Five kids and an alien with the ability to turn into any beast they touch vs. an army of parasitic aliens who are slowly infiltrating Earth.Five kids and an alien with the ability to turn into any beast they touch vs. an army of parasitic aliens who are slowly infiltrating Earth.Five kids and an alien with the ability to turn into any beast they touch vs. an army of parasitic aliens who are slowly infiltrating Earth.
When I, a fresh-faced young lad of 11, first learned that a television show was in the works to bring my favorite books to life on the small screen, I was elated. I admit my heart sank a bit when I heard it was to be produced by Nickelodeon, who by the late '90s had shifted their focus from the preteen and teen market to a demographic exclusively in the 8-12 range; but realistically, what other network would air such an adaptation? The books were too violent and dark to air on a children's network, but no adult was going to watch a show about high school students turning into animals and fighting aliens. Perhaps it could have worked on the WB, following the success of high-school themed shows like Buffy, but alas, that was not the way things worked out.
Apart from the censorship, the biggest problem a Nickelodeon adaptation would run into was budgetary. The books played out on a grand scale, every installation featuring aliens, spaceships, guerrilla warfare, shapeshifting, and occasionally, entirely different planets. Those elements were either scaled back or dropped entirely for the television series. The alien prosthetics were unconvincing, Applegate's concepts being much more ambitious than the average "wrinkly forehead" aliens featured on the average Star Trek episode. I remember my disappointment at the introduction of Elfangor and the Hork Bajir in the pilot episode. They were underwhelming, to say the least.
When I discovered the show was available on Netflix, I watched it on a whim, in the background, with all the preconceptions of my high expectations dissipated in the course of time. The first few episodes are still pretty abysmal, with lackluster writing and facile direction. There just wasn't enough money or creative freedom to accomplish what Applegate did in the books.
As the series progresses, however, it comes into its own, crafting an identity as its own entity separate from the prose. The characters become more three-dimensional on their own terms; the acting improves; the budgetary limitations are circumvented. True, sometimes (oftentimes) the villains are incredibly stupid and the action sequences don't hold up all that well; the psychological and physical effects of a full-fledged war are neutered by the network mandate to remain "kid-friendly", which means no death or serious trauma can ever really befall the characters. But the basic human interaction, the relationships, improve, and the storytelling finds firmer footing. If you allow yourself to forget the source material, Animorphs stands as a worthy piece of family entertainment.
It's also fun to see a "before-they-were-famous" Shawn Ashmore and Paulo Costanzo, who have since achieved mainstream success via the X-Men franchise and the popular USA comedy/drama "Royal Pains", respectively. Maybe this is through glasses tinted with hindsight, but they are easily the strongest members of the cast (and I'm including the adults in that), with Ashmore growing into his own as conflicted "I didn't ask for this" leader Jake, and Costanzo stealing the show as fish-out-of-water alien-posing-as-human Aximili, who turns a simple cab ride into a comedy of errors.
- Jul 16, 2014