All of the Vacation movies are hilarous, especially the first three. And, I have 0 issues with the different actors/actresses that play the kids in all four films. It's noticeable, but not really distracting.
Honestly, I don't think there's any way they could have gotten the same actors/actresses to play the kids for all of the films; for one thing, by the time Christmas Vacation came out (1989) their being so much older would have taken away from some of the humor - i.e., given how old the kids were in '83, they would have been adults by '89, and who knows if they would even have been home for the Christmas holidays.
That being said, it would have been nice to have had some continuity between Vacation I (1983) & European Vacation (1985), since they were only 2 years apart. However, I doubt AMH could have reprised the role or Rusty in this 2nd film, given his commitment to the John Hughes films @ the time - i.e., between '84 - '85 he starred in: Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, and Breakfast Club.
Vegas Vacation (1997) had to have different actors, since by that time the kids from '83 would have been way too old to have gone together with their parents on vacation.
I feel one of the many reasons these films have done so well is not only the great humor & acting , but how relatable they are. Everyone out there has gone on family vacations where things have sometimes gone wrong; and everyone has at least one "mooching" relative that always has their hand out (Randy Quaid & family played this role well in the films).
Christmas Vacation is definitely my favorite movie in the franchise - laugh-out-loud funny!
Vegas Vacation is my least favorite, but still worth seeing & is great to re-watch as well. I definitely find it underrated, and it's pretty much ignored when discussing the Vacation films; I think a lot of people may not even be aware a 4th Vacation movie came out - especially given that there were 8 years between 3 & 4. However, I think it's obvious that by that time the franchise was on it's last legs. And, I think it's good they didn't have any films after that.
Have yet to see the spin-off "Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure", but plan to at some point.
[ 01. December 2016, 10:36: Message edited by: Nostalgic for the '80's ]
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Here's the answer: Anthony Michael Hall couldn't return for European Vacation because he was doing Weird Science. They didn't want to just bring back one kid and not the other, so this started the trend.
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