5 Franchises That Kept Going While We Weren’t Looking
When production companies find an idea that works, it’s almost scripture that they must then run that idea into the ground. As many times as possible. For as long as people pay money to see the destruction, and sometimes, long after people have lost interest! But just because you walked away from your favorite forms of entertainment years ago doesn’t mean those characters stopped chugging along behind the scenes. Just take a look at ...
No matter what anyone tries to tell you, no yellow ball has done more for the video game industry than Pac-Man. Often lauded as the most influential video game of all time, Pac-Man quite literally changed the game. The simplicity of its mechanics generated an interest in video games for entire generations. Besides being video game royalty, visuals of the character have been used throughout pop culture for over 40 years.
Since the man of Pac has been in your face constantly for the past several decades, it may be easy to write him off as a character from just that one, monumental game where he eats the dots and ghosts and sometimes keys and bells.
If your gaming experience with the dot munching disc ends with the smash hit titles Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-man, it may surprise you to learn that Pac-Man has been a part of over 70 official video game releases since 1980. During that time, our Man has gone through significant aesthetic changes. Sure, he’s still a ball, but being the most recognizable video game character ever means you can completely change your appearance at any time. This was the case for the 1982 Hanna-Barbera cartoon series about Pac-Man and that pac-style was pac-retained for the 2013 Disney XD series Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures as well as his appearances in the Super Smash Bros. series.
Aside from titles featuring Pac’s female counterpart, there has also been Pac-Man Pinball, RPG-style adventure games, kart racing that totally isn’t biting off of Super Mario Kart, and even head-to-head sports games. There are also versions that play like Tetris, digital board games, and even a game where you play as the ghosts and chase Pac-Man. All that’s missing is a first person shooter style game where you hunt the ghosts down Doom style.
Namco, the company that created Pac-Man, seems unwilling to let him die, still releasing new titles as recently as 2021 and even more to come in 2022. At this rate, poor Pac-Man will never be able to cross over into the ghost world, which is how we assume things work in Pac-Landia.
The NeverEnding Story
The strange and fantastical film The NeverEnding Story dropped into theaters in 1984 and entranced children everywhere with the tale of a lonely outcast boy and also the horrifying image of a horse drowning in a swamp. Look, this one shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since it's right there in the name, but if you ever wondered what became of Bastain, Atreyu, Falcor, and the rest of the gang, you’ll be excited to learn that this neverending story legitimately did not end.
The film, which was based on a 1979 German novel of the same name, may not have been a critical triumph, but the audience loved it. As children of the '80s and '90s are often wont to do, fans elevated the movie into cult status to the point where it is difficult to find someone who doesn’t remember at least one traumatizing scene or another. But what you are less likely to hear is praise, or even basic acknowledgement, of the two subsequent films in the series: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter, which was released six years later and the third film, The NeverEnding Story III: Escape from Fantasia from 1994.
The sequels were not received all that well, contained almost none of the original cast, and deviated from the novels enough that the plot became unrecognizable after a while. They eventually went the way of most early 90s direct-to-video stories and faded into obscurity; much like Fantasia faded away after succumbing to The Nothing.
For most of the general population, that is where The NeverEnding Story broke its promise and ended. But as luck dragons would have it, the powers that be opted to keep the good times rolling with the 1995 cartoon series aptly named The Neverending Story. The cartoon continues the adventures of the main character, Bastian Balthazar Bux, as he meets characters that are somehow stranger than the sentient rocks and giant bats from the movies. Despite the mid-90s obsession with cartoons, The Neverending Story only lasted one season.
Attempts to revive the property continued lightly for the next few years. Several attempts at creating a video game failed to compete with the vastly growing market. With video games off the table, HBO then threw their hat into the ring and attempted a new twist on the old story. Tales from the Neverending Story premiered in 2001 and broke the canon established by the original films. Familiar characters were removed and new ones were added. Plot points, such as Bastian entering the world of Fantasia, were flipped to have the main character, Atreyu, enter our world instead. And, most glaring of all, the puppet version of the luck dragon was replaced with a shoddy and dangerous-looking robot monstrosity.
While many attempts have been made in the past to keep the story going, it does appear that the book may finally be shut on the whole operation. Michael Ende, the author of the original story, apparently hated the film adaptation so much and had the rights tied up in enough litigation that the possibility of a remake is basically zero. It just goes to show: you can try to outrun The Nothing but in the end, it always gets ya!
Everybody remembers the first movie that introduced them to the concept of coitus with a dessert pastry. It's probably the reason American Pie is considered such an influential coming-of-age story over 20 years later. The raunchy humor, explicit nudity and good-looking cast of characters filled a void that teen comedies of the early 2000s didn’t know they had.
American Pie’s popularity with the audience was enough to squeeze out a trilogy in fairly short order. American Pie 2 and American Wedding both premiered within four years of the original. Thirteen years after the original film, most of the cast reunited for one more romp before they were all arrested for multiple cases of public indecency, we assume. To the untrained eye, American Reunion tied up the story with a nice little bow. That was all there was to the story ... if you managed to avoid all knowledge of the series' straight-to-DVD spinoffs.
