What a time to be alive. Bryan Cranston, 25 years and six Emmys after playing “Snizzard” in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, is returning to the franchise reboot as the all-new ultra-realistic Zordon. The actor, best known for Breaking Bad and his Oscar-nominated turn in Trumbo, always brings a certain level of intensity to even the lightest of roles. So thank god he’s here to play Zordon, a giant head trapped in a tube whose slightly electronic baritone was always the most respectable thing in the original Rangers franchise, at least until his untimely and frankly rather traumatising self-sacrifice at the end of the Power Rangers in Space series back in ’98.
Everything about Power Rangers – the grim and gritty 2k17 edition – has been specially crafted to appeal to a wide demographic of self-loathing nostalgia-mongers keen to see any and every property they hold dear exhumed for inspection and re-evaluation, aka “reboots”. Which is no bad thing; one of the finest thought experiments in any social situation is “what would x be like in real life?”
So it is that in recent years, we’ve had a pseudo-late night Muppets reimagining that proved a little too cynical for many viewers; a pair of excellent movies riffing on the joy of LEGO; and, amazingly, a proper version of A Series of Unfortunate Events, after the previous interpretation apparently forgot the “unfortunate” part. Even bloody Trumpton got a gritty reboot last year, courtesy of Radiohead. And this is before we get onto the ongoing wave of pointless wonder that is every single Disney remake, and the far more pleasing (if, disturbingly, probably now perpetual) returns to the Star Wars universe.
But why stop with properties that have already been squeezed dry onscreen? This is the main complaint with each of these reboots. Donald Glover and nice CGI is fine, but we already have Matthew Broderick and nice cel animation. To that end, here are ten kids’ properties that deserve to finally fulfill their big-screen potential:
Oh wait, we’ve been through this before. Sorry.
1. Johnny Bravo
A man-out-of-time even at the time, who could be resurrected quite brilliantly by any of a number of brilliant modern comedy-writers. There’s a tragicomic listlessness to Johnny, that preening bundle of macho insecurities, that – no, seriously – Lena Dunham would just about have the chops for. Though pressing further than Girls, we can look to similar themes in Broad City and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, both of which have far more surreal sensibilities that could serve Johnny Bravo even better.
That gendered touch may be key here; the Bravo show was always so clearly on the side of Johnny’s objects (the operative word) of affection, even while keeping its leading man appealingly hapless. It’s quite the comedic balancing-act really, though nothing unfamiliar to Cartoon Network fans (Dexter, Eddy, I.R. Baboon, etc.). But aside from whatever critical angles one applies to it, everything about Johnny Bravo is just an excellent idea – right down to its wonderfully self-reflexive humour. Get America’s Beefcake, Channing Tatum, in for the lead role; all you need then is to cast Richard Jenkins as Pop, and, er, a Melissa Leo type as Johnny’s Mama, and you’ve got the makings of a classic.
Also, Aziz Ansari would be an incredible Carl.
2. The Rescuers
We already think, in redoing timeless and beloved fare like Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book and The Lion King, that Disney are giving themselves short shrift – why not the more obscure nuggets collected here?
Last time we had a Rescuers movie, the pair went Down Under while the directors somehow coerced Oscar winner George C. Scott into delivering the line “I’m twice as smart as you are!” to a lizard. This is why the property is so worth a revisit – anything can happen. It’s not just about making the same story with slight tweaks; it’s infinite opportunities (beginning perhaps with Margery Sharp’s original nine novels) for world-exploration.
All you need is Bianca, Bernard and a bird. Then you draw from a range of interesting socioeconomic contexts to find a plucky child in danger, create a memorable family villain, and you’re set. Also, at least half of it’s basically a screwball comedy. Forget doing big, bloated summer action films; this is where a quirky indie director really could step up to the next level. If Martin Scorsese can do Hugo, then we can have a good Rescuers rehash.
There already is a live action Pokémon film coming, but hopes aren’t high. The director, Rob Letterman, is a very good choice, after Monsters vs. Aliens and Goosebumps, but basing it on the decidedly extra out-there Great Detective Pikachu? What a missed opportunity for a beloved property.
The summer of 2016 saw the greatest sign yet that Pokémon can survive IRL. Forget Kanto, Johto and the other colourful worlds; if we can catch a Pidgey in Trafalgar Square, or a Parasect in a failing hospital (in a world where all the Chanseys are going back overseas), then we’re already halfway to the uncomfortably realist Ken Loach’s Pokémon.
