Hello everyone, and I’m back to talk about another children’s book series that has, quite unfortunately, fallen into obscurity in recent years but has nonetheless left something of an impact that deserves to stick around: Animorphs.
Chances are that today’s readers haven’t heard of it, so for those of you out there, Animorphs was a popular children’s book series published during the 1990’s that dealt with five children who witnessed the crashing of an alien ship at an abandoned construction site. Out came a dying alien who granted them the ability to morph into any animal they touched in order to complete the mission that he started: to stop an alien invasion of Earth involving parasitic slugs called Yerrks. It was one of the darker children’s book series out there in the same league as Harry Potter, dealing with child heroes coming to realize that they were basically drafted into war. In the case of Animorphs, the titular characters had the additional mentality of the animal they took on to deal with in addition to the implications of war, giving the books an insightful commentary on what it means to be human, on both a literal and philosophical level.
Some may say that stories like these are hard for children to swallow. Yet, it’s these very same dark themes that are in some of the most interesting (and successful) children’s stories, because contrary to popular belief, children certainly don’t mind some exposure to ideas that may seem exclusively adult or at least intelligent, ideas in which they are openly willing to challenge.
And it showed. Animorphs enjoyed its fair share of popularity and became something of a phenomenon during the 90’s, even if it was Harry Potter that everyone only seemed to care about (though in fairness, for obvious reason). And in the same vein as Goosebumps, Scholastic tried to give the series its much-earned exposure in a live-action television series, but here was the problem: Unlike Goosebumps, in which you don’t really need a sizeable budget to make a live-action adaptation visually appealing, you would need to spend a fortune to do the same for Animorphs, or just simply wait until technological advancements in CGI and VFX improved. But how long would that be before the popularity of Animorphs potentially waned? Welp, with this in mind, the series nonetheless happened. And not only that, but it couldn’t even redeem itself from a storytelling standpoint: the series not only ended up contradicting the most basic aspects of the books, but it also didn’t care to explore those same themes of dehumanization and morality that made the books great.
I guess I should be grateful I never ended up crossing paths with it unlike the Goosebumps television series. However, I did end up getting access to the books even though I was a 2000’s kid, which by that point I believe were either already out of print or were on their way out. This was because nearly all the places I got access to the books were the libraries and classrooms in my elementary and middle schools. They were undeniably fun reads though, and I’m glad I got the chance to read them. I was especially glad to get to know the flipbook effects in the corners of the pages of the books that depicted an Animorph morphing into an animal, a really fun distinction the series had from its competitors.
So I am quite curious to know what happened, other than the television series likely having killed the franchise. Why didn’t Scholastic care to keep the legacy of the series going, after the final book was written years ago? Well, it turns out they actually kind of did, having done a relaunch of the books starting in 2011. But here’s the thing about relaunches: sometimes the changes they make to the covers and artwork end up underwhelming, as was the case here (no more flipbook effect???). But what I really, really hate about relaunches is that much of the time these publishers never care to relaunch the entire series, basically ensuring that some of these books almost never see the light of day again, which saddens me. If you ask me, starting a project and not completing it is worse than starting it at all, because at least when the project didn’t exist it didn’t leave the opportunity for disappointment. As it turned out, as a result of “tepid sales”, Scholastic terminated the relaunch at the eighth book, The Alien. Now, among those that were actually learning about the series for the first time through this relaunch, how would they feel when they were just getting into the series, only to learn after finishing The Alien that they can’t find The Secret? The whole point of an incomplete relaunch just makes no sense to me.
And while the “tepid sales” reason suggests that not enough readers care about the property for the proper comeback it deserves to be possible, does that mean that Scholastic and series creator K.A. Applegate should quit? But given the current state of Scholastic’s other properties, I can kind of see why they’re in this seemingly defeatist mood with Animorphs. Goosebumps has an active film series going and R.L. Stine is still writing. The 39 Clues saw its final entry in 2016, but a film adaptation is still supposedly happening. Even though Captain Underpants published its final title in 2015, Dav Pilkey is writing a new series in Dog Man, and the Captain just saw a film adaptation with a Netflix television follow-up on the way. Say what you will about The Magic School Bus Rides Again, but at least The Magic School Bus is still a thing because of it. No way Scholastic is abandoning that film adaptation of their flagship franchise Clifford the Big Red Dog, which is in active development. Scholastic will have to figure out if they want The Hunger Games to fall into obscurity after the most recent film adaptation in 2015, and Harry Potter is Harry Potter. So what can be done for Animorphs to get back its love?
