It’s been over six months since the Hunger Games series ended and the world is crying out for another decent YA adaptation. Divergent did not prove to be diverting, The Maze Runner left us totally lost and Mortal Instruments sounds more like a heavy metal band than a film for teenagers. In fact, you can find a great comprehensive list of every failed YA series since Harry Potter here – cheers Indiewire.
The answer to the Young Adult franchise drought? Animorphs.
If you aren’t familiar with this nineties kids epic, Animorphs is a series of 54 novels and 6 companion books written (mostly) by K.A. Applegate, released from 1996 to 2001, and also later made into a kids’ TV show. Five American teens are on their way back from school one evening when they stumble upon an alien spaceship.
It’s piloted by Prince Elfangor, a member of the Andalite race (picture a blue centaur with a scorpion’s tail). He reveals that an evil alien race of Yeerks – slug-like creatures that crawl into a human’s ear canal and take over their minds and bodies – are slowly enslaving humanity. Just as he endows the lucky teens with the Andalite ability of morphing into any animal that they touch, the Yeerks arrive and kill him, leaving the teens to fight alone in a war to save humanity’s very existence…
So far, so wacky. But hold off on any judgement just yet: there’s much more depth to Animorphs than spaceships and shapeshifting. Besides, after Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor and even, god forbid, Jupiter Ascending, what’s a little bit of alien animal-morphing technology? Audiences of today are used to alien fantasy being mixed with a meaningful plot: clearly the timing is right for an Animorphs revival.
Nineties nostalgia is at a peak high, bankrolling both BuzzFeed Rewind and the recent All Saints comeback. Animorphs speaks to a pre-internet generation who love nothing more than to reminisce about what it was like when people actually went outside. In all seriousness, Jake, Cassie, Rachel, Tobias and Marco were a next-gen version of the Famous Five and the millennial audience is ready to get back onboard.
Children of the noughties want rich, complex narratives with material they can debate and analyse. With a wealth of canon material behind them, a diverse set of characters and plenty to say on violence, war, suicide, mind control and morality, the series is ripe for an intense Tumblr fandom. Just as the vampire trend exhausted Generation Y, Generation Z’s appetite for dystopian fiction must surely be waning. Enter Animorphs, something completely new and distinctive from the current crop of YA adaptations.
That may seem odd for an old book series but the fact that it’s not dystopian fiction and also is technically set in the past makes it a breath of fresh air (if you’d like to feel old, this year marks two decades since Animorphs was released). The allure of dystopian fiction has always been its ability to reveal unsettling aspects of our current society and its willingness to hand over power to teens to save the world. Animorphs still lets teens save the world, but it has a lot more in common with the current Marvel Cinematic Universe than it does The Hunger Games, both in content and tone. The gang of five have superpowers and are fighting an alien race (sound familiar?) but there is time for jokes amongst the tragedy, never taking itself more seriously than it has to. Though Marvel is riding high at the moment, the superhero bubble has to burst, and when it does, Animorphs can step right in.
At its heart, it is a great story. While dystopian franchises like Hunger Games or Divergent and the MCU all have something to say about government and society, Animorphs, arguably, is primarily concerned with the fundamental nature of humanity. Heavy stuff, maybe, but the series deserves serious kudos for the way it grapples again and again with what it means to be human. As its teen protagonists morph from animal to animal, they take on characteristics of the creatures they become: sometimes bloodthirsty and violent but equally playful, kind, or brave. It’s a brilliantly heightened way to explore humans: their dreams, their hopes, their failings, their strengths.
Horrifyingly, there is a time limit on each morph: if they stay as an animal for too long, they risk remaining in that form forever. In one of the smartest and most terrifying plot points of the series, (SPOILER ALERT) Tobias gets stuck as a hawk on an early mission and is left to pick up the pieces of his humanity. There is also, of course, the horror of the Yeerks taking over a human’s brain – an idea stolen by Stephenie Meyer’s The Host – rendering them immobile and silent in their own body. Much like The Hunger Games, Animorphs rarely gives its characters an easy out. Without spoiling any more, it never shies away from delving into the darkest dangers of each adventure.
Unfortunately, despite recurring rumours to the contrary, there are no confirmed plans to actually make Animorphs into a movie series. Even worse, one of the series’ authors, Michael Grant, has clearly stated that he would not like for the series to be adapted, mentioning that he doesn’t want “a replay of the Animorphs TV series”. Ouch. Still, with the right director (how about it Alfonso Gomez-Rejon?) a dedicated company behind it (you know you want to Summit Entertainment) and a J.K. Rowling level of input, hopefully they might yet be convinced.
Until then, here is a message from the Animorphs themselves:
We can’t tell you who we are. Or where we live. It’s too risky, and we’ve got to be careful. Really careful. So we don’t trust anyone. Because if they find us… well, we just won’t let them find us. The thing you’ve got to know is that everyone is in really big trouble. Yeah. Even you…