It’s Time to Reboot: Animorphs

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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.

Fun Fact: Shawn Ashmore (Iceman from the X-Men franchise) was the lead actor in the Animorphs Nickelodeon show.

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.

An example of how low-budget the aliens were.

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.

It’s not the worst VFX of the 90’s. But it’s not great either.

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!

Eric Moraleshttps://oneticketpleaseblog.wordpress.com
Eric Morales is from the bear-ridden schools of Wyoming, but in his 5th year in Chicago. More importantly, he achieved minor Twitter fame once and hasn't stopped bringing it up since. He has a healthy obsession with Star Wars, Wonder Woman, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Bulbasaur. Please validate him by following him on Twitter, @ericsmorals

8 COMMENTS

  1. My fantasy is a Netflix series headed by Greg Weisman.

    One correction, though, and it’s something I see a lot. Animorphs wasn’t a young adult series; it was a kids’ series. Like, grades 3-5 — a hair younger than the Percy Jackson crowd. That’s who the language was tailored to, that’s who it was sold to, that’s what it won awards for. I suspect most of the people who call it a YA series are thinking back to when they read it as children, remembering all the gore and general nightmarishness, and thinking, “They couldn’t have been for us. They just couldn’t.”

    But they were. You can get away with practically any amount of violence as long as it’s getting kids to read.

    • Shay, good point. No amount of violence is too much in America, just as long as they don’t show any sex organs.

  2. Like Animorphs? Then you need to be listening to the Thought-Speak podcast! The hosts, Mitchell and Coleman, are going through the entire series from start to finish in an effort to discuss, recap, and review each book.

  3. I completely agree with you – I just finished a re-read of all the books in 2015, and I’m still thinking and talking about Animorphs regularly – even going so far as to use it as subject material for some of my master’s-level papers. I only saw the first episode or two of the tv show, but I think it is definitely time for a reboot – with all the technology at our disposal, the morphing and battle scenes as animals would be much easier to render accurately and with much more believability. Plus as you say, it was the characters and their growth and development which really carried the series, through every trip to the Yeerk pool, every school dance, every battle just to hold ground, every meet up at the Cinnabon just to relax and chill like regular teenagers. Not to mention, so much of the series is just as relevant today, if not more relevant, than it was in the late 90s/early 2000s: diversity, protecting nature, acceptance of others “not like you”, finding morality in tough situations, and more.

    • Couldn’t agree more! It’s unique while still fitting into the palpable meta of today’s tv. I also hope it brings renewed interest to the books. Thanks for reading!

      • Animated would give the series the freedom that live action would not. Yes our effects now are amazing, but I think we might lose some effects of the sheer scale of the universe that building sets would hinder. Animated would let the characters go to all the different areas, and would also allow for a massive range of animals that they had in the books. Plus, I think it would allow for a heavier hand on the gore without turning this into a MA-rated show that Netflix is rather prone to doing. It’s not a kids show, but it should not be completely shut off to them either. (I’ll eventually get a first episode storyboard done to show what I think its potential is, haha)

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