Top 10 Worst Live-Action Cartoon Adaptations

by Eric Melin on August 4, 2009

in Top 10s

Andrew Reed has graced the web pages of Scene-Stealers before. He’s a regular sitegoer who leaves loads of great comments, but he’s also written list of Top 10 Movie Cougars and Top 10 Unfairly Maligned Sequels. Currently living in Argentina, he aslo runs the excellent movie/music blog Fighting the Youth. In honor of this weekend’s live-action adaptation of “G.I. Joe” (which the studio is NOT screening for us critics this week…hmmm), he’s got a list of pasts cartoon trainwrecks. If you have a Top 10 list you’d like to contribute, email me at eric@scene-stealers.com. Here’s Andrew:

I originally wanted to write a Top 10 Best Cartoon Remakes, but then I realized that there would be a significant problem with that approach. Remakes of cartoons are nearly always dreadful at best. I am afraid that I must conclude that Michael Bay’s first “Transformers” effort barely gets the nod over the first “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie as the best one ever made. Greatly begrudging and half-hearted kudos to you, Mr. Bay. The fact that these remakes are always a disappointment has not slowed their production. Aside from this week’s sure to be deflating journey into the live-action world of “G.I. Joe,” here’s an abridged list of other projects apparently on the docket: Voltron, Hong Kong Phooey, The Smurfs, Tom and Jerry, Marvin the Martian, Yogi Bear, Johnny Quest, Thundercats, The Last Airbender, He-Man, and The Jetsons.

To be honest, that last one has me mildly intrigued. Maybe there’s a reason they keep sucking us in to watch these dreadful things. Maybe we’re all curious to see if the magic that dazzled us with only two dimensions when we were children can be translated to our adult frame of reference. Sadly, these movies seem to always fail for both fans of the series and those who’ve never heard of them before. You’ll surely be irked at what didn’t make the cut, but there’s only room for ten. So let’s get this over with already: It’s the Top 10 Worst Live-Action Cartoon Adaptations.

10. Underdog (2007)

Say what you want about the original “Underdog” cartoon. It was flimsy, repetitive and campy as hell, but at least it had character. After taking a pill, Shoeshine Boy would transform into Underdog and rescue his Sweet Polly Purebred from the nefarious Simon Bar Sinister. From the newsreel narration to Underdog’s peppy attitude, its tone always delivered a smile to viewers’ faces. But this Disney film is not interested in tone. It’s hard to tell if it’s interested in much of anything, actually. Casting a real beagle as Underdog is a questionable decision at best; in the series he always seemed more like a regular person who was born with floppy ears and a wet nose. Affected by a lab experiment gone awry, Underdog can suddenly talk and fly and accidentally blow things up. It all plays out like a cross between Benji and Blankman, except, you know, dumber. If they really wanted to make this a dumbed down kids film, they should have made a “Superdog” movie and called it “Air Bud: Pooper Trooper.” Or they could have gone in the other direction and hired Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. But this is family fare that will only serve to put your kids to sleep. Also, I freaking hate beagles (long story). Here’s an example of the humor on display in this stupid movie:

9. Masters of the Universe (1987)

How do you translate a beloved, but somewhat insipid children’s cartoon to the big screen in 1987? You bring the characters from Eternia to Earth, of course. That way you don’t need any elaborate sets or special effects. Also, you completely abandon most of the storyline, history, and characters from the original series because you think you can come up with something better – like soldiers in black helmets with machine guns (seriously). And of course, you hire Dolph Lundgren. The He-Man series was always a rather basic show, with Prince Adam and Cringer screwing around until Skeletor showed up with a cadre of evil dudes at which time Adam would transform into He-Man and save the day. But this film adaptation completely ignored the Prince Adam storyline. Instead, the main characters are two high school sweethearts, one of whom is played by a young Courtney Cox. This movie exudes the notion that was made up as it went along, completely full of nonsensical preening and lacking the majority of the eccentric characters from the series. The funny thing is, as bad as this film was, the only thing that kiboshed a sequel was the high cost Mattell was charging for the rights to the characters.

