Greg Berlanti Wants to Remake Little Shop of Horrors, the Famed Comedic Musical About Nice Guys, Hubris, and Man-Eating Plants
Greg Berlanti wants to remake Little Shop of Horrors, and I for one am ready to see him try—although I do realize he’ll be climbing uphill when it comes to justifying yet another remake of this story. Joseph Gordon-Levitt tried to put together a remake of this cult comedy back in 2012, but his plans stalled out. This time around, it all sounds more firm. According to THR, Berlanti plans to direct the project, with Matthew Robinson handling the screenplay, Marc Platt (of La La Land) as the producer, and Warner Bros. senior VP of production Niija Kuykendal overseeing the project.
Although the other previous versions of this story are already enjoyable, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth another look, particularly for new audiences unfamiliar with the original. To recap: Little Shop began its life not as a musical but as a movie—a 1960 dark comedy that told a haunting but humorous morality tale of a guy named Seymour who stumbles across a mysterious plant that lives off human blood. This premise later served as the template for a musical of the same name, featuring songs by Alan Menken, who served as the composer for movie-musical classics like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Enchanted, and more. The Little Shop musical, which had a slightly different story and characters than the original movie (but still featured hapless young Seymour and the man-eating plant) got adapted into a movie in 1986, featuring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin and other greats.
In the musical, as well as in the 1986 movie adaptation, the message of this tragicomedy gets spelled out more clearly. At first, Seymour just wants to use the alien plant’s man-eating tendencies to get rid of his enemies; for example, he kills off the abusive boyfriend of Audrey, who is a woman that he’s got a crush on. Seymour’s decision to kill that guy and feed him to the plant results in the plant becoming larger and more difficult to control. At first, Seymour only wants to use the plant’s powers to kill off bad people, but who is Seymour to decide who’s “bad” and “good”? The plant, meanwhile, hungers for blood regardless of morality, only caring for its own survival. And, spoiler alert for the end of the musical, but the plant ends up taking over the entire planet and ruling over us all. We kind of deserve it, to be honest. But it’s Seymour’s initial belief that he could control the plant and use it “for good” that ends up destroying us all; he succumbs to greed and success, as the plant allows him to kill his enemies. Eventually, of course, the plant turns on Seymour as well.
When the Little Shop movie came out in 1986, it could’ve been read as a metaphor about the Cold War and a statement about weapons of mass destruction, and their misuse. However, the movie in 1986 couldn’t bring itself to show the same ending as the musical, wherein the plant eats every single human character and sings a triumphant closing number. The movie instead ended with Seymour and Audrey sharing a bittersweet romantic moment in a home together, at last… but with the plant’s threat still looming large. This isn’t the right lesson, though. I’m a Little Shop purist: the plant’s supposed to kill us all!
I think we’ve got room in our culture for a Little Shop remake, ideally one that uses the dark ending that the movie should’ve had. The message about wanting fame, power, and destroying other people to get ahead is still just as prescient today as it was in 1960. Also, the plant’s voice has occasionally been cast as a woman in many stage adaptations, so it would be great to see that happen in a remake.
The plant can represent a lot of different things, depending on what direction the adaptation decides to go, but I think one of the stronger readings is the one I’ve explained here: the plight of the “Nice Guy,” and the idea of using people for your own ends. It would be pretty interesting to see a 2016 update to that story, ideally one with a diverse cast and maybe even some different songs.
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