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DID YOU READ

Suggested Toy Lines In Need of a Movie Franchise

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By Matt Singer and Alison Willmore

IFC News

[Photo: Michael Bay’s “Transformers,” Paramount Pictures, 2007]

When working on what would be his last movie, an ailing Orson Welles told his biographer that he had spent the day “playing a toy” in a movie about toys who “do horrible things to each other.” He couldn’t remember the name of the film, but trivia-loving cinephiles and 80s babies likely do — it was the 1986 animated epic “The Transformers: The Movie,” which promised to go beyond good, beyond evil, and beyond your wildest imagination. Can the most bloated, CG-heavy Michael Bay production ever live up to the fuzzily remembered heartbreak of Optimus Prime’s shocking deathbed scene?

It was in the glorious decade of the 80s that, however incongruously, toy lines came first. In a strange twist of priorities, a franchise’s television shows and films became mere auxiliary advertising to bolster the sales of action figures and their wide range of accessories. With “Transformers” opening this week, “Thundercats” being developed as a computer animated event, and “Masters of the Universe” occasionally attached to none other than John Woo, it seems that what was once the stuff of nostalgia-fueled eBay scrounging is now prime potential blockbuster ammunition.

We scouted through our own memories and parents’ attics and found there are plenty of other toys from the 70s and 80s just crying out to be adapted into films. Here are our proposals for a future toy franchise adaptations — call us, Hollywood!

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero

The original concept of this classic toy line (itself an update of an even older line from the 1960s) — a group of freedom-loving soldiers fighting a group of evil-loving terrorists — is still viable. Which is why if anyone else made this movie they’d screw it up, by getting rid of Cobra, dressing the Joes like regular soldiers, or making Cobra Commander a giant snake (oops — they actually did do that, in the animated “G.I. Joe: The Movie”).

That’s why Hasbro should hire us. We’d set the movie in the 1980s and cast Clint Eastwood as the President of the United States (look, if you’re gonna dream, might as well dream big) who receives a message from Cobra Commander (bodied by Silver Surfer Doug Jones, voiced by the best approximation of original CC, Christopher Collins, we can find): Fork over a billion dollars or he turns the world’s populace into snakes. President Eastwood restarts an old never-declassified government initiative from the 1960s called Operation: G.I. Joe and recruits his best friend from the Vietnam War, General Hawk (Bruce Willis), to lead the crew. He puts together a new breed of Joes including field leader Duke (Matt Damon), obligatory female Scarlett (Scarlett Johansson — the press will eat that up!!) and, of course, martial arts expert Snake Eyes (somebody from that UFC that the kids love so much these days). In the final battle with Cobra Commander, Snake Eyes puts him in the “kung fu grip.” The parents will love that.

As for the tone, we’re thinking “Armageddon” with a dash of “The Right Stuff” patriotism and some “Stripes”-style comedy from the Shipwreck character — is Ryan Reynolds available? We’ve already got the new version of the classic song written; we’re eyeing Linkin Park to record “Yo Joe! (2K7 Remix).”

Stretch Armstrong

The way we see it, this rubbery toy line is really due for a hearty injection of angst — Stretch has to go around wearing a speedo, for chrissakes! So we’ll start off the story with Joe “Stretch” Armstrong (Hugh Jackman), a hugely popular double-jointed pro wrestler whose signature move is “The Dislocator.” Little does our hapless hero know that the right-wing media conglomerate that owns his wrestling federation has decided that all of its contracted wrestling personalities will be given injections of a lab-concocted human growth hormone alternative to keep them looking young and smooth in the age of HDTV. Little does the right-wing media conglomerate know that a disaffected employee has sabotaged the formula in a desperate bid to expose corporate corruption. Most of the wrestlers die as a result of the injection, but two survive — Armstrong, who’s now gifted with a body that can miraculously stretch for yards, only to effortlessly return to normal size; and his old friend and wrestling nemesis, the Green Monster (Michael Clarke Duncan), who has developed the same stretch powers as Armstrong, but has also been driven mad when his costume fused permanently to his body (somehow). He is reborn as the supervillainous Stretch Monster!

There’s no better director to handle this project than Darren Aronofsky, who proved with last year’s “The Fountain” that he can approach any set-up, no matter how ludicrous, with a straight face, and who’s worked with Jackman before. Plus, we think he’d appreciate Stretch’s inherent tragedy, as our malleable hero discovers his powers aren’t limitless — over time, his limbs start to harden, his skin cracks, and he begins leak red goo from wounds bandages can only temporarily rectify.

