Can you have too much of a good thing – or even a mean thing? American actress and writer Tina Fey scored big in 2004 with the iconic Mean Girls. She wrote the screenplay and appears in the film as bespectacled Ms Norbury, maths teacher at an unremarkable Illinois high school – unremarkable in that it’s packed with all the characters you would expect in a ribald teen comedy: jocks, outcasts, science geeks and the glossy Alpha females who rule the school with a flick of the hair and a swing of the handbag.

Fey’s snobby crew are known to lesser mortals as The Plastics and they’re led by Regina (Rachel McAdams), ably assisted by rich girl Gretchen and her airhead best friend Karen (Amanda Seyfried).

Pitted against them are disapproving Goth Janis (Lizzy Caplan), who has a grudge against Regina, and Janis’s gay best friend, Damien. Into this set-up comes naïve newbie Cady (Lindsay Lohan, in her breakout role) who has been homeschooled in Africa by her zoologist parents until the age of 16. Which is why her response to Damien’s mention of Noughties film heartthrob Ashton Kutcher is to ask: ‘Is that a band?’ Well, it was funny in 2004.

The Herald: From left, Rene Rapp, Tina Fey, Lorne Michaels, Lindsay Lohan, Angourie Rice and Bebe Wood attend the world premiere of Mean Girls at AMC Lincoln Square in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)From left, Rene Rapp, Tina Fey, Lorne Michaels, Lindsay Lohan, Angourie Rice and Bebe Wood attend the world premiere of Mean Girls at AMC Lincoln Square in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP) (Image: free)

The film was a hit, spawned a sequel and several catchphrases (“That’s so fetch!” is one), was then turned into a Broadway musical (it arrives in London in June) and returns to the big screen on Wednesday in a new film version which is part-update and part-remake – but with the songs left in. The Mean Girls cash cow is still being well and truly milked, it seems.

So, too much? Some critics think so.

One problem is that aspects of the film are wince-making two decades on. Example: there’s a subplot in which Cady persuades Regina to scoff energy bars to lose weight knowing they’ll make her gain it. The increase in pounds makes Regina depressed and results in a tailing off of her Alpha female status. Message? You have to be thin to be popular, and to not be thin should be a cause for dismay. Fat-shaming we call it these days.

Some of this has been addressed in the new film by giving the role of Regina to an actress with a less catwalk-y body shape, singer Reneé Rapp. But a predictable result in some quarters has been complaints about Regina’s size – and because every social media action has an instant reaction, these in turn have been called out as fat-phobic by body positive activists.

“Jokes have changed,” Tina Fey admitted to the New York Times. “You don’t poke in the way that you used to poke … Even if your intention was always the same, it’s just not how you do it any more, which is fine. I very much believe that you can find new ways to do jokes with less accidental shrapnel sideways.”

The trouble is that as well as being wince-inducing, that “shrapnel” was funny and is part of the appeal of the 2004 Mean Girls. And “accidental”? Yeah, right. So for one critic the “sadism comedy” that was the original film has been parlayed instead into a “sugar rush movie musical”. For another, the new version lacks the “panache” of its forerunner, for which read it has lost its very non-PC swagger.

Neither point is lost on Entertainment Weekly critic Maureen Lee Lenker. “Part of the genius of the original Mean Girls was how it captured the downright viciousness of teenage girls,” she writes. “[S]ome of that predatory bite has been muzzled here.”

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Lots more songs, much less snark seems to be the consensus. Which begs the question: why did they bother? Perhaps the taming of Mean Girls is inevitable and to be expected – and can form an interesting case study for the makers of the long-promised but not yet realised reboot of Clueless, probably the best high school comedy ever.

As with Amy Heckerling’s 1995 masterpiece, everyone who has seen the original Mean Girls has a favourite line and thankfully many of them have made the cut at least. Mine, thanks in large part to British indie band Wet Leg who incorporated it into their song Chaise Longue, comes in a canteen scene when a boy stops Cady on her way to her lunch table. ‘Do you like your muffin buttered?” he asks mock-innocently. “Would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin?”

For the record, the original line involved the popping of cherries – but was deemed beyond the pale even for the original Mean Girls. Luckily, the replacement is funnier.