5 Animated Series That Deserve Live-Action Adaptations
I fully realize that wishing for a live-action adaptation of a beloved animated show has turned into one of the biggest monkey’s paw wishes you can make. Whether it’s the difficulty of converting something so heavily stylized into a non-cringe inducing facsimile, or the fact that many of them seem to be made with some level of confusion, if not downright disdain, for the source material, the batting average is extremely low. What’s especially strange is that Hollywood seems to have mastered the knack for converting comic books into movies, but for some reason, as soon as those characters start moving, we end up with some horrifically mutated spawn of the original content that feels like it’s begging for death.
Nevertheless, I hold out hope that it can be successfully pulled off. Maybe someday, we’ll get actually decent versions, and we can salute the sacrifices made by Death Note, Cowboy Bebop and the cinematic crime scene of Dragonball: Evolution that most people are lucky enough not to have seen. Change that if you dare. So, in imagining a perfect future where the people making these adaptations don’t seem to spend 90 percent of their effort on wigs, there are a few that are long overdue.
Here are five animated shows in particular that deserve a live-action revival…
‘Space Ghost: Coast to Coast’
The late-night landscape has never been begging harder for a send-up. Whether you want to watch the high-budget county fair that is The Tonight Show, where Jimmy Fallon and The Rock compete in a strength test, or any other number of interviews that don’t ascend past the entertainment level of birthday party small talk, it’s a bleak time. No offense to various band leaders, but none of them hold a candle to Brak’s majesty.
So what could be a better remedy to the ball-cupping celebrity worship that spams the 11:30 p.m. time slot of most networks than a man with the constant threat of a death ray being actively antagonistic to Moby? It’s Between Two Ferns with enough momentum to leave the digital shorts format. Why let Barstool Sports rake in literal millions of YouTube views with a bad imitation when you could toss a hood and a cape on Will Arnett or Patrick Warburton? Plus, the world needs more Zorak.
Some of the difficulty in translating animation to more-or-less real life can be that lots of physical gags and humor don’t translate that well. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a classic working heavily off that juxtaposition. Some shows though, despite being animated, are held together through solid writing and characters, with animation merely being the medium they’ve been created in — whether for budget reasons or the preference of their creators.
It might be a cartoon, but the low-key, muted humor of Home Movies, from Brendon Small and Loren Bouchard, doesn’t ever feel like it’s relying on the wackiness of animation to carry it. The best clips play as though they could have been pulled from an episode of Parks and Rec or any other top-notch sitcom. Sure, it’s a lot easier to draw an 8-year-old than to work with one, but I think it would be fun in its own way to watch these discussions and emotions cross actual kids’ faces.
‘ Samurai Champloo’
This one should be easy: You’ve got bona-fide cult status, deeply cool characters and incredible action sequences ready to go. Not to mention that in a time when lo-fi beats have launched a million live YouTube streams, you’ve got a show whose soundtrack is courtesy of Nujabes, one of the artists who pioneered the genre. In fact, Samurai Champloo might almost be a way for a director and production team to prove that you can make a live-action series capable of carrying over all the charisma of one of the most stylish animated shows of all time.
Between the setting based on the Edo period of Japan and the deep ties to hip-hop, it’s also a great opportunity to delve into multiple cultures that Western cinema and TV in general have treated less than kindly in the past. Or at least, to pretend to care before you cast Scarlett Johansson as Fuu the tea waitress and put Dylan O’Brien in a wig as Mugen. Plus, it comes from the team behind Cowboy Bebop, so you owe them one.
The unfortunately short-lived WB kids show has deservedly become a cult classic in death. Static Shock is finally (maybe) getting its proper due, and it might be high time to look at the rest of the Saturday morning stalwarts. That, in combination with the trend toward self-aware comedy in superhero movies, makes Freakazoid! a strange, but perfect show to revive. It’s not like it’s never been given a reliable stamp of approval: Steven Spielberg’s name has been on it from day one.
It feels like all it should really take to sell it to the suits is the simple elevator pitch of: “Family-friendly Deadpool.” Given the hyperviolent tendencies of Wade Wilson, it might be a bit of a stretch, but Freakazoid!’s penchant for fourth-wall breaking, chaos and bizarrely childish humor definitely has some similarities. You also get a supporting cast of deeply strange heroes that could give the Suicide Squad a run for their money. Given that Freakazoid just made a surprise cameo in Teen Titans Go!, I might not be so far off the money here. Maybe a sneaky soft launch?
‘Darker Than Black’
Look, this is my list, so if I want to use the last entry to evangelize on behalf of a deeply underrated anime from the 2000s, that is my right. I just gave you a full article’s worth of nostalgia with Freakazoid!, after all. It’s no secret that horror and spooky stuff in general is having a massive moment, between A24’s dominance and the success of shows like Lockwood & Co., Stranger Things or any of the multitude of Mike Flanagan’s Netflix darlings.
Darker Than Black is set in Tokyo after two areas known as Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Gate have opened, which have imbued people across the world, known as Contractors, with powers that they can only use by fulfilling certain conditions in a sort of devil-deal structure. For example, the power of controlling gravity, for the low, low price of breaking one of their own fingers each time they use it. Tell me you couldn’t see reading that right off of a Netflix teaser description. The show’s hard enough to watch nowadays as it is, with it bouncing around streaming services, but track it down and I think you’ll agree.