We live in a time where established properties are considered a sound investment. This is why, among other things, we’re getting an Avatar: The Last Airbender live action adaptation, we got a One Piece live action adaptation, there’s a second attempt at Percy Jackson and the Olympians currently airing, and why the Hunger Games got a prequel movie. The media making machines likes known values, safe bets, a return on investment that is guaranteed.
Which is why I’m perpetually baffled when yet another year passes without a proper live-action adaptation of K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs. The mid-1990’s that bled over to the earliest of the 2000’s young adult science fiction was one of the most iconic novel series of that era. You couldn’t go to a library or bookstore without seeing the shelves lined with the book, each with a cover of a human transforming into an animal (and well… a couple other transformations here and there, but that’s beside the point). This was one of my first forays into serialized fiction and endeared me to reading alongside its horror anthology counterpart R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. And as another aside, Goosebumps managed to have a very successful live action modernization just last year, so I’m holding out hope that the trend continues for a long time to come.
The premise, which I know by heart but the IP is nearing three decades, is that after taking a short cut through a construction site, five teenagers find a strange blue centaur-esque alien with a scorpion-esque tail called an Andalite who telepathically communicates that Earth is under threat by the parasitic species Yeerk who will subjugate humanity. Thankfully, the strange blue centaur-esque alien with a scorpion-esque tail also happens to be in possession of a morphing cube which allow those who touch it to acquire the DNA of any animal they touch and be able to transform into the animal. However, there are rules, the most crucial of which is that there is a strict two-hour time limit lest you get stuck in the morph. (Given that this is a book about teenagers, it should be unsurprising that one of the teens gets stuck in the morph relatively early on in the series.) And from there, this randomly assorted group of teenagers now possess an exceeding strong and weird power and are tasked with fighting a covert war against an entire invading species of alien.
With fifty-four main books and ten additional supplemental stories that fleshed out the rest of the lore, the Animorphs universe is chock full of material. You could very easily get several seasons of television and TV specials and various spin-offs. The sky is very much the limit. K.A. Applegate masterfully wove a story about the horrors of war and got a whole generation of kids thinking about the consequences of actions and what they would do in impossible situations. A strict structure that helped younger readers understood the gravity of the situation; the structure was broken. An ensemble cast that allowed each kid to pick their favorite out of the crew that was diverse from the jump. You had a multi-perspective narrative from very different vantages that saw the group infiltrate office buildings, submarines, and artic bases. You had two mysterious god-like figures playing simulated chess. There’s such a deep lore, a compelling story that continually tried to fully realize its premise, it’s actually staggering that in an eternal arms race to make high profile consumable content that Animorphs doesn’t seem to remotely be in the zeitgeist. But it is there. In the outskirts, just waiting to pounce into prominence.
In 2020, Boom! Studios enlisted Chris Grine to adapt the source material into a graphic novel. And this news was quickly followed that a vague Animorphs movie was in the works. But it’s been almost four years of silence, and I’m gonna stake that Animorphs needs more than a movie or even a trilogy of movies. This is a serial epic. This is a tale of a secret with warring factions, political intrigue, and the potential for some of the coolest uses of CGI this side of the 2000s. Animorphs deserves prestige television funding. It deserves Game of Thrones and The Expanse money. Animorphs deserves to jump start the career of six young actors and catapult older ones back into the line-up. The poignancy of the story hasn’t wavered, and I want a new generation to experience the full story. It was designed with such a format in mind ever since the opening paragraph.
I had the fortune of reading most of the series (64 some books is a lot) and I also have fond memories of watching Nickelodeon’s ultimately doomed attempt to adapt the series in 1998. It was ambitious, and to their credit, it was a solid foundation that was just hampered by 90s technology and having the budget of a teen drama. If you don’t believe me, you can go watch it yourself on YouTube. You’d probably even recognize some younger versions of familiar actors. This is the perfect example of a series that was adapted too soon and deserves to be adapted properly. With the right resources, it could… well morph into one of the greatest sci-fi endeavors of the era.
Jake, Rachel, Marco, Cassie, Tobias, and Ax went through hell and while I wouldn’t call their ending happy, I will call their ending necessary and seminal. I am but a random voice on the internet who still thinks about a YA novel series they read decades ago and wants something that feels increasingly impossible these days: a chance to see a story told from start to finish.
Fifty-four novels is a nontrivial amount of story material and even if HBO-money were to suddenly fall into the lap of the producers, there’s still a decent chance that such an epic could not be told in full. But the dream is nice. The idea is one worth believing in. And if nothing, maybe we can start a book club.