Paramount’s ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Reboot & the Problem With Remakes


Weirdly, “Little House on the Prairie” fans may have hackers to thank if their beloved series winds up with a big-screen reboot.

Sony Pictures began the development process on a movie version of the long-running (1974-1983) NBC Western drama based on the semi-autobiographical series of children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The original starred Michael Landon and Karen Grassle, as Charles (Pa) and Caroline (Ma) Ingalls, who lived with their children, natural (Melissa Gilbert, Melissa Sue Anderson, Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush, Wendi and Brenda Turnbaugh) and adopted (Matthew Laborteaux, Jason Bateman, Missy Francis), on a farm in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in the 1870s and 1880s.

(Incidentally, Missy Francis now goes by Melissa Francis and is currently a business journalist for Fox Business Network and Fox News.)

In the wake of the epic hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment last year — called, in a Forbes article, “The Hack of the Century” — which included the release of many embarrassing and sensitive emails, Sony head Amy Pascal was forced to step down, with Tom Rothman replacing her. In June, Variety reported that Rothman looked at the $45M price tag on “Little House” and axed it.

Paramount Studios then picked up the project in turnaround, attaching director Sean Durkin and British writer Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady,” TV’s “The Hour”). There’s no casting yet announced, nor a projected release date.

Family- and faith-oriented films have had some recent successes at the box office — including “Mom’s Night Out,” “God’s Not Dead” and “The War Room” — and on TV, most notably with NBC’s big ratings for “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors” in December.

The “Little House” movie also represents a trend that I discussed here yesterday, with film and TV studios mining entertainment archives for projects to reboot or remake, that have instant name recognition and a built-in audience.

This has had decidedly mixed results. There have been some successes — such as A&E’s “Psycho” prequel, “Bates Motel,” and the recent reboot of “24” on Fox — but more often than not, the results are disappointing. If you think about it in terms of context, though, it’s not hard to understand.

A few fictional creations endure throughout time. For example, Shakespeare’s plays have been around for half a millennium, have been interpreted in many ways, and still remain relevant. The same is true of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, who’s currently a hit in primetime TV with CBS’ “Elementary” and PBS’ “Sherlock.” Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice” is still widely read and has been put on film and television in different forms (including a current one that adds zombies).

But there are plenty of other books, plays, movies and TV shows that were very much products of their time, and once that time has passed, it’s near-impossible to recapture the magic. That’s often due to the sensibilities of the executives and creative types brought in to manage the new version, and to changing times and tastes.

Those who turned “Little House” into a TV show back in the ’70s were raised in a different world than today’s filmmakers, and that world had different values, standards and expectations. This is a much more cynical time in entertainment, and there’s great pressure to include explicit sexuality (in many different forms), violence and profanity

Although “Little House,” like “The Waltons,” was hardly the fluffy-bunny-party some make it out to be, and dealt with a lot of difficult issues, the restraint and essential sweetness that made up its charm is hard to reproduce in the modern entertainment environment. Also, considering that this is a film from a major studio, expectations will be high for it to perform well, and a relatively quiet family drama like “Little House” doesn’t seem like blockbuster material.

More news if we have it …

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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