For years Hollywood has proven almost incapable of making a good live-action version of a cartoon, to the point that this article was originally called “6 Worst Live-Action Movies Based on Cartoons” until a mere three minutes of research caused that number to immediately jump to “427.” However, since we only have so much space and too much information would cause you to lose all hope in film as an art form, let’s just focus on these eleven glaring examples of abysmal adaptations...
Howard the Duck
If you ever wondered what it would be like to watch a four-foot tall duck from another dimension have sex with a human punk rocker played by the mom from “Back to the Future”—and then see his feathers go erect—your chance was in 1986. That’s when George Lucas took a cult-favorite Marvel comic book and produced what is considered one of the worst movies of all time, complete with an animatronic duck suit that took six midgets to operate, all of who shared a Razzie Award for “Worst New Actor.” Critical and audience reaction was so bad, in fact, that not only could many of those involved in the production not find work afterwards but when Lucas was asked if “The Star Wars Holiday Special” was the most horrible thing he ever had his name attached to, he could only look up at the sky and quietly utter, “No, there is another.”
In a move that made “Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties” look like the “Godfather II” of CGI comic strip pet movies by comparison, 20th Century Fox decided to do a live-action movie based on the long-running one-panel comic about a Great Dane who slowly but surely destroys his family’s life. The result was a disaster so universally panned that even ardent dog lovers hoped it would have the same ending as “Marley & Me,” only within the first three minutes of the film. Starring Owen Wilson as the voice of Marmaduke, Fergie as a Collie, and George Lopez as the voice of a cat who sounds like he had his own talk show on TBS before Conan arrived, the film ends with all the animals dancing and singing to The Romantics’ “What I Like About You,” a scene that will travel for years through space before reaching an alien civilization and informing them that for the good of the universe Earth must be destroyed.
Masters of the Universe
The cartoon series “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” was considered a joke even when it first appeared in 1983, since it was nothing more than a half-hour commercial for a new line of Mattel action figures featuring a main character who looked like a cross between a 2(x)ist male underwear model and the logo for Dutch Boy Paints. So when it came time to make a live-action movie version apparently no one on the movie crew took the production seriously, especially since it was released long after the original fans of the series had long stopped playing with the toys in favor of attending college. How else to explain star Dolph Lundgren being forced to wear Khan’s mullet from “Star Trek II” while trying to save a teenage Courtney Cox from a shrieking Skeletor in a movie so bad that of course they are currently planning to remake it.
The Last Airbender
Once M. Night Shyamalan was considered an innovative, engaging writer-director by people other than M. Night Shyamalan. Oh, how times have changed as the result of several high-profile flops (and every time he opened his damn mouth), including this critical and commercial bomb that hoped to launch a movie franchise based on the Nickelodeon cartoon series. The controversy began when the director hired many white actors to play roles originally intended as Asian. Then the real backlash kicked in when the audience realized Shyamalan had forgotten to write a plot (even one with a twist ending). Instead, he chose to rely on random 3-D effects, a voiceover that describes every meaningful scene Shyamalan forgot to shoot (which was clearly all of them), and acting so atrocious that it would make parents at an elementary school play scream at their own kid to get their sh*t together or get lost.
Hey, kids, remember the Hanna-Barbera cartoon “Yogi Bear”? Of course you don’t, especially since it hasn’t been on TV since before even some of your parents were born. But older Hollywood executives remember it and mistakenly thought the story of a tie-clad (but pantsless) bear who is apparently so hungry for human food that he’s just one missed meal away from a string of campground maulings would bring in both the wee ones and their folks. Starring Dan Aykroyd as Yogi and Justin Timberlake as his best friend Boo-Boo (a team-up that probably won’t be repeated on Timberlake’s upcoming album), the movie uses CGI for the bears and a random word generator for the script, resulting in a story so generic, so pointless, that 80 minutes later when you’re awoken in your chair by theater security you’d be hard-pressed to remember anything except your kids sobbing because you took them to see “Yogi Bear.”
