I have been looking back at my childhood lately and despite trying so hard to become an adult, it was a simpler time. School was not as much of a hassle, I did not have to get a job to support myself and I had all the time in the world to explore the world around me. So what did I do with all of that free time? I sat on my ass, watched TV and played video games of course! I remember the glory days of Bugs Bunny and the Muppets on the boob tube, Duck Hunt on my mom’s Nintendo, reading Garfield and Peanuts and attempting (but failing miserably) at building Legos and creating my own adventures. Hell, I even remember watching South Park behind my parents’ backs and their frustration as I struggled to understand the concept of profanity. Those were the good days and even though I am only seventeen, I have those days where I wish I was six.
Apparently, I am not the only one who yearns for the simple concept of childhood because Hollywood hears these cries and over the long years has slowly but surely re-created our favourite childhood nostalgias and brought them to the silver screen. This would be all fine and dandy if it were not for the fact that most of these adaptations…. sucked. They have actually sucked so hard to the point where people have coined the phrase, “raped my childhood” to explain how terrible Hollywood’s attempts to relive our childhoods are. If these movies tend to be horrible, why are they made, why do we keep seeing them and will there ever be a renaissance in bringing back these nostalgic memories?
From as early as 1979, Hollywood has brought the great childhood nostalgias of the mid-twentieth century to the screen starting with such films as The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, The Wizard and The Tom and Jerry Movie. Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry and The Jetsons movies were just extended episodes of their respected shows, but The Wizard was something unique. It lured audiences into cinemas by using various video game characters in their advertising. The trailer references Super Mario Brothers 3 and Double Dragon in particular and uses various video game characters for its poster. Even though most critics panned it, The Wizard made double its budget back and from there, your favourite thing as a child was slowly but surely becoming a movie.
By the time the mid 90’s hit, films li animated nostalgia were becoming non existent and the idea of incorporating nostalgic cartoons, toys and video games into live action films was growing stronger. Eventually, we got live action adaptations of The Flintstones, Dennis the Menace, George of the Jungle, and Inspector Gadget hitting theatres and people ran to theatres to see them. Sure, there were those few that royally flopped (Super Mario Brothers), but most of these films were making over $100 million each and were huge for studios. People loved seeing their favourite cartoons on the screen and the studios loved the money that came out of it. No matter how pissy critics were about them, audiences didn’t care and were not seeing the damage these films were doing to their childhoods just yet.
By the time the twenty-first century rolled around, more and more nostalgic films were being produced. In 2000 alone, we got a Grinch movie, a Flintstones sequel, a Rocky and Bullwinkle movie and a Winnie the Pooh movie. In 2001, we got Final Fantasy and a Lara Croft movie. By the time 2004 was here, we had a Lara Croft sequel, two Scooby Doo movies, a Garfield movie, two Resident Evil films, a Starsky and Hutch movie, a Thunderbirds movie, a Cat in the Hat movie, a Fat Albert movie and even kids of today were getting movies from their favourite shows including three Pokemon movies and movies based on Spongebob, Yu-Gi-Oh and Clifford the Dog. Yes, they even made a Clifford movie. Besides a couple major flops, these films made a ton of bank and were still seen as successes for the studios. Unlike the 90’s, something had changed and one thing was getting really obvious, the studios were forcing these out and obviously were just cashing in on the name. Did they do this in the 90’s as well? Absolutely. What changed was that the cynicism of the studios was becoming more obvious to general film goers as these films were just being made as if they were from a factory. In the 90’s, there were at least 26 films released based on childhood nostalgia at the time. In half that time, from 2000-2004, twenty-two were made. By now, fans and critics just had enough. These films, despite still making tons of money were still getting horrible word of mouth and people were just sick of them. Sure, there were some more in the next two years but nothing worth remembering.
Eventually, 2007 hit and something happened. Michael Bay decided to combine the ever popular summer blockbuster with childhood nostalgia and brought us Transformers. With the huge success of Transformers, Michael Bay brought back the nostalgia film genre and three more sequels to the ever growing franchise. The first Transformers film was decently received with critics compared to its peers, but as the franchise continued, it got sloppier and became more and more separate from its original source material providing stupid humour along with stereotypes and no substance what so ever, in other words, we went back to square one. Studios made money and we paid them to butcher our favourites.
With all of this tripe hitting theatres, why do we still give producers our money? I cannot speak for everyone, but for myself, it is always hope that it will stick to the source material and make me long to relive my youth again. As often as these films happen to be terrible, there happen to be those few that reach or exceed those expectations. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s The Lego Movie was fantastic for this. The whole movie is about the joys and the simplicities of being young. Especially in the scene where the little boy is playing with Legos in the basement. It’s one of the most relatable, emotional and powerful scenes I have ever seen in a kid’s film because every one of us has been there. Whether you were playing with Lego or if you were playing with toys or whatever, that scene made people remember the unique creativity you develop at a young age imagining different worlds and playing them out like it was your own little movie. This is how these projects should be presented on the silver screen, with true honour and respect to the source material as well as its target audience. There are other films that bring back that nostalgic feeling such as Jason Segel’s pet project The Muppets (2011). While being self aware of what it was, in the same Muppet style, the film also gave off tons of emotion and love to the franchise and its fans, making the best Muppet movie in fifteen years.
There are plenty more where that came from as well, but with Muppets and Lego in particular being as recent films as they are, will these two films become a step forward for nostalgic cinema? Unfortunately not. For every Muppets or Lego Movie, there is always more Transformers sequels or shameless adaptations. Looking at the small teaser for the new Peanuts movie in 2015, it looks like it will capture the charm really well, but then there are films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles scheduled for this year that may not. There can still be people like Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who care about their films as much as they do but there are more people like Michael Bay who say, “[audiences are] still going to see my movie” and do not care. It is just a matter of looking for the best ones. The ones that make you think about sitting on your ass watching cartoons, playing that cool video game and whatever else as a kid because there are those filmmakers that remember doing all of that too.