8. Josie and the Pussycats (2001)

The one thing they did right with this movie was to hire three hot chicks. (Admit it. You thought Tara Reid was hot right up until she became Tara Reid.) Sadly, that’s the only thing. The TV show always featured the band seemingly “covering” an episode of Scooby-Doo whereby they would foil some sinister villain’s plot to destroy the world or steal a lot of money. In the film, the scheme is being perpetrated by their own record label and the U.S. Government. But it’s so incredibly stupid that it pains me to give the description. The whole idea is that the government is trying to make sure teens get the message that they should spend their hard-earned babysitting and lawn-mowing money to further the economy and embrace American consumerism. It’s hard to tell if the filmmakers were trying to make a point because there were 73 separate companies that were involved with product placement in the film (though none of them paid for it). It’s also hard to tell if they were trying to make a joke because there’s not a single thing worth laughing at in the entire film. During their meteoric rise to superstardom, the girls get “catty” with each other before working out their differences. The end result is one of the most boring and credulous movies about the inner workings of pop music you could imagine. But hey, at least the music is horrendous:

7. Garfield (2004)

OK, let’s start with the fact that outside of tracking down lasagna from the kitchen, Garfield isn’t supposed to “do” anything. That’s the whole point of his existence and the reason suburban 40-somethings paste his image on their cubicle walls. After a cursory look at his laziness, the majority of this film consists of Garfield running around town, trying to save Odie, a dog he hates. Bill Murray supplies Garfield’s voice, a transgression for which he will be forgiven largely because he’s Bill Murray and because it’s only his voice, so nobody will casually recognize him while flipping across TBS. But worse than the nonsense surrounding the main character is the romantic subplot played out between Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt. After seeing Hewitt’s “The Tuxedo,” I recently remarked to a friend that the most notable thing in the film is that Jackie Chan acts circles around her, and he can’t even speak English. In this case, the real dog playing Odie easily outdoes them both, though this his hardly surprising. I realize making a movie out of a character that is used to occupying our attention for three panels a day is a daunting challenge. But nobody held a gun to the heads of the filmmakers and demanded they take up such a challenge.

6. Mr. Magoo (1997)

It is tempting to believe that Leslie Nielsen was simply so old that he thought he would probably die soon after the success of “The Naked Gun” and its sequels and wanted to make as much money as he could as quickly as possible. How else can you explain appearing in “Spy Hard,” “Surf Ninjas,” “Wrongfully Accused,” and “2001: A Space Travesty”? But of all the dreadful films he’s made, none are more ill-conceived than “Mr. Magoo.” This might be the best existing example of Hollywood executive stupidity. If you’re going to remake an old cartoon, at least choose one that people actually like. For those who don’t know, Mr. Magoo is basically blind, but apparently is not aware of the severity his condition, so he frequently mistakes one thing for another. What he believes to be a beautiful woman may in fact be a sunflower or a broom. He’ll wander into a restaurant thinking it’s a hospital or a zoo. Even though Nielsen is clearly not a picky man, I can’t help but wonder if he was already method acting when he OK’d the script. Actually, if you’re curious about this movie and want a laugh, the best thing to do is read Roger Ebert’s review and save yourself 87 minutes. It’s far more entertaining than anything in the film. Just watching the trailer is unbearable.

5. Inspector Gadget (1999)

This was probably an idea doomed from the start, but casting Matthew Broderick in the titular role certainly didn’t help matters. Broderick can play the bumbling fool, but not an arrogantly incurious one. And since arrogant incuriousity was the whole point of the original series, it was clear that they weren’t even aiming at the right target. The movie finds itself completely derailed from its source material, but has a myriad of other problems as well. Whoever thought it was a good idea to take a character who has a helicopter come out of his hat and “play it straight” had a couple screws loose. Instead of giving Gadget a wild series of clues to follow (with help from his niece Penny and her computer book), we get a maudlin backstory of a security guard who always wanted to be a police officer, and is also a really nice guy. After being nearly killed, they turn him into an android who then goes about saving the day and whatnot. It’s like Robocop, but for comotose kids. Maybe they were trying to set up a series of films that would better follow the gleefully obtuse antics of the original series, but the film was such a disaster that the inevitable follow-up featuring French Stewart and went straight to DVD. Thank goodness. Trust me when I say that this video is better than any scene in the film. You’re welcome.

