can be simultaneously better (Hough an improvement over the impeccably wooden Lori Singer), worse (dancer Wormald a significant step down from Kevin Bacon's edgy insouciance) and the same (Quaid the perfect contemporary equivalent of John Lithgow as a solid actor who knows when to be a ham).
Mostly, it's a rare recognition that a satisfying, popular film story can be told again simply so that another generation can enjoy it. Brewer seems to have a sincere affection for this story, and it spills over into an appealing, energetic musical drama. His characters, perhaps paradoxically, exist in a world where Footloose is a cultural touchstone because Brewer likes the idea of a world where Footloose is a cultural touchstone - one where you just want to get away from oppressive expectations and yell out, "Let's dance!"