Two years ago, we got a movie based on LEGO toys. It’s a weird time to be alive, a time when toys of yesteryear get their own films, mobile games are the start of cinematic franchises and Power Rangers is about to get a multi-million dollar reboot. There’s real power behind cult classics, and Hollywood is doing its utmost to turn all that goodwill into profit.
So while we eagerly await that overdue Slinky movie, featuring Samuel L. Jackson as the voice of Slinky (because obviously), here are 12 Great Kids’ TV Shows That Need Big-Budget Reboots.
We’ve sort of already had a Voltron movie; it was called Pacific Rim, and it was 900% dumb awesomeness. So that happened, but if anyone felt like they were missing out on robot combinations and space battles, a Voltron movie could be the way to go. Whispers of a live-action movie have floated around for years, though news is still up in the air as to whether it’ll ever get made.
The original series revolved around five astronauts chosen to pilot robot lions in defense of a faraway planet. When in in need (i.e. most episodes) they could join together to form the mighty Voltron, controlled by all five of them. It predated Power Rangers by almost a decade and became beloved, as well as one of the first times Japanese footage was used to create a completely new American show.
A film adaptation would need some serious cash to make the special effects work, as well as a bit of an original touch. At this point it’d be following both Pacific Rim and the Power Rangers reboot; however, Voltron has always been its own unique force, with a solid team of individuals and a unique setting that isn’t Earth. That said, Voltron is ripe for the live-action treatment, as it’s still fondly remembered and we’ve already seen combining mecha in live action — hundreds of times, in fact — proving that it’s very possible even on a limited budget. It might struggle to escape some of the negative press from being silly and overblown, but with a show like this, it really doesn’t matter. Plus, Pacific Rim still managed to make all the dollars anyway, without being based off an awesome cartoon.
11. Samurai Jack
Samurai Jack may have been animated, but it was far from an average kids’ show. Many of the episodes were as creatively crafted as an Oscar-winning film, and the series was never one to shy away from avant garde storytelling. The result was an award-winning show with its own unique aesthetic, as well as a vague feeling that it was never really meant for kids.
Samurai Jack would be a tricky one to adapt for live-action, since a lot of its uniqueness came from the art style and how it was used in the episodes. The story is also a finicky business, as there’s no solid timeline and the whole thing often felt like an anthology with a handful of recurring characters. It would do the series a disservice to have a two-hour slugfest with the story wrapped up in a neat bow in the end, especially if it ended with a big CGI battle like most movies tend to do these days.
The movie might work best with a director known for a unique style, who can bring the bizarre visuals and quirky storytelling to life while not reducing it all to a cookie-cutter mold. Not that we’d begrudge the fans a good fight scene, since the series is still packed with them.
10. Thomas the Tank Engine
If emojis and Angry Birds can get their own movie, Thomas the Tank Engine sure can.
Again, this is a pretty tough sell. There’s something about trains with faces that — despite delighting generations of children the world over — has always felt slightly too uncanny. It’s a Toy Story-esque example of a world with horrible implications, and bringing giant trains with faces into glorious live-action is a balancing act between pleasing children and making them cry.
Still, the series itself used to be live-action; it was just missing real people. You’d just need to make much bigger versions of the star engines, cast some actors who wouldn’t mind acting opposite massive, lifeless train faces and you could have a hit on your hands. Maybe. Who could tell? The nostalgia for the series is strong, and it’s not like ‘people and CGI creatures’ is an uncommon path to take for a kids’ movie. It’s the entire premise of Paddington, an incredible movie based off a series of books where practically nothing happened. At least the old Thomas the Tank Engine series had a plot in every episode, even if it was a nightmarish mess of inanimate objects refusing to do their jobs and whining about each other back in the train shed. With the right idea, a Thomas movie could be brought to life. Don’t expect any deep meaningful discussions on what it means to be human, though… unless it gets picked up by a very visionary director.
Ducktales (awoo-ooh) in live-action might have to be a Looney Tunes-style deal, with the characters acting opposite real people. It’s that, or they bring in someone who’s really good at duck makeup. That said, it’s still a fondly-remembered show with plenty of plots to delve into, whether the ducks are heading into space, to the bottom of the sea or facing off against some evil rich folks who want Scrooge McDuck’s treasure. And really, who hasn’t wanted to see Scrooge McDuck plunge into a pile of gold coins in glorious, high-definition live-action?