Where previous Poké-movies have fallen down through an irritating need to forcibly “go big” against the series’ ongoing narrative, the advantage of a full-on reboot would be the possibility to just do the basic story again: young trainer catches monsters, makes friends, fights rival, gets to Championships. None of this Mewtwo gubbins, or weird sojourns with Entei and the Unown. And definitely not a talking detective goddamn Pikachu. Just a straightforward Pokémon story, set in a slightly advanced version of the real world for novelty value, and some insane CGI. Directed by Jon Favreau, or indeed Rob Letterman.
4. Stuart Little
If David Byrne could live in the brownstone and live in the ghetto, then Manhattan’s favourite sentimental rodent surely can too. What was the point of fobbing him off on Hugh Laurie, Geena Davis and Jonathan Lipnicki? At the very least, Stuart should’ve gone to the family from Home Alone; sure, they may be rich, but they’re also charmingly neglectful. That’s a more relatable balance already.
It’s never entirely clear what the point of Stuart Little is: does this rodent adoptee teach the family how to love? Or do they teach him how to feel accepted? In either case, the Littles are already loving and Stuart already feels accepted. In retrospect, this half-assed project was the first sign that screenwriter M. Night Shyamalan (that is completely true) was going down the tube.
I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I never found anything to grasp onto with these two terrible films, apart from Nathan Lane’s grumpy cat Snowbell. Lazy, sarcastic, and morbidly self-loathing,
Nathan Lane Snowbell is a true role model. So let’s have more of that; let’s have a Stuart Little reboot with real thrust and real characters – real stakes, that is, and most importantly, real life lessons. If this mouse is meant to teach us something, then let him teach us something. Black, white, Latino; rich, poor, oligarchic; happy, unhappy, psychotic – pick a family of interest, give ’em an optimistic talking mouse, and see how much greater a young audience’s response will be.
Like fellow Disney Channel classic Recess, there’s a lot that can be done with Fillmore!‘s reimagining of the school playground. The advantages this one has over its more popular cousin, though, are twofold: one, this is high school, not elementary, which can lead to far greater things cinematically (even if Recess‘ feral Kindergartners were a timeless stroke of genius); two, Fillmore! has a far keener and more interesting sense of genre. If you’re not familiar with this cult series, it is, in short, a crime show.
Parodying crime tropes through an adolescent lens is no longer so unconventional – which is another way of saying it’s tried, tested and can happily accommodate another go-around. We’ve had Brick and Veronica Mars, and we’ve had a whole raft of high school movies taking cues from the 1980s and ’90s, but Fillmore! has the coolest decade of them all on its side, and a keen eye for Blaxploitation. As one of those rare properties where the three most prominent characters are respectively black, female and incredibly overweight, this more than anything else is potentially the reboot for the 2010s.
6. Nightmare Ned
Probably the most obscure property on this list, Nightmare Ned – which was based on a forgotten arcade game – ran for 12 episodes in 1998, but left a huge impression on about that number of people. Hopefully, one of these 12 people is now writing for Hollywood – because Nightmare Ned was black-comic genius. A nervous schoolboy finds himself confronting a relatable issue, and becomes consumed with anxiety figuring out how to deal with it. Most of the episode is then devoted to an absolutely insane, head-twisting oneiric trauma as a sleeping Ned works out his issues and wakes the next day with a new lease on life. To paraphrase Goya, the sleep of monsters produces reason. Or something.
The point is, this lends itself nicely – and imaginatively – to a solid kids’ film. A 90-minute three-act structure could see Ned, plagued with big-budget surrealist nightmares over the smallest things, eventually understanding and resolving the ultimate cause of his blatant sleep disorder: maybe his parents are getting divorced, or a family member is dying.
Much like the successful Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has dealt imaginatively with the more humdrum aspects of growing up, and the recent Paper Planes found a quirky frame for its rather dark situations, Nightmare Ned could work wonders if rebooted. As long as it was just as bizarre as serious. We really can’t undersell that bizarreness enough.
7. The Wild Thornberrys
This show admittedly got pretty real and gritty in its kids’ incarnation – and why not? Two explorer parents selfishly pack up their kids for an indefinite excursion into the uncharted wild? No wonder their youngest daughter went crazy and thought she could talk to the animals.
