Any Franchise Left To Its Own Devices Will Go Off The Rails
We are living in a uniquely bizarre period of time where, for better or worse, every piece of pop culture from the past few decades is getting constantly rebooted "for a new generation." On a good day, this means creative people putting an interesting spin on an old property, like 21 Jump Street or Batman Begins. On a bad day, it means making Batman Begins with Garfield instead of Batman, or crafting an elaborate backstory for Pac-Man involving political intrigue and state-sanctioned mass murder.
Here are six franchises that tried to reinvent themselves and flew completely off the rails in the process.
In Japan, Endless The Ring And The Grudge Sequels Culminated In A Ridiculous Crossover Movie
Back in the late '90s, a Japanese public information film called Ringu was released about the dangers of watching cursed VHS tapes haunted by pasty dead children. Around the same time, a Japanese film called Ju-On came out that also ended up being about curses and little girl ghosts. Both films were of course remade by Hollywood (titled The Ring and The Grudge, respectively) and enjoyed brief success as American horror franchises.
But while America's obsession with remaking Japanese horror films disappeared in the mid 2000s, in their home country both films spawned a relentless barrage of ridiculous follow-ups, because painting a little girl white and telling her to croak at a camera is wildly inexpensive.
Between the two franchises, they would crank out 13 sequels, prequels and spin-offs in Japan alone. All of the good ideas long exhausted, they finally did a merger. Thus, Sadako Vs. Kayako:
Sadako Vs. Kayako: Dawn of Justice
It's the Japanese equivalent of Freddy Vs. Jason, only with a smaller costume budget and way more creepy wells. It tells the now classic story of some teenagers watching a cursed VHS tape, who then meet another teenager who is cursed because she lives in a haunted house. They get the admittedly awesome idea to team up and pit their respective curse ghosts against each other, but it does the complete opposite of work. Instead of destroying each other, the two ghosts join forces to become a fantastical super phantom and just fucking kill everybody.
"Guys, be real. Is there a nude ghost kid on my neck?"
Unlike Freddy Vs. Jason, where both franchises had become ridiculous parodies of themselves even before they fought each other, Sadako Vs. Kayako is a complete tonal shift from either Ringu or Ju-On. While the original franchises were slow-burn horror films that gradually cranked up the creeps, the Ju-On vs. Ringu film is paced like a meth lab explosion.
They even reduce the amount of time you have left to live after watching the cursed VHS tape -- in the original, you have seven days to spread the curse or else suffer a death that can only be described as "embarrassing." In Sadako Vs. Kayako, you have two. The film is so eager to skip straight to ghost murder that they increased the speed of their curses by 350 percent. The film ends (SPOILER ALERT) with the two ghosts merging, proving that even in the afterlife the free market favors consolidation.
As if to prove that truly insane ideas can always get even more insane, a group of young actors dressed up like ghosts and played baseball against each other to promote the release of Sadako Vs. Kayako. This stunt was doubly ridiculous because any manager worth a damn knows the tormented souls of murdered children can't hit a curveball.
Does watching the game trigger the curse too?
Garfield Became A Ripped Humanoid Superhero
Garfield is simultaneously the ongoing adventures of a fat, lazy cat who never leaves his house and the story of a talented cartoonist who has been phoning it in for more decades than most of us have been alive. The appeal of the Garfield comic strip is a shining example of how consistently terrible you can be at something and still have a hugely successful merchandising career.
To wit -- in addition to countless calendars, plush toys, and incomprehensible sassy posters, Garfield starred in an equally incomprehensible series of novels beginning in 1998 that recast him as a muscle-bound superhero. The series was called Garfield's Pet Force, featuring the titular cat with his head stuck on the body of a human power lifter.
Appropriately published by Troll.
In the simultaneously overcomplicated and unambitious world of Pet Force (which takes place in a comic book in Garfield's world), there's a parallel dimension ruled over by Emperor Jon Arbuckle (Garfield's owner) and protected by the Pet Force. Peace is being threatened by Vetvix, the parallel universe's version of Liz, the veterinarian that Jon has been sexually harassing for years.
Garfield becomes super-strong Garzooka, Odie turns into the also super-strong Odious, Arlene becomes Starlena and gains singing powers, Nermal gets freezing and forcefield powers as Abnermal, and Pookie becomes a cyborg teddy bear called Compooky. If Jim Davis molested a can of alphabet soup, its subsequent testimony would spell out the plot to Garfield's Pet Force.
Jim Davis is a fucking war criminal.
Despite being an idea that would seem like a stretch for a piece of fanfiction, the saga of Garfield's Pet Force unfolded over the course of six goddamn novels. Not comics -- novels. And it played the premise much more seriously than it deserved, sometimes going to legitimately dark places. For example, here's a scene in which Vetvix banishes the Pet Force to the cartoon cat equivalent of Hell World:
...What cafeterias has Jim Davis been eating in?
