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Doubts About a Doubtfire Sequel

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Doubtfire_WEBSteph Wulz | The Observer

This past week, it was announced that the 1993 slapstick comedy “Mrs. Doubtfire” was getting a sequel. Almost 21 years after the original was released to PG audiences worldwide, Robin Williams has signed on to reprise his role as the gender-bending dad.

His costars have not been as enthusiastic about the idea of a new film. Mara Wilson — the titular Matilda from the other classic children’s film and Williams’ youngest daughter in the film — has been famously outspoken about her retirement from the entertainment industry, her struggles as a child star and her wishes to continue to live a normal life post-Matilda fame. Not surprisingly, then, she has been similarly vocal about her refusal to work on the new film.

Her onscreen siblings haven’t been so quick to dismiss the project; while Jisa Jakub, who played the oldest daughter, said she is considering signing on, and the final sibling, Matthew Lawrence, has stated that he would love to reprise his role. Making this film is, potentially, a huge mistake. 

The original plot was inventive, topical and allowed for great comedic range on the part of comedian Robin Williams. He played an out-of-work actor who, when his wife divorces him and refuses him visit rights with his three children, applies in costume as an old woman to be the nanny for his children. The film ends with Williams’ ex-wife, as played by Sally Field, appealing the custody-ruling and allowing Williams to begin spending time with his children — dressed in his normal clothes and not as Mrs. Doubtfire — again. In a lot of sequels (i.e. “The Hangover Pt. 2,” “Home Alone II: Lost in New York,” etc. ), the narrative structure from the first film is recycled and repurposed and the final product greatly resembles the original film. This would be impossible to do with Doubtfire. There is no good way to recycle the plot; Williams’ character is found out in the end, everyone knows he is the real Mrs. Doubtfire. The suspense surrounding whether or not his cross-dressing would be discovered by his ex-wife was the entire point of contention within the narrative. Most of the hilarity from the original film derived from the dramatic irony of Williams’ inability to disclose his true identity. Any sequel would have to presuppose that Williams’ dual-identities are already known, which significantly limits the plot structure and precludes most of what was funny about the first film. 

In addition to the plot limitations that will necessarily constrict the sequel, it is yet unknown whether or not Sally Field will reprise her role as Williams’ ex-wife. Her character grounded the film, which otherwise could have read as too farcical, and acted as a great foil to Williams’ zany character. A film without her (and all three children) would have to fill her place with the casting of another voice-of-reason character to keep Williams’ shenanigans in check.

On the other hand, if Field is persuaded to sign on to the new film, her character’s function is precarious (since you don’t cast Field in a film and relegate her to a position that isn’t a main character). The obvious solution is to envision a film where the divorced Williams and Field reconcile and remarry; this is counterintuitive to the entire message of the original. By refusing to take the obvious route and end the first film with Field and Williams realizing that they loved each other a-la “The Parent Trap,” Doubtfire sent a great message about the realities of divorce during a time when divorce rates were climbing and there wasn’t much literature about how to help children deal with it. Its final scene, Mrs. Doubtfire — now a television personality — gives a speech about how having divorced parents doesn’t mean that they love you any less, and that final monologue cements the film’s place as a phenomenal stand-alone. 

No matter how the filmmakers try to reimagine the plot, they will no doubt taint the wonderful message and hilarious plot that made the original film such a classic. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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