Remakes of “Romeo and Juliet” have captured audiences time and time again. In its modern-day New York City version, “West Side Story”, has managed to do that twice.
In 1961, the film adapted from a musical format and garnered much success, winning ten Oscars and being the second highest grossing film that year. The Steven Spielberg directed remake received similar praise after its December release, with seven Oscar nominations and one win. “West Side Story” released on Disney + in March, allowing many access to this beautiful film.
The remake matched the original film in quality of the storyline. There were few deviants from the original plot, hammering in the same themes of gentrification, gang violence and racism as the original. The musical numbers were all equally as compelling as the original, with each actor being talented vocalists. The costume design was outstanding and earned the movie an Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Costume Design. The colors were symbolic and represented the themes of the movie.
The differences in the films are minor but speak to how American culture has changed since the original’s release. In the original, Doc’s male character is replaced by Valentina who is Tony’s boss and confidant throughout the film. She is played by Rita Moreno who played Anita in the original film. It’s hard to imagine a 1961 audience accepting Doc’s character as a female. Another triumph for the remake is that all Latinx characters are played by Puerto Rican actors, unlike the original which cast white actors for many Latinx roles.
The remake features Spanish dialogue between the Latinx characters and many Puerto Rican references rather than the white-washed original. The remake gives the Latinx storyline the justice it deserves, whereas the original used Puerto Ricans to tell a white story.
A few of the musical numbers were moved around, giving them new context and allowing for the plot to expand. There was more character development in the remake, allowing the audience to truly get to know each character. The audience learned more about Chino’s character, Anita, Bernardo, and Maria’s family dynamic, and the gripes between the Jets and the Sharks were all fleshed out for the audience more so than in the original.
While many film franchise remakes tend to be less successful than their original, “West Side Story ’21” did just as good and better than the original. The film represents a beautiful part of American culture and it is great to see that it has been improved for this current generation.