Remake and sequel hysteria has hit an all-time high these past few years and it isn’t showing any signs of stopping. With Raja Gosnell’s The Smurfs laying waste to our cherished memories this past summer (to say nothing of Transformers), we have more Chipmunks to look forward to and the promise of more reboots on the way.
So, given the fact that Hollywood has designs on completely renovating our childhood memories, I’m going to take the ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ approach. You want some stuff to remake, how about a list of titles from the past that could actually be the jumping off point for something interesting? Counting down from the least likely to the most, I give you the top ten retro children’s televsion shows ripe for remake. Studio execs, get out your pens and takes some notes…
10. Denver the Last Dinosaur (1988-1990)/ Dinosaucers(1987)
Denver the Last Dinosaur plumbed the latch-key kid culture of 1980s Los Angeles in a daring and imaginative way; it paired a group of diverse school kids with a dinosaur….wearing a mohawk and sunglasses. It’s a big, green prehistoric critter that warbles when it speaks and yet it’s the only real friend these kids have until it teaches them they have each other. Brilliant. Truly brilliant. How to remake it? Only one way really. Keep the time period. Keep every single one of those costumes and get ILM to do Denver; afterall, they know dinosaurs. And, please, you can use CGI for Denver but don’t even try an animated mo-hawk. It would be a disaster. We know how these things are supposed to look, and practical fx are the only way you are going to get an even half-way realistic hairpiece on a dinosaur.
Dinosaucers on the other hand, is far easier. It didn’t air for very long in the 80s, and although there are a few out there, like my wife, who somehow have the theme song still running in their databanks, most people would be new to this. They are aliens from space who look like humanoid sentient dinosaurs and they are embroiled in a war. It worked for Transformers so why can’t it work here? Not enough to go on? Pish! If you throw in some amazing fx work for the dino-people and the space ships you might have one of the craziest and entertaining popcorn B-movies in some time. Just don’t go looking for a plot. It’s dinos from space, people! It’s a gold mine!
9. Zoobilee Zoo (1986-1988)
One of the weirdest bits of PBS programming, Zoobilee Zoo imagined a world full of anthropomorphic animals living in an entire civilization of their own..and they sing all the time. The theme song promised ‘magic and wonder are waiting for you!’ More like flamboyance and creepiness. And yet, despite the fact it resembled a more educational and gaudy version of Cats , Zoo was perfectly suited for a young child’s mindset. Whereas Sesame Street focused on practical educational knowledge, Zoo was more interested in how people interact and with finding your inner diva. I’m running images of Baz Luhrman’s Zoobilee Zoo through my mind and it looks like a rave crossed with community theater–it just might work. Or how bout Terry Gilliam’s Zoobilee Zoo? Yes, I think it has a nice ring to it. Just stay away from realism. I don’t want to see a flick with a young kid wandering into the mutant quarantine zone and encountering the disfigured Zoobles, who just want to find a life beyond Thunderdome.
8. Read All About It! (1981)
Please tell me someone remembers this. Its pretty much the reason I included it at all. That and it would be great to have a movie in theaters that reminds kids that once upon a time we had things called newspapers and print media. It aired on TVOntario and right here on MPT as well. I used to watch it as a kid, and remember seeing the entire initial series in school. The storyline was rather interesting as science-fiction; it followed a couple of intrepid kid journalists who learn that history is being changed by an cosmic, time-traveling entity called Duneedon(he’s the thing in the pic above; admit it,you thought it was the genie from Pee-Wee’sPlayhouse). Incorporating lots of library know-how with sleuthing and actual reporting skill, Read All About It! was sort of the perfect thematic mix for a PBS program. Of course the production values, the acting and the direction sucked. So what about a remake that stays true to the source story and the details of the old-fashioned journalism? That alone would give the pic a unique bent. These kids don’t just hit the net? They have to go to the library?
7. Small Wonder (1985-89)
Ok, its uncomfortable confession time. One of the first acknowledged little boy crushes I had was on Small Wonder’s V.I.C.K.I, the robot Ted Lawson creates as a sibling for his biological son Jamie. If that sounds wierd or creepy now, Tiffany Brissette was older than I was at the time and at 6 it never dawned on me that it was wrong to have the hots for a dead-eyed girl that you could conveniently program any whim into. Yea, it was creepy. Even then, when it was just intended to be a cute little sitcom about a kid and his robotic sister, it was creepy. These days, the robotic family member bit has been beaten to death. Look at A.I. or Bicentennial Man. Possibly the best approach to Small Wonder is marrying that sense of family drama to a real sci-fi story that explores the unanswered questions a kid might not ask: if Vicki never grows, what happens to her once everyone else is gone? Does she head out to meet the blue fairy or would a more realistic movie handle that differently? When Jamie is 65 is his 8year old sister still watching his back? Someone call Tim Burton. I bet he could give us a ‘Small’ to really wonder at.
6. Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1991-1996)
Ok, this is the first show on the list that doesn’t belong as much to my childhood as my siblings. The stories were just a bit tame for my taste and because it was Nickelodeon it was also pretty cheesy on the production end. I remember some specific eps like Bobcat Goldthwait as the Sandman and Aron Tager as the kooky bum-like wizard Dr. Vink–later stories also featured Firefly’s Jewel Staite and Roc’s Charles S. Dutton. What I appreciated about it then was the close-quarters, home-fried campfire story bookends the tales all had. Friends formed a group called The Midnight Society and met in the woods to tell ghost stories. Many of the stories borrowed tropes from tried and true stories like The Monkey’s Paw or the legend of the Golden Arm. One episode even featured an old theater showing Nosferatu and had the vampire escaping from the film. Unlike the grime and grimace of today’s teen horror, this pre-teen approach was mindful of what came before. Perhaps bridging the age gap and bringing AYAOTD to a wider audience as a family chiller is a good place to begin in jump-starting the dying film form of the horror anthology.
