An Animorphs Revival Is Finally Here – Will It Succeed?

Wow, it’s sure been a while since my last post about an Animorphs movie, isn’t it? Well, let’s just say that since that time, I and many fans have been quite surprised to see an ongoing revival of a certain property that we never thought Scholastic would revive:

Yes, that’s right: an Animorphs revival is finally here, with Scholastic doubling down on their efforts to reintroduce the property to a new generation of readers. Among such exciting developments include a re-release of the original covers of the books, a graphic novel adaptation of the series, and most excitingly, a movie that is actually happening this time around. Unfortunately, the revival hasn’t been going too smooth for Scholastic, from negative reception to the new re-releases to some shaky developments on the film.

Some of it is surreal, some of it is nerve-wracking, but so is an alien invasion of mind-controlling slugs. Let’s take a claw swipe at what’s been happening, shall we? 🐯 🦍🐺🐻🦅

Retelling The Original Stories, In Words and Images

In November 2020, Scholastic released a Retro Box Tin of the first six books in the Animorphs series with their original 90’s covers. Scholastic had previously done this with the Goosebumps books, with that series on its third tin at the time the Animorphs tin was released. At first, it seemed like a major improvement to the modified covers of the 2011 relaunch, creating the nostalgia that the previous relaunch failed to deliver. And by not recreating the covers from scratch, the chances of not relaunching the entire series were much more slim. But fans were in for a nasty surprise when the tin was actually released: The covers were there, but they didn’t have the front page cutout that would lead to the inside covers the original books had before the story started. Worse, the pages themselves were the exact same as the pages of the 2011 relaunch, also lacking the flipbook effects of the original books.

Naturally, fans were upset, expecting to have the tin recreate the childhood experience of picking up a fresh new copy of the original books. As it turns out, Scholastic had deleted all the original files to the books, which really shows just how disinterested they had got in the series prior to 2011. Some suspect that David Mattingly, the artist for the books from The Encounter onwards, still has the files, so Scholastic could’ve contacted him if they really wanted to recreate the original pages. The files also still exist on Serrowpedia (like the inside cover for The Invasion shown here to the right), so there’s that. But this would apparently have been a much more expensive endeavor, and Scholastic probably didn’t want to pour too many resources into a series that they are merely trying to revive for a new generation that may or may not be interested.

Although Scholastic probably plans to release more tins like they did with Goosebumps, the negative reception to this tin could derail their plans. There’s also the fact that they’ll have to create what would have been the 2011 relaunch pages for books nine through twelve, should a second tin get made. While this latest attempt to revive the physical books is only marginally better than the previous, I was surprised to find that in March 2020, all of the books in the series were made available by fans to download for free. This pleasantly surprising announcement at least solves the problem of making the books accessible to a new generation, should they decide to make Animorphs their next book series to read, of course. 😉

But Scholastic more than made up for the negative reception to the tins with another, more surprising announcement. In June 2019, K.A. Applegate’s husband and series co-writer Michael Grant revealed that a graphic novel adaptation of the series was in development. In January 2020, it was announced that Eisner Award-nominated cartoonist Chris Grine was writing and illustrating the adaptation through Scholastic’s Graphix imprint, with the first pages revealed. The adaptation of the first book, The Invasion, would be released in October of that year. Grine, who up until that point was known for original, brighter works such as Chickenhare and Time Shifters and expressed disinterest in adapting other works, was incredibly eager to take up the offer as a fan of the series:

It’s a huge relief to finally be able to share what I’ve been working on over the last year. I love this series and I can’t wait to share it with the fans who have been wanting this to happen for so long. Having never adapted a book into a graphic novel before, let alone a series so deeply ingrained in pop culture, it was both super exciting and panic-inducing at times.

For a series like Animorphs to receive a graphic novel adaptation was incredibly exciting, to say the least. Although there have been visual depictions of the story in official media before, most of it had been through the inside (and outside) covers of the original books and the TV adaptation I still remember existing for some reason, since the books themselves didn’t have internal illustrations aside from the flipbook effects. Translating the story into a comics format makes it that much easier for readers to visualize the Animorphs’ world. Not only that, but the premise of the series also naturally lends itself to comics. The direction Grine takes with the cover is a drastic departure from those of the original books, but unlike the covers of the 2011 relaunch, they are faithful to the originals by depicting at least part of the morphing sequence on the top of the cover, leaving room for another illustration to give additional context to the story.

Other than the cover, Grine was actually given a lot of creative control during development, which was a good call on Scholastic’s part. For example, the designs he gave the Animorphs underwent little change after he first pitched them to Scholastic. The final designs are mostly great, though I admittedly agree with some fans that it is a bit hard to differentiate between Rachel and Tobias sometimes due to them both having long blond hair. Of course, given what happens to Tobias at the end of The Invasion, this isn’t that big a deal anyway. I was personally eager to finally get canonically standard outfits for the Animorphs to draw, but I was blown away by other visuals and settings Grine depicts, especially the Yerrk Pool. I was also curious to see Grine’s take on the Unnamed Creature with Eight Heads and Eight Legs that Visser Three morphs into, which surprisingly looked very different from its previous depictions, though its hard to say which version looks more terrifying.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Grine’s take on The Invasion, and I’m excited to check out the graphic novel adaptation of The Visitor, the second book in the series, when it is released this October. Like the first novel, its cover depicts the morphing sequence on the top and the additional illustration on the bottom, setting a precedent for future covers. Grine is currently under contract to adapt The Encounter, the third book in the series, by next year, though whether he continues adapting the series after that is up to Scholastic. I honestly hope that Scholastic doesn’t abandon adapting the entire series like everything else they have done with Animorphs in recent years. If they do stay committed to this project, I also hope that they let Grine adapt as much of the series as he is willing, because it would certainly feel jarring to have another artist step in for a potential adaptation of The Message, at least without them trying to mimic Grine’s art style. Grine himself appears eager to illustrate Ax, who first appears in The Message, and I’d love to see his take on both the character’s Andalite form and his human morph someday.