Movies starring CGI creatures are now pretty much commonplace, with Groot, the Ninja Turtles, Transformers and Johnny Depp from Alice in Wonderland being recent examples. There’s no reason the duck family can’t be brought to life in the same way, even occupying entire scenes by themselves without a human actor in sight. The canon might need tweaking slightly to allow for humans in their world, unless they wanted to fill the entire thing with real sets and CGI animals, but it’s no less farfetched than Chris Pratt arguing with Bradley Cooper in the form of a raccoon. Plus you’ve got a great opening theme already made for the movie.
8. The Magic Roundabout
Odd though it may sound to pitch a movie made from a series that’s several decades old…this could work. The Magic Roundabout was a British-French show that had almost nothing to do with roundabouts, but is remembered for its bizarrely entertaining plots and the vague sense that the whole thing was made on copious amounts of drugs. This worked in its favor, and it became a cult classic that endeared itself to both adults and children. It’s also probably a useful piece of education for psychology students.
The Magic Roundabout already had an animated movie, with the British voice version being well-received while the American dub is one of the worst animated movies ever made. A live-action version has never been attempted, but given the show’s unique visuals and abundance of quirk, it could appeal to an incredibly broad audience if done right. The show often had Doogal giving dry, witty commentary on the current state of affairs and was packed with satirical elements, giving the whole thing some depth and allowing parents to watch with their kids without fear that the little ones would pick up on all the adult wit. Making a good live-action film would therefore be a case of nailing that formula that made it vibrant and dynamic enough for the young ones yet snarky enough for the older crowd to enjoy. Basically, loads of color for the kids, and a snappy script for the grown-ups.
ReBoot was an early attempt at a CGI series, making the whole visual aspect sort of a novelty. The show thing was set inside a computer, with their own society, rules, belief system and locations to explore, with the mysterious ‘User’ controlling the entire world and (probably inadvertently) causing all the problems.
The series is rife with potential for a live-action film, probably in the style of Tron: Legacy minus the plot of human characters jumping to and from the digital world. Not only does the series have some serious nostalgia heft behind it, it would also be a prime example to show how technology has advanced. The computer graphics can now be generated with far greater detail than in 1994, when it must be said that the series didn’t even look that bad (plus it was set inside an actual 1994 computer, so it was totally fine anyway). There’s no shortage of concepts to turn into a film, while there’s an instant out for any accusations of shoddy CGI; it’s set in the past! Probably running Windows 95.
6. Sailor Moon
Though we’re mostly staying away from anime on this list (that’s an article by itself), Sailor Moon still deserves a mention. One of the earliest mainstream anime series that Western viewers would remember, the show is right up there with Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in terms of shows that were the face of the 90s.
While casting would probably dissolve into a Ghost in the Shell-style mess of whitewashing accusations and cultural appropriation, the movie itself wouldn’t be all that hard to do. At its core, Sailor Moon is about a group of girls fighting evil in glitzy school uniforms. Heck, Japan has already made it in live-action multiple times, though not quite with the budget of a Hollywood flick. Provided the movie got the characters right, there really isn’t a huge amount of complex CGI involved: just show us a glamorous transformation sequence, portray Usagi/Serena as flawed and reluctant like she is in the series and maybe cast a Japanese guy as Tuxedo Mask to keep the fans happy.
There’s a depressing chance that this could go the way of Dragonball Evolution…but on the other hand, the director and writers just have to look at that movie, tell themselves to do the exact opposite and we could actually get a decent Sailor Moon movie someday.
Yep, they already did one of these. It wasn’t great.
The crucial flaw in the first Thunderbirds live-action movie, among the many, was that it didn’t feel anything like the show, instead using the concepts as a vehicle to tell a completely different type of story. That, and it came along in the early days of reboots when nobody really knew how to make the formula work. To be fair, Hollywood is still working on that one, but the time is right for another shot at bringing the Thunderbirds to life.
The show itself relied heavily on the vehicles to create the drama, which was fair enough; nobody was going to be on the edge of their seat watching two expressionless marionettes awkwardly flail at each other. If we wanted to see that, we’d watch Dragonball Evolution. To hazard a guess, this may just be part of why the show became a cultural icon, in that the vehicles were almost characters themselves.
The aesthetic would thus become the driving force in making a live-action Thunderbirds movie. None of this origin story business, where the big guns are saved until the final act and unveiled with about twenty minutes of the movie left to go. Nobody cares how International Rescue got started, because we want to see Thunderbirds in the air and being piloted by experts. This visual flair could make up for any narrative shortcomings, a la Pacific Rim, and fuel the nostalgia fire enough for people to forget that the real-life actors in the film don’t resemble the puppets as much as they should.
