Many films have attempted to bring animated characters to live-action. However, few have succeeded in honoring the unique sensibilities and personalities of the source material during the transition, often horrifying longtime fans with the results (looking at you, The Last Airbender). Here are five examples of live-action films that managed to stay true to the spirit of the animated works on which they were based. To be fair, we’re not saying that these films are among the finest cinema has to offer, merely that they pleased fans and incorporated critical elements of the show into their adaptations.
1. Masters of the Universe (1987)
He-Man’s (Dolph Lundgren) big-screen adventure was a critical and financial flop when it hit theaters, but the years have been kind to the sci-fi/fantasy adventure. An entire generation of children who grew up playing with the show’s toys and shouting “I have the power!” at the top of their lungs now views it as a nostalgic favorite. True, many of the show’s characters — such as He-Man’s feline warrior Battle Cat, the magical Orko and assorted others — are absent, but the essentials are all here, despite its fish-out-of-water premise. Worth seeing for Frank Langella’s Skeletor alone.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Its theme song is ubiquitous, and if last year’s big-screen reboot (and next year’s sequel) are any indication, the franchise isn’t going anywhere for a while. However, these heroes on the half-shell could have easily ended up a big joke when they first made the leap to theaters. Though the film still has its fair share of playful humor — after all, the boys’ love of pizza remains firmly in place — this initial big-screen adventure hews more closely to the darker tone of the comic books, treating the characters more like a squad of reptilian Batmen than cartoon characters come to life.
3. George of the Jungle (1997)
Disney swung for the fences with this goofy take on the classic Jay Ward/Bill Scott animated series, and thanks in large part to stars Brendan Fraser, Leslie Mann and future Oscar nominee Thomas Haden Church, the result mostly works. Sure, it comes across as a self-aware comedic riff on Tarzan, but the film features enough laughs and wink-at-the-camera performances to ensure that audiences are in on the joke. A couple years later, Fraser would again try his hand at live-action cartoons with Dudley Do-Right, but it couldn’t come close to the over-the-top fun of this film.
4. Scooby-Doo (2002)
One of the most recognizable animated characters of all time, Scooby-Doo — along with his pals from Mystery Inc. — made the leap from small-screen favorite to big-screen smash with this release. What makes the film adaptation work so well is its playful acknowledgment of its own characters’ archetypal personas as well as pitch-perfect performances from the likes of Matthew Lillard and Linda Cardellini. As if this all wasn’t enough to win over fans of the show, its third-act twist reveals just how much the creative team behind the film was committed to paying tribute to the fans.
5. Transformers (2007)
Michael Bay may face consistent criticism from a vocal chunk of moviegoers with regards to his storytelling skills, but for fans of Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots, this film — and its ongoing onslaught of sequels — brought the epic scale of the animated series to life with incredible detail and engaging, Oscar-nominated visual effects. The fact that original Optimus Prime voice actor Peter Cullen has remained in the role despite its transition to live action speaks volumes. Thanks to the films, a new generation of fans has grown to love the same characters as their parents.
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