Franchise Fred Returns To Cocoon: The Return 30 Years Later

30 years ago today, the entire cast of Cocoon returned for a sequel, but audiences did not return for Cocoon: The Return. I think it’s an interesting sequel, both as an example of, “What else do you do with this story? Here’s what!” and “Oh, that’s why there was no Cocoon With a Vengeance.”

One thing I like in sequels is when you see what the characters have been up to since their last adventure. Bernie (Jack Gilford) is still mourning Rose (Herta Ware in a cameo for completion’s sake). Jack (Steve Guttenberg) is giving cheesy glass bottom boat tours. I don’t like that Susan (Linda Harrison) believes her parents were lost at sea. She saw the spaceship, but the film does little with her character except having her faint when her parents knock on hre door.

When the Antareans return to Earth to retrieve more cocoons, they let the seniors they took with them come back to visit their friends and loved ones. Did they leave any cocoons behind in Cocoon? I don’t remember but I’ll give ‘em that. There was seismic activity that dislodged some cocoons from safe hiding places. The real retcon is allowing the seniors to return. I thought it was pretty clear in Cocoon that if they went to Antarea, they couldn’t come back. Would they choose eternal life on another planet or finite time with their families? If they could still visit, that’s not as big a choice.

Now, before you say they should’ve just left Cocoon at one movie, author David Saperstein disagrees. He wrote three Cocoon novels. The second book was already published before Cocoon: the Return. They just decided not to adapt the book.

I never read Metamorphosis or Butterfly so I don’t know if Saperstein’s story was better, but I understand what Cocoon: The Return wanted to explore. You’ve made this choice to live forever but leave behind everything and everyone you loved. Could you really live with that?

I get the sentiment because I learned from Highlander who wants to live forever? The best parts of life are finite. There’s no point without them. Accepting their mortality is probably how the first Cocoon should have ended, because what kinds of fathers and mothers would say, “I’ll just abandon my kids so I don’t die?” Honestly, that premise demands a sequel to just bring crashing back down to Earth.

Cocoon: The Return came out three years later but it’s set five years after. I don’t recall any detail that required the film to be set ahead. Maybe Barret Oliver grew up too fast to be convincing as a pre-teen grandson.

What Cocoon: The Return gets right is the value of growing old. Once back on Earth, time starts ticking for the characters again. And it turns out every cloud has a silver lining. Ben (Wilford Brimley) gets sore muscles again, but it’s nice to have Mary (Maureen Stapleton) rub ointment on his aching back, and she likes it too.

Alma (Jessica Tandy) gets a job working with kids. I guess there were no kids or day cares on Antarea., but the point is it’s worth doing in the time she’d have left. Let alone Ben and Mary have a fucking daughter and grandson.

It’s bittersweet of course. Joe (Hume Cronyn)’s leukemia comes back so there’s an ultimate choice. Stay and he is definitely going to die sooner than from natural causes. Leave and live but what kind of life. We never got to see life on Antarea. Maybe that would have been Cocoon: Antarean Drift.

Bess (Gwen Verdon) gets pregnant. She’s already six weeks pregnant on Earth so she got pregnant back on Antarea. There’s a pregnancy she can’t carry to term with Earth biology, so she and Art (Don Ameche) have their decision made for them.

The gang tries to fix Bernie up with Ruby (Elaine Stritch), which is first presumptuous. It’s Bernie’s business how long he grieves, but their rocky relationship hits the right points about allowing oneself to keep living.

Jack gets to see Kitty (Tahnee Welch) again, but she shows him his future. Jack’s vision of his family is sweet, and super cheesy. He’s got a pipe for God’s sake. The James Horner Score sells it all though. I want Jack to have that life that didn’t exist in 1988, 1990 or any point in the ‘90s when that vision may have taken place.

Courteney Cox plays a marine biologist who finds one of the cocoons. I’d say Cocoon: The Return is a worthy followup to Masters of the Universe. Her relationship with the Antarean is sweet and sets up the emotional stakes for the science fiction plot. It’s not just an excuse to get the gang back together. They really do have to save the Antareans from the corruption of human science.

The finale of Cocoon: The Return is a lot smaller, an example of diminishing returns rather than bigger and badder. Considering they break the alien out of the lab, it’s uneventful and they sail out to meet the mothership with a small crowd. There were at least 30 people on the boat at the end of Cocoon. Didn’t any of them have families they wanted to visit again?

I understand people being disappointed but what’s interesting is they didn’t even give it a chance. Either no one wanted a sequel to Cocoon or by 1988 they’d forgotten. There’s certainly been longer between successful sequels so I suspect the former. It opened behind Scrooged and two kids movies, The Land Before Time and Oliver and Co.

Remember, opening weekends weren’t that big in the ‘80s. Movies played a lot longer then. The Return opened with $5.5 million, lower than Cocoon’s $7.9 three years earlier but it could’ve done steady business in the $4-5 million range for a few weeks. It dropped fast.

Interesting choice to play scenes from the first movie under the end titles. Like, if you were already disappointed, here’s a reminder of the movie you liked better.

So there was no Cocoon With a Vengeance. Of the cast, only Gilford passed away shortly after, in 1990. There was still time to make a third film with most of the cast. Heck, they still could. David (Oliver) is all grown up now, has become an astronaut and is determined to lead a mission to Antarea, where the CGI recreations of the cast look the same as they did in the ‘80s. And Wilford Brimley can still play himself. Franchise Fred approves! Or, maybe I’ll just read the books.

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