Some franchises feel like they hit just a bit too soon. Sometimes they are released just before the social, political, and pop-cultural context are right for them. It is hard to imagine a worse time to release a young adult series than June 1996. No matter how popular or great a series was, it only had a year until a little-known book about a British wizard would ultimately take over the world. But that is the world into which Animorphs entered.
Animorphs: A Synopsis
Animorphs was a series of 54 books, written by K. A. Applegate, following five teenagers who gain the ability to “morph” into any animal they touch. They use this power to fight an invasion of mind-stealing alien slugs, while still trying to live out their everyday middle school lives. Think Power Rangers but with more of a Teen Titans character dynamics. Animorphs also had a twenty-six-episode Nickelodeon television adaptation that was frankly terrible.
So why now?
It’s the TV show that I want to focus on, as it is more than due for a reboot. The books had their day in the sun, being that series you either loved, or at least saw your local library. But the show was a failure, through and through. Why it failed isn’t exactly a mystery: they took a blockbuster concept and gave it a Nickelodeon budget. The result was poor acting, laughable sub-Power Rangers rubber aliens, and the use of real animals instead of CGI.
This is also the saving grace of a reboot: all the problems with the original show are easily fixed in modern Hollywood, and not inherent to the work.
With the right budget, an Animorphs show would excel in the modern context. See, what made it so unique, in hindsight, was the character composition. The cast was made up of diverse, relatable characters. Through the course of the books, they went through believable and complex development. In a time when Harry Potter was all white folks except for the Patil twins and Kingsley Shacklebolt, Animorphs had an African-American girl and a Latinx boy in the lead. There was a constant focus on narratives related to immigration, race, gender, sexuality, war, sanity, innocence, leadership, and of course, growing up. This was not explored to the same depth by other young adult franchises until well after the series ended in 2001.
Like the modern social climate, visual effects technology is at a place where a reboot makes sense. In the sea of terrible movie that was The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Beorn’s transformation into a bear looks pretty damn good. And there’s no reason to use real animals; just look at what Jon Favreau did with The Jungle Book. The hokey rubber aliens can also be replaced with Falling Skies style CGI. But if The Flash proves anything, poorly generated creatures and effects aren’t a death sentence for a successful show, so long as there is character dynamic to support it.
And that’s good because the character interaction is where Animorphs shined. Applegate treated her characters as real teenagers, who are plagued by nightmares from the war they are fighting, while also worrying about making the basketball team. That’s exactly why a modern television adaptation would succeed. In a time when shows have the technology and budget to challenge film, a gritty, fun, and unapologetic young adult series about a diverse group of kids trying to survive school and war would stand out from the crowd.
Where to put it?
I’m thinking a Netflix adapted series, to allow for the creative freedom and audience necessary to make it work. And just to make it easier on them, check back for Let’s Cast: Animorphs Reboot.
What do you think of bringing back Animorphs? Pipe dream, or a great idea? Let us know in the comments!