Last week saw news of two popular 80s cartoons getting big screen makeovers in 2015. First up fruity superhero Bananaman: a British cartoon inspired by a comic strip about a boy who gains super strength and the ability to fly from eating lots of bendy yellow fruit. Aside from the to-be film’s mysterious website, not much is known about the project yet, and a decision to stick with animation remains to be seen. But the other cartoon making news waves will definitely be getting a live action remake – and excuse me whilst I GET A LITTLE EXCITED HERE.Step Up 2 director Jon M. Chu has announced that he’ll be making a Jem and the Holograms film, and via an online video, has opened up casting to everyone (well I’ve always seen myself as a Kimber). It’s the story of a girl who finds a magical computer called Synergy that allows her to essentially shape shift into the new identity of pop princess Jem, so she can save her dead father’s record company. Everyone has different coloured hair and there are amazing songs – trust me, it will be awesome.
But it got me thinking about other potential goldmine properties out there gathering dust on the shelf when they should be commanding the big screen. And as a child of the late 80s and early 90s, I have 10 cartoons lined up that need Hollywood’s attention next:
10. Maxie’s World
Set up around the same time as Jem and the Holograms and to push the launch of a new Hasbro doll range, Maxie’s World only ran for one season in 1987. It follows Maxie and her teenage friends at high school in California who also run their own TV show, resulting in lots of hijinks. Despite its girly model, it actually had some great writers working on it. As well as the Nancy Drew elements of capturing jewel thieves and investigating UFOs, there were surprisingly astute commentaries on anorexia and peer-pressure smoking. It doesn’t lend itself obviously to a 90 minute film, but its rich story catalogue is a coop for potential producers.
Another short-lived cartoon from Hasbro that sadly didn’t take off to the dizzying heights of Care Bears and My Little Pony. The Moondreamers were celestial beings who conjured up magical crystals that were then delivered to sleeping children as good dreams (a bit like the BFG, but they were tiny and had amazing hair). They constantly battled against their arch-enemy Scowlene and her minions, whose aim was to steal the good dreams and instil nightmares to the children living below. It was light and fluffy, but the lack of true peril means substantial changes would be needed to further its primary school demographic. But it remains unbelievably cute.
He-Man ’s twin sister got her own spin-off show in 1985 to target a young female audience, but she only lasted two seasons. Princess Adora is heroic protector of Etheria, where using her magical Sword of Protection she can transform into her alter-ego She-ra with awesome strength and a flying unicorn. I know, right? She fights against the Evil Horde, led by Hordak, to try and free the people from his tyrannical rule whilst also guarding the Crystal Castle. When He-Man got its own terrible cinematic adaptation in 1987, She-ra (then cancelled) wasn’t a part of it, despite the two cartoons frequently linking its core characters. Perhaps if the rumoured new He-Man film is a success it might spark a revival for the Princess of Power?
“We are defenders of the night – we are Gargoyles!” This moody, and somewhat sophisticated 1990s cartoon has developed a huge cult following in recent years. Set in New York, our heroes are stone gargoyles atop a skyscraper during the day, but come alive at night to fight evil, and work alongside police detective Elisa Maza to keep the city safe from the schemes of billionaire David Xanatos – who was the one who awakened them from a centuries old spell. Its blend of urban gothic and dark storylines has leant well to graphic novel resurgences, so why not go the next step and make a film?
6. Galaxy High
Another short lived 1980s cartoon, managing only a measly 13 episodes before it was cancelled by CBS (still harsh back in those days, it seems). It’s essentially high school, but in space. Two human teenagers – a jock and a bookish girl – are transported into outer space, where their roles become reversed at Galaxy High amongst their teenage extra-terrestrial archetypes. The show was created by director Chris Columbus – just after he had written Gremlins and The Goonies – who has gone onto helm films of the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson franchises. Someone want to jog his memory about this little gem?
