Have you ever watched Frank Capra's classic heartwarming black and white film It's a Wonderful Life, in which James Stewart plays a man who gets a unique opportunity to learn about all the people's lives he has changed for the better, and thought, "I wonder what happened next?" If so, then you were probably among the few people for whom the announcement of It's a Wonderful Life 2 was good news.
Now, there are a lot of reasons that people were stunned by this report, starting with the fact that it's difficult to think of any movie less in need of a sequel than It's a Wonderful Life (especially some seventy years after the fact). What's even stranger, however, is the fact that the sequel isn't being planned by Paramount Pictures, but by little-known indie studios Star Partners and Hummingbird Productions.
Now it seems that Paramount Pictures has caught wind of this news and is not at all amused. Variety got in contact with representatives of the company, who made it clear that Paramount still owns the rights to It's a Wonderful Life, and that it will not be legally possible for anyone else to make a sequel. A Paramount spokesman said:
"No project relating to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights."
Since it's very easy to send out a press release before sorting out legal or financial support for a production (see also: the planned remake of Cujo), we took a closer look at the two companies involved with the intended sequel. Star Partners is owned and operated by businessman Allen J. Schwalb, whose website states that he has helped to finance over 70 films, including multiple classic Superman and James Bond titles.
Notably, however, Schwalb has never actually produced a film and neither has Hummingbird Productions President Bob Farnsworth, whose company has so far only created soundtracks and audio for commercials and corporate videos. Nonetheless, Farnsworth is apparently convinced that they can get around buying the license from Paramount:
"We have spent a lot of time, money and research that leads us to believe that we are clear on any infractions of the copyright. If anyone feels that they have a legal claim, we will be happy to talk with them. I believe that whatever resolution needs to be made will be made amicably, in the positive spirit of the project."
It's hard to imagine how a film that is explicitly a sequel to It's a Wonderful Life, and in which the protagonist is George Bailey's grandson (also called George Bailey), would manage to get around Paramount's legal claims. The only person from the original film involved in the project is Karolyn Grimes, who played George's daughter Zuzu but hasn't starred in a film since she was 12 years old (she's now 73). Grimes said that she liked the script and is looking forward to reprising her role.
Also worth remembering, since Grimes said that the sequel will "retain the feeling of the original" and Farnsworth referred to the "positive spirit of the project," is the fact that It's a Wonderful Life 2's script is about Zuzu returning as an angel to show George Bailey's grandson how much better off the world would be if he had never been born. Yes, you read that right.
Miracles do happen, but Paramount's legal department is no doubt a force to be reckoned with and the people attempting to produce this sequel just don't sound like they have the experience or the legal grounds to do so. Pending any further developments, the panic is over. Go back to your homes, people.
It's a Wonderful Life 2 will probably never hit theaters. At least not this version.