‘Beetlejuice’ sequel, in development hell for over 30 years, finds its savior in Jenna Ortega

When something is clearly working, sometimes it’s best to stick with the formula. 

Twenty-year-old sensation Jenna Ortega is said to be securing a deal to star in director Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice 2.” The film is being written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the showrunners of the hit Netflix series “Wednesday”—on which Burton is also an executive producer and is one of the key directors. “Wednesday,” a spin-off/sequel to “The Addams Family,” can also be said to share so much Burton DNA that I bet if you poll most people on the street and ask who directed the 1991 version in which Christina Ricci played Wednesday Addams, they’d probably cite him over the actual answer, Barry Sonnenfeld (no diss to Barry!)

Should the deal continue as it is expected to, Ortega will play the daughter to Winona Ryder’s ur-goth girl character Lydia Deetz. It’s possible the script will have her daughter rebel in a way that she is sunny and bright, but common sense suggests Ortega will continue with what’s working, and summon the dark clouds and weltschmerz attitude that’s worked well both for her and for “Beetlejuice” in the past. In interviews, Ortega has said that in the past she had consistent dreams about the 1988 film.

Michael Keaton, who played the titular undead trickster, is said to be back on board, too, and production in the Warner Bros. Discovery project is likely to commence this summer. It’s unclear who else from the original cast will come back. A post-”Schitt’s Creek” Catherine O’Hara would be a get. A post-”Rust” Alec Baldwin would not. (Don’t expect to see Jeffrey Jones in there, either, but Dick Cavett is still with us at age 86!) 

The original film, a haunted mansion tale that blended the aesthetics of Ringling Bros. with 80s New Wave pop, was a smash upon its release and won the Academy Award for Best Makeup. A sequel to the project has been in development since 1990. At the time, there was also a popular children’s cartoon. A Broadway musical went up in 2018, which was nominated for eight Tony Awards. 

While an Ortega-led “Beetlejuice” project from Burton, Gough, and Millar seems like a natural following the tremendous success of “Wednesday”—the third most-watch series on Netflix behind “Stranger Things” and “Squid Game,” according to the streamer—it’s worth noting that just this week Ortega offered a peek into their sausage factory. She said that the scripts she’d been given lacked an understanding of the character and that she had to make last-minute changes herself, often at the risk of, in her words, being ‘almost unprofessional.’” Considering a “Wednesday” season two is in the works as well as this “Beetlejuice” sequel, one must imagine a tidier workflow has been arranged.

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