5. Dino Riders
Upping slightly to a slightly less measly but still painfully slight 14 episode run, Dino-Riders was part of the Marvel Entertainment world to sell a new toy range in 1988. It pitted the hero Valorians against the evil Rulons on pre-historic Earth, where they battle to defeat one another combining the use of dinosaurs. YES. Whilst the Valorians respect the creatures and hone their strengths, the Rulons force them against their will and maltreat them into becoming weapons and transport. Being a dinophile (I think that’s a thing), I loved this show growing up. Unfortunately elements of it now sound similar to the rumoured Jurassic World plot, but I’d still love to see this one on the big screen.
4. Pirates of Dark Water
Hoist them sails for a new Pirates franchise – you would struggle to do better than adapting this fantastic Hanna-Barbera cartoon from 1991. In a world being devoured by dark water (sort of malevolent living black slime which covers the ocean), a young prince called Ren and his “loyal crew of misfits” must set sail to reclaim 13 lost treasures, which will rid the world from this oozy evil. But there’s also a nefarious sea-captain called Bloth, who wants the treasures for himself. This had rich mythology, great storytelling and adventures galore – not to mention being quite creepy at times, even for a young teen. The Dark Dweller definitely got under my skin – he’d make an excellent big screen monster. This is crying out for some modern day love, and I hope someone sees sense soon.
3. Captain N: The Game Master/The Legend of Zelda
Hard to separate these two as they are both TV series coming out of Nintendo Games in the late 80s/early 90s. Whereas Captain N: The Game Master combines elements and characters from a number of different Nintendo releases (such as Castlevania and Mega Man), The Legend of Zelda is a straight up adaptation of the popular and long-running console game, though mainly focusing on games one and two. The former saw a teenager (and his dog) pulled into his television and into a world called Videoland, where he falls in amongst the good guys, The N Team, and eventually fights alongside them against the videogame villains. In Zelda, the titular princess defends her kingdom with clownish hero Link against Lord Ganon, who wants to steal the Triforce of Wisdom to take ultimate power. Though similar in plot, the characters and humour differed slightly to its computer game origins, with Link’s catchphrase “well excuuuuuuuse me, princess!” becoming synonymous with the show (and hilariously captured here). An adaptation of either would require rights haggling with Nintendo, but it’s stupefying why Zelda hasn’t had a film as of yet. It can only be a matter of time.
2. Mighty Max
Surely one of the best opening credits sequences for a cartoon? This criminally underrated cartoon launched in 1992, and though created to promote a British range of toys (essentially Polly Pocket for boys), it was actually an American series. Max is a young boy who one day finds a magic cap which opens up portals into other worlds. He discovers he is “a chosen one”, who must defend Earth and its people from Skullmaster, an evil sorcerer (voiced by Tim Curry!) Max’s destiny to defeat Skullmaster is the overarching arc of the series, but it’s elevated by its fantastic monster of the week episodes, ranging from aliens and werewolves to a terrific zombie apocalypse. Yes he may be joined in his adventures by Norman the warrior and Virgil the talking fowl – definitely not a chicken – but give this world to the right director and there’s scores of outings here for a young adult audience (and me too, obvs).
It’s the king of them – X-Men, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, He-Man and Transformers have all made it to the big screen – sometimes more than once – but nearly 30 years on we have yet to see a live action Thundercats film. But WHY? It’s only the greatest cartoon series on earth*, as our heroes led by Lord Lion-o protect and defend Third Earth from evil Mumm-Ra and the mutants. It was perhaps so successful because all the detailed world building, and each character having their own defining personalities: as a young girl, I wanted to simultaneously both be Cheetara and live in Castle Plun-Darr. The 1980s series was given a re-vamp a couple of years ago with a brand new reincarnation for Cartoon Network, but still the news on a possible film has been quiet. They’re essentially superheroes – albeit cats – so why could this not translate to the cinema in this age of Marvel and DC jostling? Answers on a postcard please – the eye of Thundera only reveals static.
*nope, sorry, I’m sticking by that one
Got any ideas for casting these films, or are there some cartoons I’ve been crazy to miss off the list? Get gabbling in the comments section below!
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Kate McCall – @_culturemouse