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

This is easily the biggest disappointment on the list. The story is as revered as they come, and the 1966 cartoon is replayed every Christmas with wide appreciation. A big-budget treatment directed by Ron Howard starring Jim Carrey certainly seemed like a good idea. But its failings are as varied as they are consistent. Let’s start with the glaringly obvious: the Whos down in Whoville look really freaking creepy. I felt the strong urge to look away every time one appeared onscreen. The original special was only 26 minutes, a running time that pretty much told the complete story. To stretch it into a feature film, various asinine plot points were included or adjusted. First of all, the Grinch has a past as one of the Whos, he has a love interest putting him in competition with the current mayor of Whoville, and little Cindy Lou Who has a weird fascination/friend crush on the Grinch. None of this makes any sense except to align the film with typical Ron Howardian sentimentalism and add minutes. But the biggest problem is that Jim Carrey does exactly what he was hired to do: act like a buffoon. That the majority of his scenes are shared solely with a dog only gives him more creative license. The Grinch was always more conniving than evil and in no way a clown. But Carrey hams it up way more than he did as The Mask. With all the plot changes and Carrey’s mugging, they should have just made up a whole new set of characters and called it something else. It wouldn’t have made the movie any better, but at least Theo Geisel’s grave could stop spinning.

3. Scooby-Doo (2002)

You knew this would be a bad idea the moment you heard about it. While nobody would ever go as far as to call the cartoon “smart”, at least it had a somewhat hair-raising edge to it. But of course, the live-action incarnation was directed at those 8 and under which meant all the spookiness, sense of fear, and pot jokes would be left out of the script. (Seriously, what exactly is in a Scooby-snack? Why do they crave them so much and become wildly paranoid after eating them? But I digress.) Combine that with the casting of Hollywood’s “up and comers” in the four human roles and this thing was doomed from the first moment director Raja Gosnell said “Action.” Matthew Lillard puts a lot of effort into his Shaggy voice, but aside from that, none of the principals can keep up with the CGI dog, and the plot is worse than any episode of the original series. Also, instead of the Harlem Globetrotters, we get the band Sugar Ray. Things were so bad that I was longing for Scrappy Doo. Perhaps the movie’s biggest crime is casting a hotter actress as Velma (Linda Cardellini) than the one they picked for Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Whose idea was that? At least we can thank this film for lowering the profile of both Freddie Prinze Jr. and Gellar. So in that sense, I suppose it’s not completely worthless.

2. The Flintstones (1994)
Halle Berry in a cheetah bikini only gets you so far. This is the one that opened the floodgates and therefore deserves a huge chunk of the blame for this list’s existence. Perhaps some movie producer stumbled upon “Raising Arizona,” heard John Goodman’s ubiquitous screaming and realized he’d riff a good “Wiiiiillllllmaaaaaa!” No matter what the impetus was for this project, you’d be hard pressed to think of a more boring way to spend an afternoon. Goodman’s “acting” in this one consists mainly talking out of one side of his mouth, and he’s not given the opportunity to pull off even the most modest of Fred’s traditional crafty schemes. From a business standpoint, they were on to something as this dreadful piece of schlock netted over $350,000,000 worldwide (plus another $70,000,000 in rentals). That number probably overcame the considerable advertising budget. This is a complete waste of time for all involved, but especially for any poor viewer who’s bothered to sit down and watch it. It gets high distinction on this list because its success opened led to most of the others. This clip is more entertaining than the movie itself. Working hard on those moves…

1. The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000)

This steamy mess of a disaster cost 76 million dollars to make, but only garnered 26 million at the box office. It also caused considerable damage to the reputation of producer and star Robert De Niro. Not only does it completely miss the entire point of the series, but there’s not a damn thing in this movie that remotely works. They apparently thought that putting famous names alongside the cartoon characters everyone knew and loved would be sufficient. In lieu of working on a real script, they painted the scenes with broad, dumb strokes and happily called it a day. Every attempt at the tongue-in-cheek humor from the original series ended up failing in this movie. Instead, we get terrible puns that are not played for laughs – just for the references themselves. Whoopi Goldberg’s cameo as a judge who exclaims “Oh my God, it’s Rocky and Bullwinkle!” pretty much sums up the approach to making this movie. Watch the trailer, realize that these are the best jokes they had, and you’ll quickly get the idea.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TbMark August 4, 2009 at 12:53 am

Every movie on this list made me hurt a little more than the one before it.

Good job!

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2 Xavier August 4, 2009 at 6:39 am

Great list, although I have to disagree with transformers being the best live action cartoon, speed racer was way better.
I would also love to hear which one of those eric liked.
Isn’t there an upcoming or recently released dragonball z movie that looks equally terrible as all those on this list.
Here’s some more I think its only a matter of time before they’re made into live action films
Beyblades
Pokemon
Yu-Gi-Oh
Sailor Moon
Daria

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3 Dana August 4, 2009 at 7:34 am

“Masters of the Universe” is awesomely bad! I’ll give you the fact that I was four years old when it came out but I love the shit out of that one. I watched both the He-Man and She-Rah cartoons, and you’re correct that it doesn’t follow the series much, but it still damn good fun. Sometimes when something is so bad, it’s good!