Before Robin Williams was “ROBIN WILLIAMS!” and then eventually “Oy, it’s Robin Williams,” he was a TV actor looking to make his big break in the movies. And this was his first real chance, a family comedy-musical based on the comic strip/cartoon “Popeye” with tunes from a guy whose last hit was the theme song to the X-rated film “Midnight Cowboy.” Featuring a Popeye who actually hates spinach, songs with such creative titles as “He’s Large,” “I’m Mean,” and probably “That Guys Has Two Eyes,” and a heartwarming kidnapping, the movie is a big, bloated mess that ends with a giant octopus getting repeatedly punched because by that point even the screenwriter had given up and said, “I don’t know. Just hit something for 20 minutes.”
Featuring a cast of people including a future James Bond and several actors whose eventual IMDB credits lists would include mostly night shifts at Walgreen’s and knock-off KFC restaurants, “Flash Gordon” was based on a still-running sci-fi comic strip from the 1930’s. In an attempt to both update the comic to 1980—and apparently make the campy “Batman” TV series look like a Frontline report on vigilante justice by comparison—the movie turned the main character into a New York Jets player who gets sent to the planet Mongo and does battle with creatures that look like the studio forgot to check in on wardrobe occasionally. Despite being an absolute mess, the film—and especially a Queen soundtrack so spectacularly over-the-top even by Freddie Mercury standards—still has its loyal fans and even served as a plot point in the movie “Ted.”
Once the Saturday morning cartoon “The Smurfs” was the #1 show on NBC, proving just how often that network has been in the ratings toilet. That’s something for a series that focused on a bunch of tiny blue people and the evil wizard Gargamel who wanted to boil them into gold. (A transformation you think would have resulted in a lot of scalding drownings back in the seemingly cash-strapped Smurf Village.) Then almost 25 years later the Smurfs were resurrected on film (by the director who unleashed “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” unto the world like a horrible contagion), in which they get lost in New York City, use the word “smurf” so much you’d think it was a Tourette’s tic, and generally make you wonder which family member the studio was holding hostage to make Neil Patrick Harris star in this admittedly very successful embarrassment.
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle
“The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show” was a highly praised cult cartoon series from the early 1960’s, meaning this movie was already primed to be a financial disaster in the year 2000. But if “40-year-old cult cartoon” wasn’t a big enough nail in the profit coffin, the film offers a story in which the main cartoon villains Boris and Natasha become real thanks to a Hollywood contract, Rocky and Bullwinkle become living CGI characters because of a plot point, and Robert De Niro becomes “Fearless Leader” because he probably had payments on a fifth house he needed to make. The movie got a resounding “meh” from critics and audiences instead chose to stay home and watch Ross date Rachel, Rachel break up with Ross, or whatever the hell was happening on “Friends” at the time.
The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas
Though attacked by critics, the original live-action “Flintstones” movie from 1994 was such a success that a sequel was a given. Or a prequel in this case. A prequel that starred absolutely no one from the original film. (Hell, even Dino the Dinosaur isn’t in it, no doubt thanks to a wise agent who thought the pet was better off posing for Flintstones Chewables instead.) This time out we learn how Fred and Barney met Wilma and Betty with a little help from the Great Gazoo (the green alien from the original cartoon series) only to almost lose them to prehistoric rock singer Mick Jagged. Then Fred becomes a hopeless gambler, is charged with jewel theft, and is jailed because family film or not, Hollywood has a responsibility to show the dark underbelly of prehistoric life. Eventually all ends well…unless you invested in the movie, which took such a huge financial hit that it ended any plans for a third film, in which perhaps the Flintstones slowly sink into a tar pit and die.
Batman & Robin
“Rubber nipples.” When it comes to why the fourth Batman movie killed the franchise before Christopher Nolan rebooted it, the first answer is always “The rubber nipples on Batman and Robin’s suits.” (And perhaps the complete lack thereof on Batgirl’s suit.) The second through 149th answers cover a wide range of topics from a movie so unwatchable that even the director apologized to fans, acting that consisted of Arnold Schwarzenegger constantly making horribly unfunny one-liners like a drunk uncle who doesn’t realize everyone else already left the room, a godawful Smashing Pumpkins song with the title “The End Is the Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning and It Goes on Like This for Five Whole Minutes” and a cameraman who apparently was given only one direction—“No matter what is happening, no matter who is speaking, zoom in on the Batcrotch.”
Which was the worst live action cartoon? Let us know in the comments below!