Sunday, July 26, 2009

The 80s Are Back!

Alvin and the Chipmunks? Transformers? GI Joe? What is this, 1987 all over again? It certainly to seems that way, right, what with all the eighties cartoons making a cinematic comeback these days. But is this Reagan-era revival the best thing to ever happen Hollywood, or an indication that the business has finally run out of ideas? Or maybe a little of both?

“With Hollywood still enamored of the enormous summer blockbuster, they need to find material somewhere,” says legendary writer, Chuck Dixon, who’s probably most known for his work on Batman, but is currently working on the current G.I. Joe comic run on IDW publishing. “Franchises like Joe and Transformers are ready-made with a multi-generational fan base and billions of dollars in merchandising already in place. Kind of a no-brainer.”

No-brainer or not, whether less popular eighties shows should be given a Hollywood treatment is still up in the air as following G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra in August, there are already talks of a Thundercats, Masters of the Universe, and even a Fraggle Rock movie possibly looming in the shadows, maybe even as soon as next year.

“Honestly, I think [Hollywood is turning all of these eighties cartoons into movies] for the same reason why there are so many comic book adaptations being made,” says Entertainment Weekly Senior Editor and comic book writer of Genius and The Highwaymen, Marc Bernardin, “Because the people who have the power to greenlight these projects and now for our generation.

And what a generation it is, especially when it comes to buying tickets to said greenlit projects. People, mostly males, within the ages of 18-49, have been Hollywood;s key demographic for years now, with those long, snaking lines for the Transformers movie being an indication that people actually DO want to see cars that turn into robots, and then back into cars again.

Just check out the figures if you don’t believe the hype. The original Michael Bay Transformers movie in 2007 made over $700,000,000 dollars worldwide. That’s a whole lot of 18-49 year olds who want to see Optimus Prime turn into a Semi truck and fight a fighter jet named Megatron.

But it wasn’t just 18-49 year olds who wanted to see if though. Remember, a tentpole franchise like Transformers or G.I. Joe is built with EVERYBODY in mind, which is why many hardcore fans of the Transformers universe might have cried foul that Megatron was a fighter jet in the movie rather than a hand pistol. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the population couldn’t give a crap—User ratings on the popular website, Internet Movie Data Base (IMBD) are at a favorable 7.4 percent for the film.

In comparison, just look at the original Transformers and G.I. Joe animated features that came out in 1986 and 1987, respectively. Total, even with inflation prices tacked on, neither of those movies made ever a quarter of what Bay’s Transformers did.

“At the end of the day, pleasing the fans is only a concern AFTER you lease the license holder,” says Bernardin, “And the license holder wants to keep the franchise viable…to, in this case, sell toys.”

So, even though the fans might be a margin of who is equated into the overall picture, it’s that little boy who’s never even HEARD of Transformers before but is going to want an action figure after the movie that makes these franchises so viable today, as it’s been proven that the diehard fans just don’t come out in droves to these pictures. And that’s what makes this revival such a good idea in the first place—these films get both the Gen X’ers who remember the franchises, as well as their children into the theaters. It’s a brilliant idea, really, even if it DOES seem like a bit of a cheap trick from Hollywood.

But that’s beside the point, as everybody knows Hollywood’s primary goal in the summer is to make as much lucre as possible. And if Hollywood is going to do that by bringing back the oldies, then so be it. That makes the key question then not so much WHY Hollywood is doing this, but rather, whether the lesser known shows from the eighties are going to start popping up when Hollywood runs out of its G.I. Joe’s and its Transformers. Editor-in Chief, Josh Tyler of certainly thinks so.

“Everyone wants to have the next Transformers, though, maybe it all started with the success of those Scooby Doo movies,” Tyler says. “Both franchises have made a ridiculous amount of money so now Hollywood thinks that they can do the same with any eighties cartoon. So we’re stuck with Voltron and G.I. Joe and Thundercats and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone does Gummi Bears. Most of them won’t work and eventually the eighties cartoon craze will cool off.”

Before we start cringing at the prospect of a modernized Gummi Bears movie where they shoot lazer beams and lightning bolts out of their eyes, though, keep in mind that while the head execs in Hollywood might be greedy, rapacious, and sometimes even dimwitted at times, Hollywood isn’t dumb. So even though it’s likely that they might make a Care Bears, a Fraggle Rock, or even a Smurfs movie, they wouldn’t tamper with them in a way that would totally be off the beaten path and would offend anybody old enough to really remember or care about them.

In other words, Transformers and G.I. Joe have ALWAYS had the potential to become huge summer blockbusters since they dealt with adult themes like war, dictatorships, and heroism. Inversely, some of the other more playful cartoons like The Smurfs or Alvin and the Chipmunks have their own place today, too; albeit one that grown-ups won’t necessarily WANT to see but probably will still see anyway because their children want to see them. Either way, it still means big bucks for Hollywood.

That said, that doesn’t mean that EVERYTHING that comes from the eighties should be made into a movie. But in the end though, it seems like people these days fall into three different camps when it comes to the matter—those who are for it, those who are against it, and those who are caught in between. “I’m much more dubious about board games being made into movies—yes, I’m looking at you, Candy Land,” says Mr. Bernardin, “At least with a cartoon there’s an extant story there, something to work from, something that, at one point or another, appealed to people on a dramatic level.”

Josh Tyler is a bit more cynical about it: “G.I. Joe seems like a bad idea. At the end of the day, it’s just a bunch of soldiers running around, and that’s been pretty well covered by movies before.” While Mr. Dixon falls somewhere in the middle: “Not every eighties cartoon is ripe for the big screen treatment. But Joe and the Transformers are time-tested and evergreen.

So, the lines have been drawn, and that leaves only one question left—What side do YOU happen to fall on?

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