The last book was published in 1999, and the casual reader would have been justified in thinking that Jim Davis had sobered up and moved on. But no, in 2009 Pet Force came screaming back to hideous life in the form of a feature-length CGI movie that, despite being distributed by 20th Century Fox, looked like a cutscene from a mid-90s PlayStation game:
Refusing to let a bad idea die, Jim Davis reanimated Pet Force AGAIN in 2013 as an actual comic book, for all of those novel readers who were struggling to picture Pet Force in their mind's eye:
Katy Perry actually has a cat named Kitty Purry. The correct pun was right there in front of you, man.
G.I. Joe Became An "Extreme" 90s Cartoon
G.I. Joe was a daring, highly trained special mission force made up of colorful, thematic heroes. They were like the living center of a Venn diagram combining the world's deadliest commandos and the world's proudest disco band. And for most of the 1980s, they used heavy kicks, lasers, and safety lessons to defend the planet from the ruthless terrorist organization, Cobra. The decision to reboot the show in the 1990s seems like the most obvious choice ever made, next to adding dinosaurs to the Transformers universe.
However, most properties in the 90s were doing their best to be "extreme," a term which was never unilaterally defined but almost always meant more muscles, guns, pouches, spikes, scowls, and neon. We've just described G.I. Joe Extreme in its entirety.
Oh, eyepatches. We forgot those.
You may ask yourself, how does one go about squeezing more extreme from a cartoon already made up entirely of karate, explosions, and parachutes? To that we say, "Go back and read the previous sentence."
"Hey kids, are you ready to get EYE-FUCKED by lightning tanks?"
To let the viewers know their cartoon wasn't messing around, G.I. Joe Extreme (and let's note their restraint in not spelling it "Exxtreme") featured a live-action introduction, despite the fact that the show itself was animated, presumably by an art team of chrome skeletons on flaming windsurf boards.
It's not easy to parse a storyline between so many screams and electric guitar riffs, but G.I. Joe Extreme was a complete reboot, cutting G.I. Joe down from two hundred thousand battling toy advertisements to a ragtag handful of mercenaries. Instead of detailing each one, we'll just note that one member was named Metalhead and his action figure came with a combination machine gun/rocket launcher/keytar:
Note the keys. We're assuming the peace symbol was ironic?
The Extreme team also featured a girl, who was a pilot reassuringly codenamed "Mayday" introduced to the series in a storyline about the other Joes getting upset about having to be on the same team as a woman. Meanwhile, the original G.I. Joe team featured twice as many women, and nobody seemed to have any contempt for their ovaries.
"What about Cobra Commander and his ruthless gang of lackeys?" you may be asking. Apparently they never existed, since they're never mentioned at any point in the show. Instead, the main antagonist is some guy named "Iron Klaw" who looks like Saddam Hussein combined with the entire cast of Mortal Kombat.
Somewhere, Rob Liefeld just got hard.
A whopping 26 episodes were produced before the period that would be known to historians as the Extreme Era (they still differ on how many X's to use) came to a close.
The Flintstones Became A Hyper-Realistic Adult Drama
Modern kids probably don't realize that there used to be an entire animated TV series based on the lives of the guys on the Fruity Pebbles box. DC Comics wanted to reboot The Flintstones and knew that today's audiences would need this somewhat historically inaccurate franchise to look a bit more grounded. Thus, they transformed the cast from Hanna-Barbera caricatures into uncomfortably realistic-looking humans:
Betty and Wilma didn't make the transition as gracefully.
The modern re-imagining of the modern stone age family did more than place Fred and Barney in the uncanny valley of sexable cartoon protagonists. It discarded a lot of the gender roles in which the original 1960s show was entrenched to allow Betty and Wilma to have more identifiable personalities, and to enjoy hobbies other than nagging and harping.
For example, in one of the issues, Wilma takes up painting. Since she's technically a cavewoman, her paintings consist entirely of handprints, which would've been a way to toss in a jab at abstract art if this was the 60s Flintstones show, and maybe thrown in an overwrought cavemen portmanteau like Sandy Warhol or Jackson Polrock. The Flintstones comic, however, uses Wilma's painting to humorlessly explain the depth and importance of art and the quiet terror of existentialism.
In a later issue they deconstruct the unmitigated truth of "Yabba dabba do."
In another issue, The Flintstones dive headlong into the institution of marriage. Since marriage is new and radical in the town of Bedrock, there are scenes of various cavepeople struggling with it, getting counseling and discussing the implications of it. And not in a cute way. Here's Fred and Wilma getting hit with the sobering realization that marriage occasionally involves heartbreaking conflicts that are simultaneously no one's fault and impossible to resolve:
"Hey, don't cry honey. What's say you and I go home and you watch me get locked out of the house by a domesticated sabre cat?"