A Movie Is Finally Here – With A Problematic Production?

In June 2020, it was reported that an Animorphs film was in development, which will be co-developed and co-produced under the partnership between Scholastic Entertainment and new studio Picturestart, run by Erik Feig and Lucy Kitada. Per the deal, Picturestart will develop live-action adaptations of Scholastic’s young adult properties, so this is the studio in which we can probably expect adaptations of The 39 Clues, Spirit Animals, Infinity Ring and the like down the line. Scholastic Entertainment’s Iole Lucchese and Caitlin Friedman will produce the movie, while Friedman and Picturestart’s Royce Reeves Darby will oversee script development. Regarding the project, Lucchese seemed pretty passionate about the Yerrks’ imminent return to Earth:

The central themes of Animorphs have resonated strongly with kids for more than two decades, and the time is right for a feature film that takes this captivating sci-fi adventure to another level for audiences today. Picturestart has an incredible track record of success, and Erik and his team are the perfect partners to help bring this exciting new series based on the adventure-packed books to movie screens.

It was a fascinating announcement for sure, given that it seemed as though Applegate and Grant would never strike a deal with Scholastic to produce an Animorphs film after the underwhelming outcome of Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. But the deal with Picturestart, along with the upcoming live-action Clifford the Big Red Dog film, showed just how dedicated Scholastic was to making film adaptations of their properties, so perhaps this is what made them change their mind. As for the list of names involved, Feig’s involvement is very promising, as he served as co-president of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, and president of Summit Entertainment before founding Picturestart. He has developed a reputation among book authors for film adaptations, including The Twilight Saga, the Divergent series, and perhaps most importantly to Scholastic, the Hunger Games series. Feig too, expressed his excitement to helm the film:

We couldn’t be more excited to work with Scholastic to adapt Animorphs, an iconic book series with a wildly unique combination of exciting, witty, outlandish and grounded elements that feel all too relevant for our times. We know these books have a deservedly deep bench of passionate fans — ourselves included— and we hope to make Katherine Applegate and her co-author, Michael Grant, proud as we bring Jake, Marco, Cassie, Rachel, and Tobias to life for a new generation.”

But perhaps the most promising names attached to the project were Applegate and Grant themselves, who initially agreed to collaborate with Picturestart. But by October 2020, something happened that took the movie’s production dangerously off course: Grant declared that he and Applegate would no longer be a part of the film’s production, citing “creative differences”. He also referred to Rick Riordan’s article on his website discussing his experiences with the Percy Jackson films, which was more or less an indicator to freak out. However, to at least a little bit of relief, Grant later clarified his remarks, noting that he and Applegate simply weren’t being involved enough in the production process and wished the producers the best.

From the looks of it, it appears that Applegate and Grant were more upset with their lack of involvement in the production than the actual production, hence Grant’s statement that Picturestart isn’t up to anything “nefarious”. At the same time, this is in stark contrast to Riordan being upset with the actual production of the Percy Jackson films that Grant cited, so whether the film is in trouble is up to interpretation at this point, as evidenced by the mixed reactions of fans. At least Grant remains hopeful in the film’s success, but one can’t help but to wonder: what direction is the movie actually going to take?

In my original post about an Animorphs movie, a commenter named Rob stated how a lot of content would have to get cut out of a film, a stark contrast to the Harry Potter movies in which there was significantly less content adapted for eight films. But since Scholastic is going down this path now, the best way to approach this is to simply adapt The Invasion to prevent the film from getting convoluted. But what does that mean for two potential sequels at the very least, assuming the first film is successful enough to greenlight sequels? Do the second and third films simply adapt The Visitor and The Encounter respectively, and they call it quits? It would be a missed opportunity.

Rob alternatively suggested a Netflix television series – and what is interesting about this idea is that it can actually still be done, by making a Netflix series instead of film sequels. Even better is that this has already been done before, as evidenced by DreamWorks making The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants instead of direct sequels to Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. Whether this is what will happen for the franchise has yet to be seen, but I think it’s an idea that a lot of fans can get behind.

Before we continue to watch this surreal, nerve-wracking invasion descend upon us, I have one final surprise for you all. Now couldn’t be a better time to add the Animorphs to my Drawing Children’s Book Characters In My Art Style series, which you can see in the gallery below. You may notice something a bit different this time around – the drawings are GIFs showing the characters in their regular clothes, their morphing outfits and their battle morphs. I figured that I had to depict all of these to do the characters justice, yet I didn’t want to make separate drawings, so I thought this was really creative. I will also be posting the drawings on the Fanart page and my DeviantArt soon, where you can read the process behind each drawing in the drawing’s description.

Until the Animal Morphers save us all once again, folks. 🐯 🦍🐺🐻🦅

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