Be prepared for a throwback ... to the future. No, I'm not talking about a impending fourth Back to the Future movie, or anything like that. Quite the contrary: An animated The Jetsons movie is finally coming to theaters, over 60 years after it's television debut! Although, while I definitely have some fond memories of the series (Judy definitely had some style), I have to admit I'm a bit skeptical. Let's face it, Hanna-Barbera cartoons have an interesting history when it comes to bringing their shows to the big screen.
Maybe you made your parents take you to The Powerpuff Girls Movie as a child only to find out it was just a 90 minute episode. Perhaps you have fond memories of Scooby Doo, Where Are You! that were turned upside down in the live-action film. Whatever the case may be, no adaptation is perfect — every one translates a little differently than the original text (or, in this case, TV show).
My question about The Jetsons is, really, why now? Though it's not quite as beloved as The Flintstones, it definitely reigns over The Yogi Bear Show— but what motivated this particular film at this particular time, and what kind of take on the original series will it be?
To investigate, let's take a look back to all of the other Hanna-Barbera cartoons-to-movies, and see if we can get some clues:
1. The Flintstones
Series Debut: 1960
Film Debut: 1994
Everyone remembers the live-action Flintstones film, the first silver screen Hanna-Barbera translation that boasted real star power. John Goodman, young Halle Berry, Kyle MacLachlan, it's almost crazy. Elizabeth Taylor played Fred's mother-in-law, and to this day that is the only thing my brother knows her from. Sigh.
The Flintstones to this day is probably Hanna-Barbera's most iconic cartoon, and perhaps it was that overall star quality of that kept the film's sense of humor very similar to the original cartoon. There IS the occasional snark and breaking-of-the-fourth-wall, ("I should have worked for Disney, they'd NEVER let anything like this happen," laments the Dictabird) but overall, The Flintstones was able to get by on the virtue of being The Flintstones. I cannot speak for the unofficial prequel, Viva Rock Vegas. Gag me.
2. The Yogi Bear Show
Series Debut: 1961
Film Debut: 2010
I forgot that The Yogi Bear Show was turned into a film, and since you probably did, too, here's a refresher course: It was a blend of live-action and 3D, and one of the main character is J.D.'s brother from Scrubs, and it did NOT do well. Maybe because the whole Yogi Bear plot — that is, stealing pic-a-nic baskets — doesn't give much to elaborate on.
3. Scooby Doo, Where Are You!
Series Debut: 1969
Film Debut: 2002
Definitely the most self-aware film of the bunch, the first Scooby Doo live-action movie was one meta joke after another. Daphne was trivialized for forever playing the damsel-in-distress (and ultimately overcomes it by becoming a kung-fu master), Velma was embittered because her brains were overshadowed by the rest of the gang — it was a real treat if you had grown up with the series and could pick the flaws in it's format. The film REALLY got taken to the next level when Shaggy fell in love with a girl named Mary Jane (ha) and the perpetually-loathed Scrappy Doo turned out to be the villain. Brilliant.
4. Josie and the Pussycats
Series Debut: 1970
Film Debut: 2001
It's definitely cheesy in that early 2000's way, but I will actually vouch for the Josie and the Pussycats movie and say that I find it hilarious... as long as you consider it separate from the original cartoon. Whereas Scooby Doo was knowing, postmodern self-satire, Josie and the Pussycats was simply satire under the name of a vintage cartoon. You could have swapped in Jem and the Holograms and the results would be the same. (In fact, there's still a chance that might happen).
5. The Smurfs
Series Debut: 1981
Film Debut: 2011
The Smurfs follows the same live-action and 3D format as Yogi Bear, but plot wise I'd argue it's closer to something like the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. That is: You pair these innocent, trouble-making creatures with a maybe a daddy figure (Neil Patrick Harris) and just highlight how gosh darn adorable they are. There's definitely that fish-out-of-water element — I mean, New York is VERY different than the mushroom-shaped houses they live in — but it's not made to be clever, and it's not sophisticated film-making. It's simply using a nostalgic brand and turning into a cutesy, safe, bankable movie that parents will take their kids to on a boring Sunday.
6. The Powerpuff Girls
Series Debut: 1998
Film Debut: 2002
There are a few significant differences between The Powerpuff Girls Movie and all the previously mentioned films. Primarily, The Powerpuff Girls Movie is the only one to be traditionally animated, and secondarily, it was made while the original series was still in production. Well, what does this mean?
The Powerpuff Girls Movie is much closer to The Spongebob Movie and The Rugrats Movie than it is to anything else on this list, because it capitalized on the show at the height of it's power rather than the others, which mostly bank on a throwback appeal. Truth be told there were a LOT of other films that did this, and with varying amounts of success.
Nobody loves the Powerpuffs more than me, but if you were to watch the film now, you'll realize within seconds how absolutely unnecessary it is. I mean, we know the Powerpuff Girls origin story. We see it explained in less than 10 seconds during the theme song.
Kids, the motivation behind every movie is money, and that's the cynical-but-honest truth. But, in spite of that, you can potentially create a film adaptation that's smart and faithful — or at least creative. The Scooby Doo method would likely work best for The Jetsons, in that case: it both satiates fans and lovingly lampoons the original text, and it's especially effective when there's several decades separating the cartoon from the adaptation.
Who knows what way they'll go, though? Only time will tell.
Images: Hanna-Barbera, Giphy (1)