5. David the Gnome (The Secret World of the Gnomes) (1985/1987)
This one gets to be here at the behest of my wife. The ultimate cultural cross-over, the show that found its ways to Nickelodeon in the late 80s was a Spanish cartoon dubbed into english with the help of Christopher Plummer(Sound of Music, Dracula 2000) as narrator and Tom Bosley (Happy Days, Father Dowling Mysteries) as David. The original spanish version was based off a Dutch children’s book series that included The Gnomes and The Secret World of Gnomes. The animation had a real illustrated quality to it, and David and his wife were caretakers of the forest, helping and healing the animals that lived in their domain with a combination of medicinal herbs and good old fashioned gnome know-how. Looking like a lawn ornament come to life, David was a tantalizing combo of Marty Stauffer, Martha Stewart and Jerry Garcia all rolled up into a endearing ball of blue and red. So, why re-do it? Well, it would have great potential as a computer animated or even hand-drawn feature if it were to land a good writer/writers. And you could bring Tom and Christopher back for voice parts I’m sure. Plummer has been doing voice-work for Up and 9 recently and I’m sure he’d jump at the chance to hear himself talk, and let’s face it, his voice is perfect for it.
4. Tranzor Z (Mazinger Z in Japan), 1972
In 1984, when my fellow kindergarteners were reeling over He-Man, Transformers and Voltron I was the dopey kid who was head-over-heels for Tranzor Z. Only problem was while toy store shelves were chocked to the brim with the others there was no Tranzor Z to be found at all. Hey! How was I to know that the real issue was that I wasn’t Japanese and living ten years earlier? See, the show that ended up airing on weekday afternoons was a U.S. import of Mazinger Z, a Japanese anime released in 1972. had giant robots with detachable fists fighting the legions of Dr. Hell (Dr. Demon in the U.S. release) and his henchman, who included Lord Ashura (Devileen in the U.S.) who happened to be a hermaphrodite right down the middle; each side of his/her personalities would bicker and fight endlessly with the other. Several elements were cut from the U.S. release including the fact the female robot, Aphrodite A, had breast missles she would fire at enemies.A live-action film could involve hot-shot pilots going off to battle in the robots–big shiny special fx set pieces– without worrying about a convoluted or needlessly complex mythology that might be shredded in the adaptation, ala Evangelion. Just think, it could be like Robot Jox, but actually good and with a budget of more than 3,000 U.S. dollars.
3. Eerie Indiana (1991)
Perfectly weird and terrifically witty, with a plot hook that felt like Stephen King meets The Wonder Years, Eerie Indiana was one of my all-time fave series as a kid. And as is usually true of the televison I end up loving(*cough* Pushing Daises, American Gothic, Brisco County Jr.*cough*), it was canceled after a too-short run. Marshall Teller (Omri Katz) is a young boy who moves with his family to Eerie, Indiana and learns that the town lives up to its name. There were ATM machines with a mind of their own, a set of braces that could pick up the hidden thoughts of dogs and in one of the best storylines, a Tupperware sales lady was actually keeping her two sons in a state of suspended animation by sealing them away in bed-sized tupperware. Katz and Just Shankarow, who played Marshall’s sidekick, Simon were a nice fit as the adolescent leads. It was even remade a few years later with more comedy but even less success. A fresh new cast and crew would do well for the show, but let me suggest one of the series’ original headliners for director; Joe Dante, of Gremlins and Matinee. This is definitely his bread and butter.
2. Gargoyles (1994-1997)
It’s frustrating to watch all of these current cartoon movies parade across the big screen when one of the best is still out there gathering dust. By the time Gargoyleslanded, I was well into high school, and not paying much attention to the weekday afternoon toon line-up, but my siblings adored it and I found myself catching bits and pieces when I would come home, and slowly, I was hooked. What began as a riff on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with a band of varied gargoyles hanging out in New York City with their human female friend became a complex fantasy incorporating Scottish history and mythology, Arthurian legend, and amazingly, entire aspects of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was a comic book come to life and had the same sort of attention to detail and superb voicework(over half the primary cast for Star Trek: The Next Generation was on board for this one) that defined Batman: The Animated Series. Creating a live-action version of this would be a no-brainer, though it might take a little bit of refreshing the audience what Gargoyles is exactly. Either way, it has plenty of opportunity for great creatures and special effects and it has the one thing that Transformers, G.I. Joe and their ilk failed to possess; characters and a story we could care about.
1. H.R. Pufnstuff (1969)
Wow, where to begin with H.R. Pufnstuf? Created by Sid and Marty Kroft, who were also responsible for the equally odd Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and previous remake victim, Land of the Lost, Pufnstuf is clearly a product of its’ time period, the late 60s. There’s a plot there right? Sure, somewhere, and if you are a child with a thing for mescaline or LSD, it all may make perfect sense. There’s a magic talking flute named Freddy, a six foot dragon that is the titular character and a witch named Witchie-Poo. All of this is so surreally designed that it feels just like a fever dream brought on by a bad roast-beef sandwich eaten too close to bedtime. If there’s to be a remake, we need someone who can just cut loose and make all of that weirdness come alive up on screen. Forget the usual suspects, go scour the world of tv commercials, music videos and homeless street art and get us a Pufnstuf director. All of this trippiness will no doubt look super-wicked in 3D.