I’m slightly ashamed to admit that only about three weeks of my life have gone by where I can say I’ve seen The Godfather films.
But before you start judging me, I have to come to my own defense. Watching a movie like The Godfather is daunting on two levels: first, it is widely regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, film ever made. I have to be in the right headspace to digest something like that before I turn it on. Second, The Godfather clocks in at just under three hours long. That’s a huge chunk of time when you have other things going on, and it’s the reason I still haven’t seen movies like Ben-Hur, Once Upon A Time in America, or Lawrence of Arabia. I want to see all of these movies, and I will someday. It’s just hard to find the time.
Now along the same lines, another iconic set of films I recently watched for the first time were the Mamma Mia! movies (okay, maybe they aren’t quite as iconic as The Godfather). And as I watched these five movies over the course of a couple of weeks, I noticed something – the first two installments of each follow a surprisingly similar path.
Granted, The Godfather Part II is an all-time great movie which explores many themes and ideas while Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is simply an improvement over its predecessor with a central message. But I want to examine one particular idea which the two films share – growth compared compared to a parent.
Part of what The Godfather explores is the way Don Vito Corleone is able to lead a balanced life as the head of a mob family. He values the immoral ways he makes money, but he does it all to provide for his family. Vito is able to not lose himself completely into the life of crime. His life exemplifies one of the film’s main themes. By the end of the movie, Vito is dead and his son Michael has taken over as the head of the family. But it is already obvious that he’s not going to exactly follow in his father’s footsteps. The family becomes one ruled by fear instead of respect. It’s no mistake that Vito dies while spending time with his grandson, contrasted with Michael who dies completely alone.
Mamma Mia!, is more focused on the child, Sophie, than it is on the parent, Donna, but it has a similar idea to The Godfather. Through a wild chain of events where Sophie attempts to find out which of three men who her mother had relationships with decades before is her real father, Sophie manages to finally find a father figure, while Donna is able to reconnect with the love of her life.
At first glance, these two movies are completely different, but it’s the second installment of each to which you can draw a parallel. Both movies have a “present day” storyline intercut with a flashback storyline which give backstories to the parental figures. So as Michael continues on as the head of the Corleone family, we see how Vito came to his powerful position. And as Sophie attempts to open the hotel her now-deceased mother dedicated her adult life to, we see Donna’s exploits over the fateful summer where she met the three men who could be Sophie’s father.
It’s really a fascinating parallel to watch Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and The Godfather Part II. The intercut storylines effectively reveal something about each parent/child relationship, but in the end, you’ll see that the two relationships are polar opposites.
The Godfather shows Michael straying away from anything which made his father a respectable man, husband, and father, while Mamma Mia! showsthat Donna and Sophie are more alike than they ever realized. One is hopeful and optimistic, while the other explores a character’s complete fall from grace.
Interestingly, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again could never exist without The Godfather Part II. It’s able to immensely improve on the original in a way The Godfather perhaps doesn’t. Writers Richard Curtis and Ol Parker took a movie that was only music and no character or story and followed the template of The Godfather to create a Mamma Mia! sequel which vastly supersedes the original in quality.
I have to say, when I first watched The Godfather movies, I wasn’t thinking that I would be comparing them to the Mamma Mia! films. But it is a classic example of filmmakers learning lessons from something great to improve their own work.