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'Wonderful Life' sequel rings bell for actress in Zuzu role

by JULIE E. MARTIN jmartin@indianagazette.net on November 20, 2013 11:00 AM

Some think it’s wonderful, and others aren’t so sure, but one thing is for certain — a holiday classic near and dear to Indiana is getting a sequel.

Plans are in the works for “It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story,” according to Variety. The entertainment publication first reported the news Monday.

[PHOTO: Karolyn Grimes posed with a bell during a Nov. 5, 2004, visit to Indiana. (Tom Peel/Gazette photo)]

Slated for release during the 2015 holiday season, the film is being produced by Orlando, Fla.-based Star Partners International and Hummingbird Productions, of Nashville, Tenn.

Roles, including those of director, are expected to be filled in the early spring. Production costs are estimated to be in the $30 million range.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu, the young daughter of Jimmy Stewart’s iconic character George Bailey, will reprise her role, but with a twist: in the new film, she’ll play an angelic version of herself and return to help George Bailey’s grandson turn his life around by showing him what the world would be like if he hadn’t been born.

While it may sound familiar, there’s a twist.

Whereas angel trainee Clarence shows George Bailey all of the good things that wouldn’t have happened had he never been born, in the sequel, angelic Aunt Zuzu will show Bailey’s grandson, who has grown into a bitter man, how things may have been better off had he not been born.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the sequel’s not just as heartwarming as the original, according to Grimes. She said she has turned down many scripts for sequels to the classic movie over the years.

Shown the error of his ways, the new George Bailey has the chance to learn a classic lesson.

Like its predecessor, in the sequel “there’s really a positive message and it’s one we can all use to get through life,” she said.

Grimes, 73, said she was first contacted about the possibility of this particular script about 14 years ago.

She stayed in touch with the producers because, she said, she believed in the story they proposed telling.

“This one, it kind of has God, and there was God in the background of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and God in the background of this one, too,” she said.

“I wouldn’t support anything that wasn’t worthy of the people that love the (original) movie,” Grimes said.

The 1946 Frank Capra classic, she said, helps viewers reflect on their own lives and see that they make a difference in the world.

“The new movie is going to emphasize that, as well,” she said.

What the sequel doesn’t do, according to Grimes, is try to redo, or outdo, the original.

“There’s no way you could ever take that beloved film, that’s so well-respected, and do something different with it,” she said.

What it may offer the chance to do, however, is continue the story, answering questions that viewers may have been left with at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Regarding concerns quickly voiced by some about leaving well enough alone, Grimes suggested they give it chance.

“See what you think, then if you want to say a bad word about it, go ahead,” she said.

Jimmy Hawkins, who played George Bailey’s son, Tommy, said the original film will be a touch act to follow.

“I wish them the best,” he said. “I want to see ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ grow and grow so people get the message from the original movie.”

He said he had been contacted previously about being involved in the film.

At this point, Jay Rubin, a founder of Indiana Borough’s Jimmy Stewart Museum, remains undecided about the new movie.

Stewart, he said, was interested in the idea of a sequel focused on George Bailey’s grandson.

Rubin said he talked to the Indiana native about it when the iconic actor returned to the borough for a visit in 1983.

“Stewart liked the idea, but he said that he wouldn’t do it unless Frank Capra directed it,” Rubin said.

While he said he feels the same as Stewart did, Rubin noted that a sequel could increase interest in the original.

“If they come out with a really good movie that brings the original back to life, that would be great, too,” he said.

He also thinks it would be great if the new movie could be filmed in Indiana Borough.

It’s currently set to be filmed in Louisiana.

“First of all, you’ve got more snow here than you do in Louisiana,” Rubin said, adding that holiday-friendly Indiana County, sometimes called the Christmas Tree Capital of the World, has been the filming location for several movies.

“You’ve even got the statute of George Bailey right there in front of the courthouse,” he said, referring to the bronze tribute to Stewart.

Jimmy Stewart Museum board members are waiting to hear what members of the Stewart family, consistent supporters of the museum, have to say about the news of a sequel. But one thing is for certain, according to Pauline Simms, board president.

“There was only one Jimmy Stewart — you can’t have a sequel to him,” she said.

From a personal point of view, board member Carson Greene said, he thinks a sequel is unnecessary.

“A classic’s a classic,” he said. “You have a different generation. They’re demanding a different kind of entertainment, and that bothers me a bit.”

Tim Harley, the museum’s executive director, speculated that it could be a challenge for something “really heartfelt” to be produced today, and questioned the need of the entertainment industry to do remakes and sequels.

“My guess is it wouldn’t be the beautiful, innocent production that was done in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ he said.

Still, he can see a need for such a movie in today’s world.

“Maybe it speaks to an important hunger that exists for really meaningful films,” he said.

In addition, Harley said, news of a sequel shows that Stewart is just as relevant today as when the film opened 67 years ago.

Glad to have the spotlight turned on Stewart and his holiday classic once again — and at a time that coincides with the week of Indiana Borough’s annual “It’s a Wonderful Life” festival and parade — board members agreed they’ll have to ultimately reserve judgment until learning how the project progresses.

“That’s the way Jimmy would do it,” Greene said. “He wouldn’t jump on it. He’d ponder it.”

 

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