Which is not to say this reboot completely abandoned its goofy roots, since it still found time for things like caveman Carl Sagan using a dinosaur seesaw to launch a monkey into space while three different characters orchestrate a clumsy reference to a David Bowie song.
Easily the most fitting tribute to David Bowie.
Pac-Man Became An Elaborate Story About Genocide and Actual Hell
Quick: What's the storyline of Pac-Man? Most of you probably said "a yellow pie monster eating trash in a haunted maze." But if you happened to be an avid viewer of the Disney XD network from 2013 to 2015, your answer may have been a lot more complicated. Like "genocide" more complicated.
Great, Ms. Pac-Man is a hipster.
In the very first episode, we learn that a devastating global conflict has left the titular hero, the son of the original Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, the very last Pac-Person on the planet. Yes, a world war killed his kind down to a single child. It turns out Pac-People were once the rulers of Pac-World by birthright, because the ability to eat anything, including the very spirits of the dead, makes a compelling leadership argument. If you have 20 minutes of completely disposable time on your hands, you can watch the origin story of this Pac-Dystopia here:
Following the deaths of Mr. and Ms. Pac-Monarch, the president-elect of the new global Pac-Government rounded up the traitorous, genocidal insurgents -- led by a guy whose actual first name is "Betrayus" -- and had them all processed through a machine that, in the show's own words, "separates the consciousness" of a Pac-Person from their "physical body" and "banishes them to the nether-realm." Yes, the government designed a machine to rip the souls out of Pac-Men, which it did millions, perhaps billions, of times.
Creepily enough, their bodies are apparently "in storage" somewhere, and the process is reversible. Even so, the ghosts are referred to as "the dead" more than once, and the "nether realm" includes a lake of fire and a three-headed dog. So in Pac Man's world, Hell is a verifiably real dimension and a State-run machine can send you there. Again, this is the plot of a cartoon based on the Pac-Man series of electronic games.
Remember the original four ghosts, Inky, Pinky, Blinky, and Clyde (who, in the show's canon, were absolutely victims of the soul-tearing machine)? Well, they work for Pac-Man, who agreed to not eat them in exchange for their servitude. Seriously. And so they work as double agents hoping to get returned to their original bodies by the Pac-World president. And while no one on the show seems to bring it up, their voices and personalities clearly denote them as children.
Fun fact: Sitting through an entire act of Pac-Man And The Ghostly Adventures makes you 78 percent more likely to be questioned in related to an unsolved disappearance.
Scooby-Doo Is Now A Post-Apocalyptic Action Series
Not content with making The Flintstones a meditation on modern life, the team at DC Comics decided to modernize another cartoon classic: Scooby-Doo and his teenage mystery-solving slavemasters.
First they dropped Scooby and the gang in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, which is writer shorthand for "cool idea placeholder; better, actual idea will be added later." Failing to improve on that idea, they then turned Scooby-Doo into an amalgamation of everything people hate about other people. They took a lovably skittish dog with an eating disorder and turned him into a meme-regurgitating emoji texter. Seriously, he has a pair of Google Glasses that projects psychic emojis culled from his ridiculous brain.
Shaggy, the useless, perpetually hungry member of the team who never contributed anything to any investigation and would actively flee any threat the instant it was perceived, was transformed from a well-meaning coward into the super aggro self-righteous asshole you see at every bar who looks like he carefully built his personality around being unique. Shaggy now looks like the kind of person who, at the slightest provocation, will burden you with his insufferable opinions about music and whiskey.
Jesus, look at this douchebag.
Fred and Daphne, on the other hand, have apparently spent the last 40 years powerlifting. They are ripped to shreds in a way that almost makes you feel sorry for the next poor drifter who dresses up like a pirate ghost to spook kids. These two look like they might tear off your entire human head while they're pulling off your mummy mask.
"I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling k -- Jesus Christ, look at the size of you! Keep the haunted theme park, I'm sorry!"
Of course, all of this pales in comparison to DC Comics' post-apocalyptic gritty reboot of Scrappy Doo. Scrappy Doo, as you may remember, was the ridiculous catchphrase-shouting puppy who was comically unaware of his own strength, and who is widely considered to be the most obnoxious cartoon character ever created.
Well, techno-cool reboot Scrappy Doo is most of those things -- he's still an irritating cheesedick who talks like an elementary school jokebook -- but in this new reimagining, he's a super-buff permanent werewolf wearing a pair of elaborate sunglasses and absolutely nothing else.
Luckily, they put his familiar catchphrase less than an inch away from his dick.
There are plenty of mysteries surrounding this new Scooby-Doo, but we doubt the gang ever gets around to solving any of them.
Jonathan Wojcik writes more about weird, creepy cartoons and has his own horror-comedy webcomic at Bogleech. Adam Koski wrote a hilarious and thrilling fantasy novel he can't wait to give weird spinoffs some day. Chris is planning to relaunch his Twitter account with more dynamic characters and fewer nerdy Hamilton references.
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