By Matt Singer and Alison Willmore
[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).”
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.
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.
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.
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.