Reboots, remakes and adaptations are all the rage these days, and they are certainly very good at sparking rage. If a cartoon experienced the tiniest modicum of success at some point within living memory, Hollywood will eagerly snap it up and ride that nostalgia wave all the way to box office gold. Well, that’s the plan, anyway. And even though these films do tend to rake in the cash, there is no guarantee that long-time fans of the original show will be impressed by the new kid on the block. In fact, pretty much the only guarantee with regards to any remake is that some fans will get very, very angry about it. This is especially true when it comes to how their favorite characters are portrayed.
And to an extent, we get it. When you’ve grown up loving a show and you finally get a chance to see it come to life, of course you’ll want it to be as much like the original as possible. And Hollywood’s reputation for completely missing the point didn’t just pop up out of nowhere — they’ve dropped the ball lots of times, sometimes catastrophically. That being said, fans shouldn’t allow blind loyalty to a cartoon to prevent them from enjoying a perfectly entertaining depiction of their favorite characters, even if they are a little bit different now… but that has nothing to do with the disastrously altered characters on this list. Here are 20 classic cartoon characters who really should have stayed two-dimensional.
Despite the huge financial success of the Transformers film franchise, reactions from fans of the original cartoon series haven’t been uniformly positive. The Transformer who gets the most screentime is Bumblebee, but he is not quite the Bumblebee that ’80s kids might have been hoping for.
First, the films tend to focus more on Bumblebee’s human buddy, Sam Witwicky, than on Bumblebee himself, even though Bumblebee is a giant robot that can transform into a car and Sam is just a guy with annoying parents and a conventionally attractive girlfriend. When we get to see Bumblebee in action, it’s pretty cool, but pointless crude humor drags the character down.
The Shredder is one of the most memorable villains to come out of the ’80s. Underneath all that spiky armor is Oroku Saki, the leader of the Foot Clan and longtime rival of the Turtles’ mentor, Master Splinter. So naturally, the Shredder was announced as the big bad of 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the first live-action Turtles movie since 1993.
The problem? This Shredder would be a white guy named Eric Sacks. Fans went ballistic, and Sacks was quickly downgraded to Shredder’s second-in-command. The “real” Shredder only appeared for a couple of minutes at the end of the film. He doesn’t do much more in the sequel, Out of the Shadows, despite additional screen time.
The Jem and the Holograms cartoon is bright and happy and about as ’80s as you can get. The main character is Jem, aka Jerrica Benton, who runs a music company and fronts the titular band. The band’s name comes from Jerrica’s holograph machine, which gives her the appearance of Jem as she performs.
Apparently, someone forgot to tell all that to the creators of the 2015 movie adaptation. It’s very dark and ugly-looking, for starters. And Jerrica has been reimagined as a teen YouTube sensation who becomes a success overnight. As for those Holograms? It’s just home movies and a message from her father who passed away. Boo.
The premise of most Mario games is fairly simple, if weird. An Italian plumber named Mario, sometimes with his brother Luigi, jumps around the Mushroom Kingdom collecting coins and defeating minor villains, all with the goal of rescuing the distress-prone Princess Peach from the big bad.
Like many awful live-action adaptations, Super Mario Bros. rips the characters out of their magical habitat and transplants them into the “real world.” So now Mario is just an ordinary New York plumber who has never worn a Tanooki Suit in his life. Bob Hoskins does sort of look the part. Beyond that, any resemblance to any previous Marios is purely accidental.
Let’s be honest: everyone in 2010’s The Last Airbender deserves a spot on this list but we don’t have room for that, so let’s just talk about Aang. In the cartoon, he’s the only person who can unite the four nations — earth, fire, water and air — by learning how to control all four of those elements. Despite the gravity of his mission, Aang is still a child, and he is portrayed as such.
In the movie, Aang is a much flatter character, and therefore less interesting. He spends most of his time giving bland speeches, messing up and getting captured. And just as it seems we are about to get a big confrontation between him and one of the firebenders… the movie ends.