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4 Dana August 4, 2009 at 7:36 am

I meant She-Ra, I hate that you can’t delete your spelling mistakes on here!

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5 Eric Melin August 4, 2009 at 8:50 am

Xavier- I agree with you that “Speed Racer” is the best live-action adaptation ever! It’s certainly the only one that tried hard to emulate its source material’s style by coming up with a unique live-action equivalent. The movie on here that I like is “Josie and the Pussycats.” I think the music is bubblegum-infectious (featuring Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo and writing/production by and Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and Matthew Sweet) and the anti-consumerism message is delivered with a wink and a nod. It’s not the best ever, ut its good, clean fun! I put the band on my honorable mention list for Top 10 Fictional Bands in Movies.

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6 Rachelle August 4, 2009 at 10:22 am

Most of those movies I couldn’t even sit through the whole thing. Although I’m with Eric on Josie and the Pussycats. I like the movie (I think it’s meant to poke fun) and I am guilty of listening to the soundtrack quite often, as I’m a big Adam Schlesinger, Matthew Sweet, and Kay Hanley fan.

The list of apparently ready to be made cartoons is scary. I wonder how long until girl cartoons get made into live action movies like: The Care Bears, My Little Pony’s, and Rainbow Brite. They could be terrifying in the same way I’m picturing big blue smurfs running around.

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7 Matthew August 4, 2009 at 11:27 am

I actually think a Daria movie could work. It’d probably be a lot like the movie for Ghost World, since Daria was clearly ripping off the Ghost World comic to begin with.

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8 Alan Rapp August 4, 2009 at 3:05 pm

“Say what you want about the original “Underdog” cartoon.”
I will, IT WAS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!
And there’s no way you can convince me that anything on this list is worse than the film (even the crapfest that is the Scooby Doo franchise).

Nice list, and I agree with you on the majority of it, but I’ve got some quibbles.

I’ll have to slightly disagree with you on Masters of the Universe which has a cheesy badness that makes it a borderline guilty pleasure (plus, any movie where the universe is saved by a Casio keyboard…), and though flawed Josie and the Pussycats has some nice moments – especially that opening scene with De Jour.

And I’ll strongly disagree with you on Rocky and Bullwinkle which I still feel gets the spirit of the show right, introduced us to Piper Perabo, and has a few quotable lines which I use even to this day (“Which one is the any key?”)

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9 Matías Potel Feola August 4, 2009 at 3:11 pm

That was an amazing ranking Andrew, I totally agree with you. Luckily I’ve managed to avoid seeing at least half of this nightmares, but that other half is some time that I’ll never get back again… specially He-man!

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10 Capt. Sci-Fi (Eric C.) August 4, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Good list but here’s my list of the worse cartoons to live action movies:
10. Boris and Natasha: the Movie (No moose or squirrel)
9. Dudley Do-Right (Stars Brendan Faser. Another Bullwinkle insired train wreck)
8. George of the Jungle (Brendan Fraser tries again)
7. Mr. Magoo
6. Inspector Gadget
5. The Cat in the Hat (Far worse than the Grinch)
4. Scooby Doo (They should have started with the much better sequal)
3. The Flintstones (Speilberg forgive me)
2. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (3 strike & your OUT)
1. Popeye (Not just the worse cartoon insired movie but one of the worse all time movies)

I think Johnny Quest could work well. Of course, they’ll go all PR for Hoggie. I’d like to see a Battle of the Planets movie.

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11 Will August 4, 2009 at 5:05 pm

What’s especially sad about this is that I actually have seen almost every movie on this list at one point or another. I remember seeing “The Flintstones”, “Scooby Doo” and “Inspector Gadget” all in theaters and they were all disappointing….but none hurt more than “Rocky and Bullwinkle” :( …..talk about ruining one of my favorite childhood shows…..

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12 Troy August 5, 2009 at 12:54 am

Dragon Ball Z was completly ruined in the new live action movie. The thoughts of them even thinkin about doing Cowboy Bebop is scary…Good list!

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13 Capt. Sci-Fi (Eric C.) August 5, 2009 at 10:57 am

What?

