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Cartoons Ripe for Adaptation

By Patrick McManus | Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hollywood executives like to make money. To that end, they tend to like making movies they are confident lots of people will want to go see. This means the types of movies that get made are innumerable sequels and adaptations of other media properties. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, except that turning an animated series into a live action movie is often a terrible idea.

Certain stories are suited to a specific medium. That is why (among other reasons) “Catch Me if You Can” was a great movie and a so-so musical. That is why no matter how hard they tried, “The Smurfs” was not going to be a quality film. However, because “The Smurfs” grossed nearly $140 million, it seems unlikely that live action adaptation of cartoons will stop anytime soon. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as long as the right cartoons are turned into movies.

Computer-generated animals talking to real people is just weird. That is why “Yogi Bear” was not only bad, but also completely unwatchable. However, this list is going to start with the one exception to that rule.

The classic 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoon “Top Cat” would make a great movie. The plot revolves around Top Cat leading his gang of alley cats in attempts to outsmart Officer Dribble and make a quick buck. It’s a clever and funny series that could even make jokes addressing how silly the movie might look, without breaking character.

There have been numerous attempts to turn “Jonny Quest” into a live action movie, including the announcement in 2009 that Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson would star in an adaptation, but no further announcements have been made about the progress of the movie. The story of Jonny, his adopted brother Hadji, his father Dr. Quest, his bodyguard special agent Race Bannon and his dog Bandit gallivanting around the world on all sorts of adventures lends itself naturally to the screen. “Jonny Quest” set the standard for realistic action cartoons in its day and could do the same for contemporary movies.

Another animated action adventure series that seems to be stranded somewhere in the development process is the Cartoon Network classic “Samurai Jack.” In 2009 it was announced that J.J. Abrams would produce the film, retelling the tale of the Japanese samurai trying to make his way home after being displaced in time by the villainous demon Aku. Hopefully this movie will make it, because the original series was awesome and because it won’t be as ridiculous as a live action “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”

The problem with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise was that after the first movie, no one, including the director, had any idea what was going on. They could have avoided that problem by adapting the 1991 cartoon “The Pirates of Dark Water,” which tells the tale of Prince Ren collecting the Thirteen Treasures of Rule.

Their combined power is the only way to stop the mysterious Dark Water from consuming the world of Mer. The series contains many fantastical elements and is a great swashbuckling tale. Adapting the series could also be fun because it was cancelled due to high-production costs after only eight of the treasures were collected.

The movie “Transformers” was adapted from the line of toys, so its plot did not really owe anything to the numerous animated shows based on the same toys. This was unfortunate because the story (and Shia LaBeouf) was the biggest problem with that trilogy.

It would have been better to adapt the anime show “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing” that aired on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block in 2000. The movie would look a lot like “Transformers” with giant robots fighting and blowing stuff up, but the series would provide rich character development and tense political drama (and no Shia LaBeouf).

The cartoon that most deserves to be turned into a live action movie is “Thundarr the Barbarian.” Set in a post-apocalyptic world filled with both advanced science and magic, the story follows the eponymous barbarian wielding his light-saber-esque Sunsword and his companions, the beautiful sorceress Princess Ariel and Ookla the Mok (a Chewbacca look-a-like).

The trio rides around the ruins of the United Stated and fights evil wizards, but any conceivable type of foe fits seamlessly into the world of “Thundarr.” It wasn’t a particularly smart cartoon, but it certainly has all the trappings of a blockbuster film.

Hollywood, take note!

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Patrick McManus at pmcmanu1@nd.edu.