4. He-Man/Masters of the Universe
This is another one that people have been trying to get off the ground for years, with a new movie pretty much already in the works. Although they already sorta did back in 1987- titled Masters of the Universe– with the only problem being that it was horrible. As in, ‘pick up two action figures, smash them together while making punching noises with your mouth and you’ll end up with a more nuanced piece of cinematography than Masters of the Universe’ horrible. Although to be fair, Dolph Lundgren’s mullet fits the role perfectly.
Of course, that was well before the era of remakes (or at least, there weren’t quite so many), so now could be the time to see He-Man done right in live-action. If Chris Evans can go from skinny weakling to Captain America, then we can see Prince Adam change into the hero of Eternia. The main problem would be the inherent silliness of the whole affair, which was always going to be a problem. At least Power Rangers was a show (slightly) before it was an endless toyline; Masters of the Universe started off as action figures and the plot never really progressed beyond what you’d read on the back of a collectible cardboard box. Also, his name is ‘He-Man’ and he fights evil with a bob haircut.
That’s why a live-action movie would probably have to err on the side of spectacle rather than grand storytelling, focusing on getting the casting and fights right and worrying about everything else later. It’ll probably still end up as a fountain of memes, but hopefully the movie can find time to poke fun of itself along the way. In fact, the whole thing could work as an action-comedy, much like the 1987 version, except actually intentional this time.
3. Samurai Pizza Cats
Okay, this one also technically counts as anime. It manages to stand on its own, though, and no one exactly thinks of Dragonball and Samurai Pizza Cats as being in the same category anyway.
In any case, Samurai Pizza Cats was just as ridiculous as it sounds, but somehow also pretty great. The fact that it was given a snarky, pop-culture stuffed dub (and the whole thing was a parody of the genre anyway) helped endear it to fans. A live-action Pizza Cats movie could very well work in the same way, provided it kept the spirit of the original with snappy dialogue and fourth-wall breaking that appealed to both adults and kids. The danger would be in trying to play the whole thing straight as a cutesy movie about some cats who do samurai stuff, which would miss the entire point of something called Samurai Pizza Cats. This is not a serious show. The premise is ridiculous even by kid standards, and both dubs are fully aware of it. This would almost be a movie for adults that just happened to feature kid-friendly characters, sort of like Ted but less disgusting.
2. Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers
Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers is a sadly underrated space western from the late 1980s which became a cult favorite due to the animation being ahead of its time, some great themes and the prominence of robot space horses you guys, seriously.
It stars human-looking characters, which for a list like this puts it right at the top of shows that could make it to a live-action movie. It had a few of the ‘kid show’ tropes hanging around- an evil space empire, the aforementioned robot horses- but otherwise could pass itself off as a slightly more fantastical version of Firefly. The themes were dark enough, with implied genocide, murder and people genuinely dying on screen, and not being magically brought back to life later. The characters were fairly well-rounded for a cartoon, while there was no shortage of vibrancy and interesting set-pieces.
It would come as a surprise if Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers was recognized enough to get its own big-budget movie, but if someone ever did see the potential to green-light production, there’s more than enough material to make a really fun, and possible truly memorable movie. Plus, those robot horses would look pretty magnificent in live-action.
Speaking of both space and cats, you may remember Thundercats either from the ’80s or much more recently when the series was revived in 2011. It slots neatly into the Masters of the Universe camp by skirting the edge of parody, being mostly driven by action-figure sales and having a whole lot of people crying out the names of important things and attacks.
A live-action movie would much more likely be based on the later incarnation, since it ditched a lot of the hokey ’80s tropes (see: ‘crying out the names of important things and attacks’, above) and focused more on character development, with some slick animation on the side. Making a live-action Thundercats would probably be a combination of some really good makeup, great action sequences and a degree of self-awareness over the fact that they’re taking a story about cat people from a distant planet and selling it as serious business. As with Masters of the Universe, the film might do well to focus on both the nostalgia factor and the look and feel of the whole thing, instead of trying to endear itself to a new and slightly more cynical generation of children.
It might seem like an impossible task and movie doomed to fail from how little people take the show seriously nowadays… and then you remember they’re making a film based on Tetris. Sort of makes every potential movie on this list look like Oscar-bait.
Any more classic shows that deserve the big-budget reboot treatment? Let us know in the comments…