Nobody else thinks Popeye was the worst.

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14 Sean August 6, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Great list Andrew. I have to agree with Captain Sci Fi that The Cat in the Hat was as bad if not worse than the Grinch. As far as Popeye goes, I didnt dislike that one to much, but that may be because I saw it at such a young age in the theaters and I really enjoyed it as a kid.
I cant wait for the Wacky Races movie.

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15 Reed August 6, 2009 at 5:42 pm

I still haven’t seen Speed Racer (had the option on a tiny airplane screen and figured it wasn’t the proper venue). I imagine that it is indeed better than Transformers.

Cat in the Hat didn’t qualify because even though there was a cartoon made, it’s not like anyone’s ever watched it. So I considered the source material a book in that case. But it was seriously contemplated nonetheless.

How the hell did I forget Popeye? I’d probably blocked from memory the six times I tried to watch it for more than five minutes. It definitely deserves a spot in the Top Ten. But what to cut…?

Alan, I didn’t mean to dis Underdog. I love that show. While this movie version is an abomination, it was nearly beaten out by another Jason Lee vehicle, Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Thanks for reading, y’alls!

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16 Capt. Sci-Fi (Eric C.) August 7, 2009 at 10:25 am

Saw the new G.I.Joe movie last night with my 2 sons (ages 7 & 10). I liked it for the most part. Far from great but okay.

Parent warning!
This is not the cartoon where you see the parachute after a plane is shot down. It is a very PG-13 (bordering on R) movie. I was expecting something like Spider-man but its closer (maybe worse) than The Dark Knight. More than once mini guided missles are used to explode someones head. 12 inch spikes are jammed into sides of a dead man head to electronicly read his dying mind and that was just the Joes. Cobra was nastier.

P.S.
My boys say they liked:
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Garfield
George of the Jungle
and The Masters of the Universe

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17 Capt. Sci-Fi (Eric C.) August 7, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Brendon Fraser has a cameo in G.I.Joe as Sgt. Slaughter. The man must love his cartoons.

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18 Kari August 23, 2009 at 2:19 pm

umm…CAT IN THE HAT!!!! ugh, still have nightmares about how they butchered that movie

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19 Eric Melin August 24, 2009 at 9:47 am

Kari- That’s a good addition–almost forgot the 1971 TV version ever existed!

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20 Reed September 30, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Yes, I contemplated the Cat in the Hat, just because it was such an abomination, but I couldn’t bring myself to call the source material a cartoon. And I actually thought the Grinch was equally bad and a more beloved tale. Maybe my heart is three sizes too small, but I can’t think of a way they could have made that movie any worse.

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21 Neil Dunsmore March 10, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Well, this was an interesting read and I agree with most of these, however, there are some on this list I actually did like, even if it was just a little bit (I do respect your opinion, though):
1) The Grinch was good for a laugh and that’s about it. Besides, Cat in the Hat was FAR worse and, in my personal opinion, the only truly bad Hollywood adaptation of a Dr. Seuss novel.
2) I don’t know what it was, but I actually found Rocky and Bullwinkle’s cheap humor worthy of a good laugh here and there. I normally hate puns thanks to a certain company whose name will not be mentioned, but I didn’t mind them in this for some reason.
3) Inspector Gadget, imo, is one of the most underrated films ever made. Really, it’s not that bad. Sure, there are inaccuracies, but compared to most of the others on this list, they’re not too major. Maybe it’s just the fact that our family actually owns it on VHS talking, but I like the Inspector Gadget movie.

Other than that, I pretty much agree. Granted, I didn’t quite hate Scooby Doo, but I think that’s mostly because it felt like it was more written for nostalgic adults than kids. Who can forget moments like…?
Fred: *Looks at Daphne’s chest and grins seductively* Hey, I can look at myself naked!
Wow… just… wow…

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22 Reed December 20, 2010 at 10:17 am

I just realized (all this time later) that I forgot to include Richie Rich. I guess I had buried the memory of the movie’s existence in the first place. Good for me.

And based on its current reviews, Yogi Bear would surely make the cut.

Also, I forgot that The Jungle Book live-action adaptation with Jason Scott Lee was actually pretty decent – certainly better than Transformers. One day I’ll get around to catching Speed Racer and i can decided which worked better.

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23 jeff lanham February 26, 2015 at 4:56 am

I don’t know bout u guys but I think these flicks are the bomb

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