Slide show: A look at the good, the bad and the ugly big-screen adaptations of our childhood playthings
Original product: Licensed by Hasbro in 1984 from the Japanese Micro Change and Diaclone toys. These kids’ toys “transformed” from 20th century vehicles into robots that could be used for good or evil. Just like cars in general.
Adaptations: A comic book from Marvel and a cartoon series, “The Transformers.”
Glaring changes to live-action film: Inclusion of humans in the battle between the Decepticons and Autobots. Despite playing the voice of a Unicron in the animated “Transformers: The Movie,” Orson Welles is missing from the subsequent Michael Bay franchise.
Original product: Board game created in England in 1949 under the name Cluedo. There were nine weapons in this first version, including an ax, a syringe, a walking stick, a bomb and poison (that was apparently not in the syringe?), adding a level of gruesomeness to the game play. There was also a gun room, which I imagine was discontinued once players realized that’s usually where people get murdered with bombs.
Adaptations: Parker Brothers Americanized version of “Clue” (now owned by Hasbro), an interactive musical that ran off-Broadway, and a series of young adult books (that I actually remember reading).
Glaring changes to live-action film: Added a series of subplots including communist subterfuge, the missing physics for the next fusion bomb (which technically, could be considered part of the original game), whorehouses, the Pentagon and Tim Curry. Theaters showed one of three possible endings, and audiences would have to buy another ticket if they wanted to watch another possible outcome, unlike the game of Clue where everyone sort of gives up halfway through and wanders off to see what’s on TV.
3. “Where the Wild Things Are”
Original product: 1963 illustrated children’s book by Maurice Sendak. Max hates his home life, and one night his bedroom is transformed into a jungle where giant monsters name him their king. They have a wild rumpus, but Max gets homesick and goes back to his normal life, where tales of his adventure will probably lead to a series of antipsychotic medications and lifelong psychological issues.
Adaptations: An animated short in 1979 and an opera in 1980.
Glaring changes to live-action film: In Spike Jonze’s 2009 film, Max runs away from home instead of having his bedroom turn into a forest. Though originally fun-loving, the Wild Things are eventually revealed to be pretty depressed and angry, each monster a unique manifestation of Max’s own rage, fear and persecution complex. He runs home, where his mother embraces him and feeds him soup. Unclear whether he will be taken in for psychiatric evaluation, but those Wild Things could sure use some Prozac.
4. “Speed Racer”
Original product: Another Americanized Japanese concept, “Speed Racer” began as “Mach Go Go Go,” a manga serial created in 1958, and became an anime in 1967. The story revolved around a race car driver named Gō Mifune, his family, and his chimpanzee Sanpei. His major opponent is Racer X, who may or may not be Go’s missing older brother.
Adaptations: An English-dubbed version of the show “Speed Racer” began airing in America in 1967, and a modernized version of the show, “Speed Racer X” bombed on Nickelodeon in 2002. The manga and anime have also produced American spinoff comics, video games and toys.
Glaring changes to live-action film: Described as “genuinely confounding,” “headache-inducing” and “of no conceivable interest to anyone over the age of ten,” making this the film on the list that most resembles its frenetic Japanese cartoon origins.
5. “Boris and Natasha”
Original product: The villains of ’60s cartoon “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale were spies from Pottsylvania and took their orders from a man they called “Fearless Leader.” The Cold War era was very big on subtlety, as you can tell.
Adaptations: The duo made an appearance in the half-cartoon/half-live action movie “Rocky and Bullwinkle” in 2000.
Glaring changes to live-action film: 1992′s “Boris and Natasha” was a lot like the “Clue” movie, in that it had almost nothing in common with its origin story, besides the character names. Set in New York, Boris and Natasha have no accents, Rocky and Bullwinkle are reimagined as two men named “Agent Moose” and “Agent Squirrel” (and only have a second of screen time), and the plot makes no sense (something about time travel and potatoes?). Not that the cartoons were that coherent either.
Original product: “Popeye the Sailor” was introduced in 1929 as part of a Kings Feature comic strip called “Thimble Theatre.”
Adaptations: Though he started on paper, the cob pipe-smoking spinach lover is best known for his portrayal in Paramount cartoons from the ’40s. He even fought in World War II!
Glaring changes to live-action film: Having Robert Altman direct a cartoon adaptation must have been the result of one too many all-night coke-snorting sessions by some Hollywood executive, but the result, starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall, is pretty spectacular. While keeping to the adventure themes from the original series, the 1980 classic was also a musical. Again, blame it on the cocaine.
7. “Mars Attacks”
Original product: ’60s sci-fi trading cards.
Adaptations: None. The cards were generally thought to be too graphic and violent for children, and production was halted on the series.
Glaring changes to live-action film: Unlike the Tim Burton film, the original cards made no mention of the alien’s weakness for Slim Whitman’s music.
8. “Avatar: The Last Airbender”
Original product: An animated series on Nickelodeon that aired from 2005 to 2008. The world of “Airbender” is populated by humans, animals and mystical creatures, who control the elements and also know a lot of martial arts.
Adaptations: Video games and a spinoff series called “The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra.”
Glaring changes to live-action film: M. Night Shyamalan’s film version of the series cast several white actors in roles that were prominently Asian or Native American in the cartoon, bringing charges of racism to the director and writer’s door before the movie was even released. After its release, the racism complaints were the least of the film’s problems, as it was such a departure from the beloved source material in almost every respect that it was universally panned.
Original product: A paper-and-pencil game created in the early 1900s and patented by Milton-Bradley after World War I. Now it’s a beloved board game where children can pretend to sink their opponent’s naval fleet.
Adaptations: No TV show, comic or stuffed animal has ever been made out of Battleship, but maybe it’s because the game has no characters. Just ships.
Glaring changes to live-action film: Unknown, as the movie has yet to be released. But I’m pretty sure a miniature Rihanna was never one of the pieces in the game.
10. Mario Bros.
Original product: Created as an arcade game in 1983 by Nintendo’s Mario Burazā;zu, the title character was originally a plumber named “Jumpman.” When Nintendo released its home console in 1985, the game was renamed “Super Mario Bros.” and included a brother for Mario, a green plumber named Luigi. Mario’s original quest included trying to save Princess Toadstool, who was always in another damn castle.
Adaptations: Too many to name, but my personal favorite was the live-action “Super Mario Bros. Super Show!” featuring professional wrestler “Captain Lou” Albano talking to kids in a dingy basement.
Glaring changes to live-action film: 1993′s “Super Mario Bros.” was a major departure from the original story: Luigi gets the girl (Daisy, not Toadstool), the villain is King Koopa, not Bowser, and he’s played by freakin’ Dennis Hopper with all the malice of Frank from “Blue Velvet.”