Dragonball Z is often ranked right up there among the greatest anime series of all-time. So it’s extra unfortunate that it got one of the worst live-action adaptations of all time, Dragonball Evolution, in 2009. The main character, Goku, was a gifted fighter from a young age, but he retained a certain level of naivete and was a well-rounded, likable character.
There is absolutely no sign of that Goku in Dragonball Evolution. Instead, he’s been replaced by a whiny, inexplicably white teenager who only cares about attracting his crush’s attention. Also, he’s almost completely incompetent until the end of the film.
The Wachowskis’ adaptation of the anime Speed Racer was, uh, polychromatic. It also took a few liberties with the beloved main characters and Racer X is prime example. Ever helpful and mysterious, Racer X is allegedly Speed Racer’s rival, although he frequently goes out of his way to protect Speed from other drivers and help him win races.
The big twist is that Racer X is secretly Speed’s supposedly dead brother, Rex. But the live-action version felt the need to insert a subplot about Rex getting plastic surgery to alter his appearance so that not even his family will recognize him. Was that really necessary?
Many characters have long, intricate backstories that help viewers understand them better. But other characters work better the less we know about them. Such is the case with Snake Eyes, a member of the G.I. Joe team. Snake Eyes’ entire life history was classified, until Hollywood got their hands on him. And what they tell us doesn’t mesh at all with what we’d previously learned about the character.
For instance, instead of being invited by a friend to train with the Arashikage ninja clan, it turns out Snake Eyes was an orphan who stumbled across the clan by accident. And rather than having his vocal cords destroyed on an early mission, he simply took a vow of silence.
Pixels, a movie about nerds saving the world from a video game-inspired alien invasion, should have been epic. And yet, all we got was another determinedly unfunny Adam Sandler movie that just happened to have video game characters in it. One of those characters is Q*bert, who appeared in his own video game and his own cartoon show in the early ’80s.
Q*bert ends up as a captive of the human protagonists. Then he shapeshifts into a good-looking female video game character so Josh Gad can fulfill his dream of marrying “her”. That’s what passes for a happy ending in Pixels — we would have preferred watching aliens take over the world.
Fans know April O’Neil as a reporter, a scientist or a telekinetic teenager, depending on which Ninja Turtles cartoon they grew up with. But across all versions, she is the Turtles’ closest human ally and is a daring, dependable ally. Her importance to the franchise cannot be overstated.
That being said, the 2014 and 2016 films give her way too much to do. April saves and names the turtles and defeats the Shredder in the first movie, and she defeats Karai, the deadliest member of the Foot Clan, in the sequel. And yet she still has all the personality of an April O’Neil cardboard cut-out.
The 2007 film Underdog shares its name, and nothing else, with an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon. In the original series, Underdog and the other canine characters are fully anthropomorphized to the point where the title character even has a job as a shoeshine boy.
In the remake, Shoeshine is the world’s worst police dog who just so happens to get splashed with a bunch of chemicals that give him superpowers. This accident, which is suspiciously similar to how the Flash obtained his powers, does not grant Shoeshine the charm of his animated predecessor. That, combined with pointless, generic supporting characters, makes Underdog a shrug-worthy flick.
Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast is a true classic. It combines a timeless story with flawless music, engaging characters and beautiful animation to create an Oscar-winning masterpiece. By contrast, Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast is a long, plodding journey whose only good points are those stolen directly from the cartoon.
Among the worst changes are those made to Belle. The original version was frustrated by her life, but she still showed wide-eyed enthusiasm about new experiences and subjects that interested her. The new version looks bored by everything, even the subpar computer-generated characters around her. The fact that she can’t sing worth beans anymore is just a bonus.
Mudflap didn’t appear too much in Transformers: Cybertron. But when he did, he would turn into a construction crane, and he didn’t particularly like humanity. He also spoke with a French accent for some reason and that’s still a heck of a lot better than what we got in 2009’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
The live-action franchise turns Mudflap, along with another character, Skids, into one of the most cringeworthy racially-insensitive caricatures in recent memory. Fans, and everyone else, reacted so poorly that Mudflap has not been seen in the film franchise since. We understand why he joined the Decepticons in Transformers: Cybertron now.
