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Footloose gets on its dancing shoes again

Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough dance it up in "Footloose."

K.C. Bailey

Remakes of cult films tend to run into naysayers. But with Footloose, the backlash started even before filming got under way.

"Fans of the original actually accused me of ruining the story before the movie was even shot," says writer and director Craig Brewer. "You could say I faced a wall of hate."

He kept on going, however. And while the film opened to mixed reviews, fans flocked to it – giving the movie a rare A-rating on CinemaScore.

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Like the 1984 original, the plot centres on big-city boy Ren MacCormack, who arrives in the sleepy rural town of Bomont to find that dancing has been banned. Rock 'n' roll culture is blamed for a fatal car crash that killed some of the town's brightest and best teenagers. But Ren fights the ban, which is led by a stern local minister. Along the way, he also wins the heart of the minister's rebellious daughter Ariel.

Time will tell whether the latest Footloose will have a shelf life. But the question remains: Why do a remake at all?

"[The original]was inspired by a true incident … where an Oklahoma town had banned teenage dancing," Brewer says. "Given that the U.S. has split into blue states and red states, I think that the story has even more relevance today."

He also points to the story's emotional core. Yes, it's about dancing. But it's also about being a teenager – with all the heartache and acting out that comes with it. "I wanted to focus on the real problems of today's teens," he says. " Footloose is also about positive teenage rebellion. Ren is respectful and moral as a character."

Having the blessing of the team behind the original film spurred Brewer on as well. The 1984 film's producer Craig Zadan and writer Dean Pitchford supported the remake (Pitchford, in fact, is given a co-writer credit).

What's important to all of them, though, is that Footloose focus on drama, not simply dance.

"It's more realistic than that," Brewer says. "Many towns in the U.S. are like Bomont. We're dealing with religion, and the genuine belief that souls will go to hell because dancing is a sin. The city fathers want to make their towns safe places for their children. These laws are created for protection."

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Certainly, that was part of the appeal for Kenny Wormald, who plays Ren. Although he's a dancer who has toured with the likes of Justin Timberlake, the 27-year-old was attracted by the chance to star in a more serious role. And following in Kevin Bacon's footsteps, of course. ("If Footloose does for me what it did for the career of Kevin Bacon," he jokes, "that wouldn't be too shabby.")

Julianne Hough, who plays Ariel, sees her role as an opportunity to stretch herself too. She's already released a CD that's hit No. 1 on the Billboard Country Music chart, but she's perhaps best known for her dance moves on Dancing With the Stars. "I don't want to be seen only as a reality-TV dancer," she says.

Still, for all the focus on drama and character, Footloose has to have the right moves. So making a dance movie that doesn't play like a dance movie was the challenge for veteran choreographer Jamal Sims, who has worked on films such as Hairspray and the Step Up series.

"I had to make the choreography look exciting, but not like choreography," he says. "[Brewer]insisted that all the dance sequences have organic meaning to the story. It's about the joy of dance."

Sims did that through deconstruction. The dancers would learn the choreography to perfection – then Sims would destroy what they'd done with added bends and angles, forcing them to step outside their expertise as trained dancer.

The result, he says, is less remake than homage to the original film.

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"At first I didn't want the project because I thought the original Footloose was perfect. After talking to [Brewer] I realized he was going to protect it. Our movie is a love letter to the first."

And what fan can naysay that?

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