Feature Thousand Words

National Lampoon’s Vacation

Nicola Balkind buckles up and heads off with the real life Griswold family on a road trip inspired by a cult comedy celebrating its 30th birthday.

These days, the American Dream is typically understood to mean fame, fortune, and pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps. But the classic pursuit of prosperity and upward mobility is the one that holds the greatest romanticism. It’s the salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar portrayal of the ultimate freedom of being American: The Road Trip, and by extension, in cinematic terms, that translates into the Road Trip Movie.

While the Road Trip genre certainly got its start in the 1970s, it took another decade to seep into the hearts and minds of the comedy set. A good satirist needs plenty of material to work with, after all. So it was 1983 by the time National Lampoon’s Vacation hit the big screen. Directed by the late comedy talent Harold Ramis and starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Anthony Michael Hall, among others, it extolls the Griswold family’s, unexpectedly arduous, summer holiday trip to ‘Walley World’. John Hughes’ screenplay is based on a self-penned, fictionalized short story account of his own ill-fated family trip to Disneyland.

Things have come full circle with the real-life Griswolds, a family from Georgia State whose road trips to the Walt Disney World Resort are directly inspired by Vacation. The family, who go by the names Steve, Lisa, Amber and Brooke Griswold, holiday in an exact replica of the fictional Griswolds’ Wagon Queen Family Truckster station wagon – itself based on a modified 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire. With their latest trip falling on the 30th anniversary of Ramis’ cult comedy, the real life Griswold’s brought the fictional ones back into the spotlight.

By Nicola Balkind

Nicola is a writer and editor based in Glasgow, Scotland. She is the author of Fan Phenomena: The Hunger Games and editor of World Film Locations: Glasgow, both published by Intellect Books.

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