Disney sure does love remaking their own movies. Mulan, the tale of a young woman who poses as a man to take her father’s place in battle, will get the live-action treatment in 2020. But we already know that one character has been thoroughly wrecked by this remake: Li Shang, Mulan’s captain.
In the cartoon, Shang was tough on Mulan, as he was on all the new recruits, but he came to respect her once she proved herself in training.But according to Disney, Shang won’t appear at all in the new movie. Instead, we’re going to get Chen Honghui, who acts more as a rival to Mulan than as a mentor and friend. Not cool, Disney. Now who will tell Mulan she fights good?
Inspector Gadget is an ’80s cartoon series about an inept cyborg detective who is only able to solve cases with help from his niece, Penny, and her genius dog, Brain. It greatly benefits from the voice acting of Don Adams and from the fact that it’s animated, allowing for great creative visuals. The live-action version, released in 1999, has neither of those things.
Despite his incompetence, Gadget is still supposed to be a fun character. Matthew Broderick’s performance makes him seem bland and even a little creepy. But don’t worry. Broderick was replaced by French Stewart in the sequel — that was actually an improvement.
Aeon Flux aired in the ’90s and told the story of a post-apocalyptic society. The title character was a secret agent for Monica, one of two remaining population centers on the entire planet. She has a love/hate relationship with Trevor Goodchild, the ruler of Earth’s only other country, Bregna.
In 2003, Charlize Theron starred in what purported to be a live-action version of the cartoon. Say what you will about the cartoon — and it certainly could be strange and provocative — but it wasn’t the snoozefest that is this movie. Aeon herself is not nearly as exciting or interesting as her animated self. And for some reason she turns out to be the clone of Goodchild’s wife? Where’d that come from?
The classic anime Death Note, based on the manga of the same name, revolves around Japanese teenager Light Yagami. He acquires a book called the Death Note, which grants him the power to wipe out anyone whose face and name he knows. Light decides to use the Death Note to eliminate big-time criminals.
In Netflix’s take on this beloved series, the action is relocated to Seattle, Washington. Light Yagami becomes Light Turner because… well anyway, this Light is hot-tempered and one-dimensional, and rather than keeping the Death Note a secret, he immediately shows it off to impress his murder-happy classmate, Mia. And yet, somehow, Death Note is getting a sequel.
She is, without a doubt, one of Disney’s most memorable villains. In Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent curses the infant Princess Aurora to pass away on her 16th birthday. When it looks like her plans are about to fail, she turns herself into a giant magic dragon to fight off Aurora’s defenders. She is unapologetically, gloriously evil and that’s what makes her so great.
And then Maleficent happened. Their first mistake was in trying to convince audiences that a character named Maleficent was totally kind and good before her ex-boyfriend betrayed her. Furthermore, it turns out Maleficent was secretly the hero in the end. Basically, the film turns her into a milquetoast Elphaba wannabe with cheekbones that could cut through rock.
Hollywood has a long history of whitewashing: casting white actors to play characters of color, usually with the aid of bad make-up jobs. This terrible tradition has continued into the 21st century, thanks in part to films like The Last Airbender. Even though the characters are supposed to be Asian, most of the actors playing them are white.
The role of Katara, Aang’s waterbender friend, went to Nicola Peltz. Katara and her brother, Sokka, mostly seem to be here to provide comedy-free comedy relief. Katara’s ineffectual waterbending in particular is played for laughs more than once. That’s just like how she was in the original series, right? Right?!
In Dragon Ball, Ronshi is an old man who trains young Goku to become a great martial artist. He is your prototypical wise elderly teacher, although he is also a bit of a creep at times. Dragonball Evolution tries to remain faithful to that, with odd results. Roshi’s “unique” tendencies are minimized, but so are his better qualities.
Despite inventing the deadly Kamehameha fighting technique, Ronshi somehow manages to use it the wrong way. In one scene, he uses it to bring Goku back to life. It’s an attack move, not magical CPR! At least Ronshi is played by an Asian actor, Chow Yun-Fat, which is more than can be said of most of the rest of the cast.
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