The family dynamics were relentlessly examined and prodded, to incredibly powerful effect. Depending on the filmmaker(s), a Thornberrys reboot could either use these more close-to-home elements to bolster the magical stuff, or vice versa; turn the Dolittle weirdness into a metaphor for adolescent alienation, more in line with Spike Jonze’s divisively deep (utterly tremendous) Where the Wild Things Are adaptation, and you could create the rare reboot that attains its own offbeat brilliance. And what are kids’ movies for if not indulging the imagination? Give this to a director working on the same symbolic plane as, say, Kelly Reichardt, and this could be her answer to, say, Hugo.
8. Hey Arnold!
A lot of entries on this list are at least partly joking, but Hey Arnold! genuinely has a cast ripe and defined enough to survive any transition or basic reimagining. Especially Stinky.
This could be rebooted to live action and still be fundamentally appealing, particularly if it retained the original’s consciously rather timeless setting: at once intrinsically 1990s yet plausibly mid-century, taking place in a kind of inner city melting-pot specific to creator Craig Bartlett yet distinctly recognisable to just about anyone.
So we’ve got a solid backdrop: what about a plot? Well, this is where filmmakers can have a lot of fun with the denizens of Hillwood – it’s wide open. A previous feature-length outing fumbled a bit by going for the typical “X’s Big Movie!” approach and pursuing some half-baked environmental plot involving a local park. This time round, if the filmmakers wanted currency, they could arguably draw a lot from issues such as immigration, deportation, or even the much wider issue of climate change – any of which would at least make a change from similar kids’ properties on the big screen.
Although really, the best way to do Hey Arnold! would be to make it three hours long and following a series of roughly-connected vignettes, like a pre-adolescent Short Cuts. Get Paul Thomas Anderson on the line; this could be his answer to Hugo. Every critically-acclaimed director needs a Hugo.
9. Biker Mice from Mars
They already did Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a Michael Bay filter. And it was terrible. Twice. But if we’re being brutally honest, there’s no way TMNT can ever be good for anything beyond a pre-teen audience. After about 12 or 13, the idea of a bunch of Cowabunga-ing pizza-eaters tearing up the Big City can’t ever be re-experienced, even through a nostalgia lens; it is just downright stupid. End of.
Enter Biker Mice from Mars, which adds a bit of Mad Max colour to its central dudes. The show itself wasn’t much more advanced than TMNT, but the concept has a tad more flexibility. Yes, it would be the absolute worst thing in the world – but it would also be the absolute best.
The generic hair metal soloing. The flying bikes. The nuclear mushroom clouds. If the filmmakers take their bikers – again, inherently more violent than ninja-ing turtles, which even in sanitised form is a lot more awesome – and ramp their adventures up to a head-spinningly hyperbolic level, you may have the makings of a family-audience John Wick, or The Raid, or Crank, or again Mad Max: so wildly, impossibly awesome that it’s almost too perfect for our world.
10. ALF/Harry and the Hendersons/Teacher’s Pet
Despite briefly returning in Pog form, ALF has basically been off our screens since 1990, when (notoriously) he was finally caught by the government and (presumably; equally notoriously, and quite traumatically) taken away for weird experiments and probable disembowelment. A hasty 1996 sequel showing him alive and well hardly counts in the popular conscious – if rebooted, we’ve already crossed a particular dramatic threshold: the stakes, in a world of IS and Gitmo, are viscerally high. Remember when they tried to grittily reboot James Bond and came up with the first 15 minutes of Die Another Day? Well, the ALF reboot is already better; it involves a wisecracking puppet.
Of course, for lighter creature-concealment fare, there’s always Harry and the Hendersons, that classic John Lithgow-meets-Sasquatch romp, or Teacher’s Pet, in which Nathan Lane memorably played a precocious dog tangoing with the public education system. Either way, if we are going to reopen one of these multiple cans of worms, there’s only one director for the job: David O. Russell, in his family-film debut.
Think of the possibilities! His three finest films – The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and Joy – are all about strong ensembles shouting at each other, grappling with differences of opinion. All you need to do is throw an alien, a Bigfoot or a clever canine into the mix for extra frisson and you’re already halfway there. It’ll be Russell’s Stuart Little, I mean, Hugo.