A lot of trailers and hot news stories came swirling out of San Diego Comic-Con 2018 this past weekend (even as the real topic on everyone’s minds percolated outside Hall H). However, despite all the shocking reveals (welcome back, Star Wars: The Clone Wars!) and promising first looks (how about that Shazam trailer though?!), one bit of news that caught my eye in the midst of all the admittedly more click-friendly scoops is the update we received on the latest for the Carmen Sandiego brand.
We learned last year that Netflix had big plans for the franchise in the shape of a new animated series set to debut in 2019, with Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez voicing the character. In today’s age of nostalgia, such a reboot seemed par for the course, but then came word back in March that Rodriguez isn’t only slated to do voice work as Carmen but also play her in a live-action film that Netflix is developing alongside its animated counterpart.
Now, courtesy of Deadline, we have learned that screenwriter Mark Perez has been brought onboard to write the film. While his credits are less than perfect (ahem, The Country Bears), Perez recently wrote the hilarious crime comedy Game Night starring Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams (read my review), and his particular blend of humor, character-based storytelling and tangible stakes certainly may bode well for the world of Carmen and her Villains International League of Evil (V.I.L.E.). But let’s take a step back, for those who may be unfamiliar with the decades-old media franchise.
The whole thing kicked off with the 1985 release of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, a geogaphy-centric educational computer game that sends players on a wild chase around the globe to track the elusive criminal mastermind of the title. In the ensuing years, Carmen and the ACME Detective Agency faced off countless times in subsequent video games, game shows, animated series, books, comics and assorted other media. Jennifer Lopez and Sandra Bullock have even been attached to play Carmen Sandiego — who is normally depicted wearing a red trenchcoat and matching fedora — on the big screen, though that ultimately never came to fruition.
As someone who grew up not only with the computer games and the PBS game show, it has always felt like a missed opportunity to me that Carmen Sandiego never got her own family-friendly series of caper films before. The concept of a badass master criminal with impeccable fashion sense and a network of over-the-top subordinates across the world who specializes in stealing global landmarks and the like feels like something ripped right out of the Despicable Me series (which now makes me realize that Bullock essentially got to play a version of Carmen as Minions‘ Scarlet Overkill). Moreover, the idea of a Hispanic woman being depicted as the Blofeld-level genius behind an international criminal organization would have been an even fresher and more welcome bit of representation back in the series’ heyday than it will be today.
That being said, the combination of Rodriguez — who has proven herself adept at both comedy (on her TV series) and drama (stealing scenes from Oscar winner Natalie Portman in Annihilation this year, for instance) — and Perez sounds like it might finally be able to scratch an itch that honestly I had forgotten I even had at this point. Considering the broad premise at the heart of the Carmen Sandiego franchise, a film version really boils down to getting the tone just right. Play it too over the top, and you risk coming across too silly. Ground it too much, and you’re taking away the playfulness that made the games worth a trip down to your school’s computer lab.
Game Night managed to tow the line perfectly, keeping the hilarity on point without sacrificing the danger that its lead characters are in. Granted, that film is a hard-R romp intended for a far more mature audience than the Carmen Sandiego project, but adjusting your writing style for a specific audience is much easier to pull off than finding the right voice to blend the various elements of a very particular kind of story together.
Perez’s hiring is an inspired move on the part of the producers — including Rodriguez herself — and the folks at Netflix, capitalizing on his recent success and identifying his ability to translate the source material into what should be a thrilling romp for the whole family when it hits in the next year or two. For this fan of old-school Carmen Sandiego, the entire Netflix initiative to revive the franchise has just been upgraded from nostalgia-driven cash-grab to delayed wish fulfillment brought to promising new life. Well done, Netflix.
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