Lately, Hollywood has made a habit of taking time-honored classics, and giving them “dark, gritty” reboots. We’ve seen everything from Little Women to DC’s superhero universe employ this strategy, as one that runs in line with what audiences seem to want. The days of cartoon-y ridiculousness are well behind us, and the film industry has reacted accordingly. And while “dark and gritty” has become the lazy way to describe a movie with mature content and a pessimistic outlook, it does make it easier to parse down complex themes into digestible pieces.
This leads us to the main event: The planned Animorphs reboot from Universal. Carrying with it the usual claims of “this will be a dark, gritty reimagining,” we may finally have the childhood property that fits this mold perfectly. For anyone unfamiliar with the story, Animorphs was a series of YA books written by K.A. Applegate in the late-90s, following a group of teens given the ability to turn into animals by a dying alien crash-landed on Earth. They then used these powers to battle an alien invader silently taking over human hosts.
The basic concept seems doomed for another Young Adult franchise failure, but if you dig deeper into the actual books, there are some decidedly not-safe-for-children themes. The Mary-Sue outlines just how crazy things got throughout the run of the series:
Over the 54-book series and its larger event novels, they fight, turn into animals, get trapped in animal bodies, get maimed and killed and come back to life (in some cases), experience psychological trauma from dealing with animal brains, hear each others’ mental anguish and screams through their ‘thought-speak’ ability, have their brains invaded by evil aliens, and generally do things a TV adaptation could never handle well—even if it hadn’t been aimed at kids.
All this fits perfectly into the “dark and gritty” box that Hollywood has constructed for a large swathe of their attempted reboots, and if done right, could end up as a rare success story for that strategy.
The exact plans for the franchise aren’t entirely clear, but we know the general feel Universal will attempt to capture thanks to a report from The Tracking Board. TB tells us that the studio is “interested in finding a capable writer/director with a knack for sci-fi, with Attack The Block scribe/director Joe Cornish and Ender’s Game writer/director Gavin Hood described as a template.” If somehow an Animorphs movie can capture some combination of Ender’s Game and Attack the Block, we’d have a killer sci-fi franchise with ambitions far beyond what we usually see for projects like this.
The one cause of trepidation here is the knowledge that past efforts to reboot Scholastic’s collection of 1990s YA books already seem entirely unnecessary. October will see the release of Goosebumps, starring Jack Black as author R.L. Stine, and early trailers aren’t promising. Even so though, this could very well be a product of adapting the wrong book series, with Animorphs providing a much richer and cohesive story for a studio to convert to the silver screen.
More details concerning the planned project will likely surface over the next few months, but what’s important is that we finally have an example of Hollywood’s reboot machine actually working in our favor. It’ll take a skillful approach and a solid creative team, but there’s massive potential for a science-fiction adaptation here that could appeal to both new audiences, and ones that grew up reading these books.
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