Live-Action Cartoons and Why They Fail

Last week the guys debated which was the worst adaptation from animation to live-action and now they continue that debate here on the latest installment of No Right Explanation. Enjoy!


Chris: Now here’s a debate I’ve wanted to do for a while, mostly because it gives me a chance to talk about two movies that really, really disappointed me. I’m a stupidly huge fan of Dragon Ball Z, and I quite enjoyed Avatar (I will say it’s the superior series, though that’s not today’s debate). That’s why I made sure to see the live-action adaptation at my soonest convenience, and both times I was horrified at the transition because there should have been no possible way to screw things up.

I can’t really think of any arguments that Kyle should have made either for The Last Airbender or against Dragonball Evolution as there’s not much more to say on the matter, though I was surprised he forgot to go into detail about how painfully M. Night mangled the names of all the characters. Rather than cut Kyle down, as is the norm, I figured I’d give a quick no-nonsense guide to transitioning an animated property into a live-action medium.

Step one: Find actors that look and sound similar to the animated characters.

Step two: Make said actors look exactly like the animated characters.

Step three: Copy/paste lines directly from the show.

Step four: Repeat step three until the script is finished.

Step five: Don’t blow your one big “thing.”

Step six: Movie.

It’s all that simple. Fans just want to see what they’ve always seen, except in live-action. They don’t want you to find a big name to fill the lead role or a hot girl to stand in as the love interest unless they look and sound as close to the originals as possible. They’re not showing up because they want to see a new imagining of the base property; they just want another excuse to see the show again.

That’s why the script should be the easiest thing ever to write as all you need to do is take the script exactly as it appeared in the show and shovel in lines of dialogue like they’re raisins in cereal. No one cares how clever you can make Goku sound if he doesn’t say some of the lines we all know and love or act anything like the character we grew up with. Producers are banking off the notion that fans will show up to a property that’s otherwise unsellable to the mainstream, so why ensure the movie won’t appeal to anyone at all?

Everything can always be forgiven if you remember to get that one big “thing” correct. Don’t forget that golden rule about scriptwriting: “If you get the big lies right, you can get away with the small ones.” All this means is that if the movie makes an effort to ensure the biggest aspects of the story are in line with the original, a lot is allowable. For instance, no one watched Dragonball Evolution for anything other than to see a live-action Kamehameha. Be honest there, if they hadn’t blown it in the end, you’d be happy with the film, right? Getting that one “thing” right is the saving grace of so many movies, like the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles getting the outfits perfect even though April didn’t look like we wanted and the whole movie is rather silly. It doesn’t matter because the Turtles looked correct and we were happy.

But we can’t always get what we want, and as a result live-action translations of animated shows are just going to continue disappointing, all because producers don’t seem to get it. Oh well.

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Kyle: Wow, here we go everybody.

If there’s one thing that we didn’t take into account during the debate, it’s the possibility for a redeeming sequel. Could The Last Airbender be easily forgotten if followed by two fantastic sequels that embody the spirit of the show? Sure. It’s unlikely, but it’s totally possible if they put the right amount of talent and money and time into it.

Funny thing: Dragonball: Evolution is such a failure that even the perfect trilogy of Dragonball Z films couldn’t save the series. First off, the cast wouldn’t come back. Justin Chatwin and Emmy Rossum are busy getting naked and winning Emmies on Showtime. The studio wouldn’t touch them now. They can’t play the ultimate hero couple after shifting their careers that far into gritty cable stuff.

Moreover, Shayamalan did prove that one whole season of TLA could be condensed into one movie. Fact is, three movies would have been enough for that whole series. But Dragonball? That series doesn’t end. By the time they would get into the parts that people really want, Chatwin would be age-appropriate for Master Roshi. A studio can’t greenlight an indefinite series. This isn’t Rocky.

Also, at least The Last Airbender had the correct production design. DB:E looked like a Disney Channel original movie for crying out loud. I’ve got friends who could do the same special effects on a laptop with Adobe products.


Dan: What a twist! Ah, the joke that has to be explained is not only a failed joke, but a joke that’s no longer funny. The fact that the points showed Chris winning but the footage showed Kyle winning was supposed to be a nod at a failed twist ending of Shyamalan fame. It seems his movies have become so poison and tasteless that references to his movies are now starting to fail. Thanks M. Night. Thanks.

So, let’s go over the points that did get tallied, and I will point out one that should have been counted as well. First point went to Kyle for what I think we can all agree was strike one in The Last Airbender‘s first mistake. M. Night has never seen an episode of the cartoon he supposedly is a great fan of. I picked the present tense of “Has” instead of past tense because I am sure he’s still not seen the show. Why should he, he’s already made the money? Say what you want about the Dragonball movie, I’m pretty sure the director has at least seen enough episodes to know that it involves a monkey monster. Right?

Second point went to Chris for pointing out Fox’s failures to know what to do with it’s properties, something that happens so often they should get a free sandwich by now. The Dragonball movie could have been a great many quality things, but after being in development hell for so long, there was weird moldy growths on all the script pages. No one wants that, especially the movie-viewing audience.

Kyle comes back with another point that does make you wonder if movie series can ever be made the way Back to the Future was. A trilogy shot all at once so the actors don’t age and go on to different projects (Well, the last two films anyway). Airbender is just set up better for a trilogy, and I’m pretty sure M. Night in his infinite optimism wanted to shoot three movies. If the actors aged, then it would work with the story, unlike Dragonball where people live thousands of years and come back to life just because they finished training or whatever.

Chris did an excellent arguement for the forth point. I had never seen either the movie or the cartoon, but after hearing that it was analogous to Uncle Ben not dying in Spiderman, I was up in arms about the backstory screwing as well. Dan defending the origin story of anime … if that doesn’t deserve a point, I don’t know what does.

Kyle next makes an observation that the Dragonball movie was not pretentious enough to not include an ending, and had I not been screwing with the points for the aforementioned joke, I would have given Kyle a point here. Shame on you Shyamalan, you’ve never made a sequel before, why would you assume people want to see your work more than once?

Chris got the final point for his anguish at a terrible kamehameha, and I don’t care if that’s spelled wrong. I have been working with Chris for quite some time now, and I have heard him yell that many times. I gather it is important, somehow central to the cartoon. For the live-action movie to screw it up is really upsetting to Chris, and I have to give him a point for taking it like a champ.

Seriously, he yells that a lot.

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Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.