As it turns out, the answer came with the news of the first Goosebumps film!
An Animorphs Movie? Or Not?
In the months leading to the release of the first Goosebumps movie, rumors of an Animorphs movie started to surface. Apparently, with Goosebumps, which was also released in the 90’s, there was this idea that film adaptations of Goosebumps and Animorphs were part of a newfound interest in 90’s media to be adapted for film. There was also this idea that Animorphs, given its tonal similarities to Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, would keep the young adult film adaptation alive to provide some diversity in a movie age where people tend to complain of superheroes being the only kind of blockbuster. For the Goosebumps movie, Deborah Forte, a longtime producer for Scholastic, founded Silvertongue Films, a production house intended to produce film adaptations of Scholastic properties, and the rumors stated that it was this production house that was going to do Animorphs next.
But this sudden newfound hope for Animorphs started to diminish once again. First, it turned out that some of the fanbase wasn’t on board. This was part of the greater pessimism behind the Goosebumps movie for its cheap budget and director Rob Letterman’s filmography up to that point, which I talked about in a previous post. As a result, because of the pessimism for the Goosebumps movie, there was no hope for what an Animorphs movie would obviously have to achieve. Then came the statements of K.A. Applegate and her husband Michael Grant themselves, which is the reason why the movie hasn’t happened yet. It turns out that the rumor was ultimately fake: although the movie was definitely considered, Scholastic did not go ahead with the film due to Applegate and Grant’s wishes to not do so, fearing that they would make a repeat of the television series.
It’s a shame, but it’s also a fair enough argument: Scholastic had nothing to prove in their case for a proper Animorphs movie at the time, for Silvertongue was a new thing, Goosebumps wasn’t even released yet and Forte was involved in the production of the TV show. And even though Goosebumps did end up being a good movie, the likely reason why Applegate and Grant’s position hasn’t changed is because like I said earlier, just like how Goosebumps worked as a TV show and Animorphs didn’t, Applegate and Grant’s logic must now be that this will end up getting repeated on film. Visually speaking, as I also said earlier about the TV series, Scholastic could’ve waited until technological advancements in CGI and VFX improved, and that is definitely the case now. I could bring up countless films and even television shows today that have clearly shown how far we’ve gotten in computer-generated imagery and special effects. But Silvertongue, still a newly made production house, does not yet have enough power and recognition to get the proper budget necessary to make an Animorphs movie, unlike Goosebumps. Narratively speaking, Goosebumps is still one movie, and really isn’t enough to prove that Forte won’t botch Animorphs this time, or that Silvertongue is now this production house that has ensured they can always make good movies, like say, Marvel Studios. This may very well be the problem, and may very well be what they’re not telling us.
My solution is for Silvertongue to REALLY make their presence felt. I find it interesting that Forte even made this studio, which shows as usual, her care for the products that she and Scholastic at large makes. I can easily see Silvertongue becoming something of the next major independent Hollywood studio, just like how Kevin Feige made Marvel Studios and Steven Spielberg and company made Dreamworks. But this will only be the case if they try really hard at producing these films based on Scholastic properties in both substance and spectacle, and make them the next big thing in this supposedly unvaried movie climate. With a bright future in Goosebumps and all this talk of 39 Clues, Spirit Animals and Clifford movies, they are on the right track. Dare I say it, but a Scholastic Cinematic Universe, anyone?
No, an “SCU” doesn’t have to necessarily come of Silvertongue for Applegate and Grant to be convinced (as awesome as the prospect of R.L. Stine revealing to Zach, Hannah and Champ that he wasn’t the only writer out there in The Scholastics sounds). But with the proper gaining of power, exposure and respect, to the point that this studio can make the proper blockbuster-level scale that an Animorphs movie needs, well…we could see the Animal Morphers on the silver screen soon enough.
Get it going, Forte. 😉