There’s nothing worse than seeing your favourite childhood cartoons turned into live-action, feature-length ghosts of their former selves. It's as though they lose some of their magic up there on the big screen. It’s a simple formula: Grab the basic elements of a much-loved TV show from before most viewers were born, make it live-action and add a healthy dose of CGI, and you’ve got a box office smash that the critics will hate. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did it three times in the ‘90s and twice in the last ten years. The last three Alvin and the Chipmunks movies (with a fourth coming out later this year) have earned $1.147 billion so far. The Smurfs made around five times its budget, enough to warrant a sequel and an upcoming third film.
So you’d think it’d be safe to say that live-action adaptations are a guaranteed success. But not always.
Jem and the Holograms is the live-action adaptation nobody asked for but was given to us anyway. Not only did it fare abysmally at the box office (grossing $2.1 million on a budget of $5 million), but it was pulled from theatres after a two week run, and strayed so far from the original material that fans were outraged.
Basically Jem and the Holograms is the perfect example of why live-action adaptations aren’t always the best idea. And in case Hollywood turns to other childhood classics for inspiration, here are five more cartoons that would make terrible live-action flicks:
1. Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1985)
The ‘80s cartoon about the kind of Gummi Bears that you couldn’t eat was the first major serialised animated series of the time and paved the way for later favourites, like DuckTales and Bonkers. It also had some pretty deep themes, mainly around the co-existence between humans and bears (and the threats of genocide that came along with humans seeking the bears' magic – you know, super-light kid fluff). But really, a live-action adaptation would probably take out the deep stuff and just focus on bringing the CGI Gummi Bears into a modern, urban setting where they would just bounce around on Gummiberry Juice for 90 minutes.
2. Rocko’s Modern Life (1993)
This ‘90s gem was a part of the golden era of Nickelodeon and held a special place in the hearts of fans, mainly adults, for its often dark and racy humour (remember when Rocko was a phone sex worker?). And while RML was about the misadventures of an Australian wallaby getting used to ‘modern’ life in America, it would feel a little cheap watching Rocko attempt to figure out a Tinder-esque app or navigate social media on the big screen (while hovering within a PG-13 bracket).
3. Hey Arnold! (1996)
If studios took a Jem and the Holograms approach to this, it would surely be a sign of the impending apocalypse. They already released an animated feature-length film in 2002 to pretty average reviews, now imagine a live-action revamp with horizontal Coneheads-style effects (or this parody, which is actually pretty cool).
4. Dexter’s Laboratory (1996)
A live-action adaptation of this cartoon about a boy-genius would probably revolve around Dexter creating some kind of machine that backfires and sends him to an alternate universe – our world. It might not sound too bad but if this was 2001 he would probably be played by that guy who played Juni in Spy Kids.
5. Gargoyles (1994)
Gargoyles was the darker, moody teen brother of every other cartoon series around at the time. It stood out from the rainbow-hued likes of other favourites while still handing out life lessons to kids like candy (lest we forget that time Broadway accidentally shot Elisa and learned a lesson about gun safety). In truth, a Gargoyles film sounds good on paper, but would probably take itself a little too seriously and end up with Michael Bay as director.