Stifler has a younger brother named Matt who appears in the first two films. The presence of another, edgy and sex-starved Stifler brother paved the way for the American Pie Cinematic Universe to spin off into several new territories while still keeping a titillating anchor on the established storylines. This new story, American Pie Presents: Band Camp, was released direct-to-video in 2005 and featured a new gang of ne'er-do-wells who cause havoc in a familiar band camp setting. Apparently, a typhoon of negative reviews was not enough to stop the train since three more films followed Band Camp quite expeditiously. The new adventures continue the trend of introducing you to a new Stifler family relative, each one more horny than the last. And the only original cast member who bothered to stick around for all of it is one Eugene Levy.
Most recently, a gender-swapped version of the film starred four female characters (one of which is, of course, a Stifler) who vow to lose their virginity before their senior year. If that plot sounds familiar, just wait. We’ll probably see at least a dozen more variations before the series eventually violates its final baked good.
The Land Before Time
The Land Before Time (the most famous dino movie for millennials before Jurassic Park) tells of a brontosaurus named Littlefoot who joins a diverse group of dino buddies in a trek across the dangerous wilderness. The film is notable for deciding that people weren’t sad enough about the dinosaurs dying out all those years ago, so they forced you to give a shit by killing off the main character’s mother right at the beginning. And when we say ‘they,’ we of course mean George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg.
Spielberg set out to create The Land Before Time after working with director Don Bluth on An American Tale. He enlisted his buddy George to lend a hand producing the film, which gave this little cartoon about dinosaurs some serious Hollywood clout. The end result was a beautifully animated, thoughtful, and extremely popular film for both children and adults, all backed by the dudes who made Jaws and Star Wars. And after a hugely successful tie-in with the then-king-of-pizza, Pizza Hut, the movie did even better on its home video release.
Then came 13 sequels.
That’s right, apparently the Late Jurassic period lasted a lot longer than we initially thought because these dinosaurs have been through it. The first sequel, titled The Great Valley Adventure, was delivered direct-to-video six years after the original. It had a much lighter tone, and included some production shake-ups, such as George and Steve ducking out as well as a change of director. This trend would continue for the next 22 years as Littlefoot and his dino pals sought adventure that found them dealing with that pesky ice age, fighting starvation and drought (again!), and even meeting freakin’ space aliens at one point!
The series has since been adapted to a television series that ran for 26 episodes, as well as many soundtracks and video games. In addition to racking up an impressive archive of animation, the Land Before Time series also boasts a load of film and TV personalities lending their voices to the cast. Veteran voice actors like Tress MacNeille, Jim Cummings, and Rob Paulson join the ranks of celebrities like Michael York, Barry Bostwick, Mariam Flynn, and Kris Kristofferson. So if you’re worried your dinosaur pals from childhood have died out, don’t fret. You can find hours and hours of the old gang gently singing their way towards extinction.
Before he was Dr. Robotnik or portraying what Joe Biden might be like if he was born Jim Carrey, actor Jim Carrey silly-danced his way into the zeitgeist with three smash-hit comedy films in 1994: Dumb & Dumber, The Mask, and the one that really put him on the map, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The latter was a simple premise with wide appeal that seemed destined to be a hit no matter who played the title role. Rick Moranis, Alan Rickman, and even Whoopi Goldberg were considered for the eccentric pet dick before landing on In Living Color sketch star Jim Carrey. His outlandish performance brought the Ventura character to life and made the film, and Carrey himself, an instant favorite.
The story follows Ace on his misadventures to find out who stole the Miami Dolphins performing mascot, and does not at all deal with the abuse the dolphin likely suffers at the hands of its trainers. At any rate, with the film's success, it was no surprise when a sequel, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, was greenlit, filmed, and released all within a year and a half. Those who grew up with these films may think Ace’s adventures ended there, but that’s why he’s the detective and you’re not! No, Warner Bros. knew they had something special and refused to let the brand die out. So in 1995, they continued the story by releasing three seasons of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective as an animated series.
The series contained many of the film’s characters but none of the original actors. Despite a team of talented and capable writers such as The Walking Dead’s Scott M. Gimple and Seth MacFarlane from Family Guy and American Dad, the show never really landed with audiences the way the films did. They managed to squeeze out 41 episodes loaded with new adventures for the quirky detective before the plug was pulled. During that time, they also let Ace loose with the point-and-click PC game Ace Ventura: The CD-ROM Game.
As a last-ditch effort to keep the Ventura brand strong, Warner Home Video pulled one final ace from their sleeve in 2007 and attempted to revive the brand with a new lead actor. This time, instead of an eccentric man-child in the driver’s seat, they opted for an actual child as the lead.
Ace Ventura Jr. follows the adventures of Ace’s son with Courtney Cox’s Melissa character (now played by one of the Cusack siblings) and was sent direct-to-DVD. The movie did about as well as a movie made a dozen years after the original, while featuring none of the original cast, can hope to do. It does not seem to warrant a critic score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Despite the less than warm response from 14 years ago, it appears the people behind Ace Ventura are about ready to try again. The possibility of an official third Ace Ventura was opened up over the summer with Evan Peters taking up the large-haired mantle. All righty then?
Top image: Warner Bros.