Strawberry Shortcake

You may recall that Strawberry Shortcake and her scented friends lived in odoriferous bliss in Strawberryland, where their day-to-day concerns included pet care, birthday parties, funny-smelling clouds and baking. Tough sell! But we think that this franchise is the perfect candidate for a radical, even foolhardy reinvention — and it’s clearly a job for Todd Solondz, who’s perfected chillingly creepy, cruel and bleakly funny films about children, and who anyway doesn’t seem to be doing much right now.

Just imagine — Miss Shortcake and company dwell in a figurative, candy-colored, preemergent childhood universe, at the fringes of which lurks the Peculiar Purple Pieman, a coded pedophile if there ever was one. A Danny Elfman-composed soundtrack will be simultaneously twinkly and ominous. The film will in no way be enjoyable to watch, but a small but vocal minority will insist it’s the best thing to come out all year.

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future

This one’s not quite as well-remembered as some of our other properties, but it has the edge of being well-remembered as unusually smart by Internet nerds. So we sell it to older fans that way, and we’ll bring in original story editor J. Michael Straczynski (“Babylon 5”) to write the first draft and executive produce. Also, we have to make sure the DVD of the original series is out well in advance of the movie, and that the toys are re-released in “commemorative editions” too.

And this time they’ll work! The hook of the original “Captain Power” was that kids who owned the toy space ships could interact with the television series but, speaking from experience, they never really worked. The idea, however, was sound — and when we sell it this time, we call it “ahead of its time.” 20 years later, we update the technology and we add a killer hook: this time, you use them with the movie.

We’ll recruit a couple of “Galactica” cast members to help bring in the Sci-Fi audience, and we won’t make the mistake the original show did by pitching our tone over our toy-buying audiences’ heads. (The live-action “Power” featured such adult storylines as suicide.) The core idea: robot soldiers in the future, humans with “power suits” and space ships sounds great — if we can afford it, we’d love to shoot it in the same digital 3-D James Cameron’s using on his next project.

Rainbow Brite

Hallmark’s billion dollar girl-centric toy line and television series featured a cheery blonde lass who rode around on a flying, talking horse (who in any film adaptation would have to be voiced by Eddie Murphy) and fearlessly sported unflattering multicolored ringed sleeves. In order to refresh the character and also bring the boys in, we’d up Brite’s age a bit, slim down that Michelin Man get-up and cast someone tween and up-and-coming — say, oh, Emily Osment. And she would need to fight — hand-to-hand, no blood, as it’s best to keep things PG-13. And maybe the whole “protector of all the colors of the world” thing could be a secret identity? And, hell, why not just get Joss Whedon to direct the thing, since he’s no longer attached to “Wonder Woman”?

Rainbow Brite had the Color Kids as back-up in her battles with Murky (Danny DeVito), and in the film they’ll be played by an assortment of multi-ethnic, sassy child actors who’ll both act as comic relief and as a key source of pathos — Rainbow Brite may be brave, beautiful and bearing the weight of the world on her shoulders (or at least its color palette), but the only people she can be herself around are a group of monochromatic children. Well, them, and each of their adorable, furry, computer-generated Sprites, naturally.

Teddy Ruxpin

Every child of moderate financial security in the 1980s remembers Teddy Ruxpin, the adorable yet slightly creepy talking teddy bear who would read you stories, move his mouth and arms, and blink his dead, lifeless eyes. Like every toy of the 1980s, Teddy had his own animated series, “The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin,” but we want to go in a different direction.

Instead, let’s play up exactly what everyone remembers about Teddy Ruxpin: the fact that he was supposed to be cute but always came off a little… off (if you let the original Teddy’s batteries run low, his voice got slow, deep, and incredibly disturbing). So it’s a wild adventure about a Teddy Ruxpin that doesn’t read adventures, he lives adventures. A little girl (Abigail Breslin, so long as she can still play young enough) discovers what life really means when her Teddy Ruxpin (voiced by Steve Carrell, smart but silly) starts doing all kinds of stuff after he runs out of power; leading to that classic scene where she opens up the compartment to change his batteries and finds — there are no batteries!

It’ll be “E.T.” for girls, with plenty of “Toy Story” in there. The only guy to direct it is Joe Dante who, after two “Gremlins” and a “Small Soldiers” pretty much has the toys-run-amok genre in his pocket. We’ll get a Martin Short type to play the wacky toy inventor who accidentally gave Teddy life and now wants to take it back. Parents will detect a subtle Jesus metaphor but kids will be none the wiser and enjoy the part where Teddy sings classic rock tunes in his underwear when no one’s around to see.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.