Remember Power Rangers, that wacko show you used to watch as a kid? You know, with the colorful superhero team that assembles into a giant robot to fight stock footage from old Japanese kaiju movies? What if I told you there’s a new movie version of that hitting theaters this weekend?
What, you didn’t realize? I suppose it might be easy to miss – the primary colors have been replaced with a grimdark hue, and the giant monster battles seem to take a backseat to teen angst. This isn’t your grandfather’s Power Rangers – or yours, for that matter. This is a Power Rangers for those cool, edgy teens who crave the kind of entertainment they can experience intermittently, in between sexting sessions and tweeting about Snapchat filters.
But maybe Power Rangers shouldn’t be alone in all of this. A lot of our children’s entertainment is ripe for a dark, gritty reboot that abandons everything that made the original what it is – we assume for the better, because why else would they do it?
The Magic School Bus: Awakening
A bizarre teacher and a classroom full of students have access to a bus that can travel through time and space. If that doesn’t scream four-quadrant blockbuster, I don’t know what does. After an evildoer steals the bus for his own nefarious purposes (world domination, naturally), Captain Frizzle and her pint-size cadets must retrieve the bus and undo the villain’s evil plans. The emotional climax of the film comes with the heroic self-sacrifice of Ralphie, who saves the others by jumping on a live grenade. He gets off one last Classic Ralphie One-Liner (“This blows”) right before exploding into bits. His red cap hangs on Ms. Frizzle’s coat rack in the film’s final shot as a reminder of his bravery.
(As a sidenote: The Magic School Bus did have one really dark moment that has haunted me to this day. In an episode where the students travel to each planet in the solar system, Arnold gets fed up with the class and removes his space helmet while on Pluto, which instantly freezes his head, leaving only an Arnold-head-shaped block of ice in its wake. He’s fine in the next scene back on Earth, but he should have been killed instantly, and that’s something that 4-year-old Mike was never able to shake.)
The Wild Thornberrys: Resurgence
This series about a jungle-exploring family and a daughter who can talk to animals can be the next big survival drama, a la The Revenant. It’s an inarguable fact that The Revenant would be significantly improved with the addition of Tim Curry and a talking monkey. (You could argue against that fact if you wanted to, I suppose. Tell me, how does it feel to be so wrong?)
In this big-screen reboot, Eliza Thornberry and Darwin the monkey get separated from the rest of the family after natives attack their campsite. While the rest of the family deals with a completely feral Donnie, Eliza tries to find her way back, running into all sorts of dangerous animals along the way. The ending twist: Eliza’s ability to talk to animals is all in her head, and she is certifiably insane.
Adventure Time: Dawn of the Descent
Adventure Time already takes place in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, so we’re halfway there. But we can go darker. The movie adaptation is a Cormac McCarthy-esque odyssey, an examination of man’s crueler impulses. Finn and Jake are on the run – the government wants to use Jake’s shape-changing abilities for a weapon – and after the death of Princess Bubblegum, there is no safe haven left for them. Told as a stream-of-consciousness narrative and featuring a phenomenal performance by Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jake, Adventure Time: Dawn of the Descent could be a major Oscar contender.
Al Gore’s SpongeBob SquarePants: Scourge Of The Sea
Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is a good, informative documentary. But kids don’t watch documentaries, and Gore knows that. That’s why he bought the rights to SpongeBob SquarePants and decided to turn it into a horrifying parable for global warming. After pollution caused by man hits Bikini Bottom, its denizens begin to mutate into monstrous versions of themselves. SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, and Sandy find themselves holed up in the Krusty Krab … but one of them is infected. It’s a classic zombie scenario imposed upon some of the most beloved characters in modern children’s entertainment; I believe Zack Snyder is already attached to direct.
Kim Possible: Rogue Nation
OK, this might actually be awesome. Picture Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossed with Mission: Impossible. That sounds cool, right? Kim Possible was a show about a teenage girl who was also a super-spy. It’s pretty fondly remembered by those who grew up with it, and it features a wide variety of over-the-top villains, a bumbling comic relief sidekick who owns an awesome naked mole rat, and a ton of cool gadgets and action scenes. Disney, come on, this is a no-brainer. If you’re throwing money behind a live-action remake of Dumbo, I think you can scrounge up some cash to get this off the ground.
Michael Smith lives in a pineapple under Poughkeepsie, N.Y.