Going from supermarket to spaceport, Sausage Party director Conrad Vernon has signed on to direct the animated feature film adaptation of The Jetsons. Somehow, the big screen version of the 1960s animated comedy has managed to yet again crawl its way out of developmental hell. This is just the latest development in a twenty year saga of stalls that include attempts at animated and live action adaptations. Directors like A Walk to Remember‘s Adam Shankman and Sin City‘s Robert Rodriguez were previously attached, before parting ways.
Being mired in a production bog is not reason enough to say that a movie should be abandoned. Dallas Buyers Club was written in 1992 and went through three directors, and Deadpool was in production for a decade. Given their eventual success, it’s safe to say that to have given up on either of them would have been a mistake. The Jetsons’ problem isn’t that it has taken a long time to make. Rather, it’s being made at exactly the wrong time. And unless they are very creative, it will not succeed.
Setting the Stage: Hanna-Barbera and the Adult Sitcom
On September 30th, 1960, at 8:30 PM, Hanna-Barbera changed television forever. They debuted the first adult targeted animated sitcom, about a simple blue-collar family dealing with everyday issues. That family consisted of a crane operator, his loving wife, and later their daughter, as they navigated problems familiar to the average 60’s American family. The day after its premiere it was deemed a flop by critics, complaining about the low-brow humor and derivative plot lines. In 1961, it would be nominated for an Outstanding Comedy Series Primetime Emmy Award. In total, 166 episodes were produced over six years, and were rerun continuously for fifty years. And it was all built on “Yabba-Dabba-Doo!”
Hanna-Barbera knew that they had a hit with The Flinstones, and followed up with what seemed a winning formula: the exact same show but set in a space-age city 100 years in the future. The Jetsons premiered on Sunday, September 23, 1962 as the first program in color on NBC. The critical reception was largely the same. The public response was not; the show ran for 24 episodes before moving to Saturday morning syndication. There, like The Flinstones, it would become a cultural powerhouse among succeeding generations of children.
Perfectly Timed Success
The reason The Flinstones and The Jetsons worked so well in syndication is simple: their sitcom premises were recognizable to the adults at whom they were aimed, while the animation and slapstick comedy appealed to the kids on Saturday morning. Both revolved around a “typical” white American family, with a husband who worked at a blue-collar job with a tough boss, a wife who was loving though shopping prone, and kids who got up to all sorts of shenanigans.
The important difference between the shows is their setting. The Jetsons was reflective of everything that Space Age America had promised: jetpacks, robots, flying cars, moving sidewalks, etc. Parents could see themselves reflected in George and Jane Jetson’s struggles with new fangled gadgets and disobedient children, while still enjoying the utopian futurist vision painted by the show. As syndicated time passed, kids could enjoy their parent’s increasingly antiquated vision of the future.
Futurism is Now…And it Sucks
The Jetsons succeeded, in part, because it painted a futuristic picture that Space Age America not only wanted, but expected. Of course, that future world is ours now. Things that appeared in the show that are now a reality include: 3D television, moving sidewalks, tablet computers, the computer virus, on-demand virtual exercise programs, and video chat. Others are still in development, like the pneumatic tube transport system that Elroy uses to go to school.
While our technology is the same, the utopia painted by the show is very much absent. George Jetson works 3 hours a day at a job that requires him to literally push a single button, and is still able to give his wife, two children, and dog a middle to upper-middle class life. Even a realistic version of this humorous scenario is, today, unthinkable.
This lack of futuristic idealism is exactly why a film adaptation of The Jetsons wouldn’t work today. It’s no longer the future; it’s the now, and we know better. The show has taken on a depressing nostalgia, the Boomer vision of the future that never came to be.
There’s Could Still be a Rosey Future
So then how to fix this temporal issue that The Jetsons faces? Vernon and Co. would be smart to look to the show’s perennial sister. The Flinstones had an incredibly successful comic series, published through DC Comics. It ran for a year, and was met with critical appraise. Across just twelve issues, the series managed to bring a sixty year old show into relevance by updating the problems faced by the famous Stone Age family.
Wilma now has a character beyond being Fred’s wife, with complex motivations and desires. Fred and Barney Rubble encounter issues of worker’s rights, the ills of capitalism, racism (against Neanderthals), and changing gender norms. Even Fred and Wilma’s relationship is put into a fascinating social context, with their marriage seen as atypical. This allowed newer readers the same engagement their parents had with the original show. They saw a fairly typical blue-collar family dealing with updated modern issues, in a Stone Age aesthetic.
The Jetsons would be smart to follow a similar route. Their version of a utopia was that envisioned by Space Age 60’s America: technological improvements would allow for easier lives that would change little about the social mechanics of American families. To connect with a modern audience, that falsehood must be addressed.
Jane is the key to this updated story. The typical American sitcom doting mother/wife whose primary personality trait is to shop no longer works. By keeping the idyllic future, supposedly made utopian by their technology, the movie can easily and effectively comment on two things for Jane:
1) This narrative of technology based utopia was already sold to women during the 50s and 60s. Household appliances were going to save them considerable time, “allowing” them to be modern women. Instead, they created higher standards of efficiency, requiring more time to maintain their modern household. Personal assistant devices, smartphones, and on demand companies are creating this same basic principle today.
2) The future envisioned in The Jetsons is one that promoted no social change in the dynamics of the family, wherein the wife’s job was to maintain the home while the husband worked. In reality, the percentage of women in the workplace increased considerably. The percentage of women with a college degree has tripled since the show’s premiere.
Addressing these points will allow audiences to connect with the characters more than a direct adaptation would. Millennials will recognize the modernity of the story set against a classic background (see: Wonder Woman). GenX and Boomers will have a more realistic nostalgia, seeing both the future they dreamed of, and the one they made for themselves. Kids will have a fun aesthetic, a role model character, and Elroy and Astro.
Even if The Jetsons takes a modern approach to their movie, Vernon and Co. have their work cut out for them. Commenting on a generation, modern technological reliance, gender norms, and more, while still making it funny and family friendly is no easy task. If they succeed, the Warner Animation Group could have a veritable hit. It’s a movie that appeals to four generations and is highly marketable.
Plus, it already has a contiguously catchy theme song.
Do you think The Jetsons film will ever get made? How would you change it for the big screen? Let us know on Twitter and Facebook, and in the comments below!