If this is your first time dipping into the Animorphs Re-Read, I strongly suggest you head back to the beginning and start there unless you’re already familiar with the books. Alternatively, check out the Animorphs Re-Read tag page for a list of every post in the series.
Our regularly scheduled programming has been interrupted by THE TV SERIES POST, also known as ‘That thing I’ve been threatening to do since I started this feature’. See, the Animorphs TV show has something of a reputation among fans of the books. It’s not that it’s unrelentingly terrible, and there were certainly other shows around at the time that managed to acquire a cult following despite their questionable (at best) quality. The problem is that the books are so much better, and a lot of people feel that the show was either superfluous or a disappointment given what might have been.
My own introduction to the TV series was a bit complicated. I was living in Ireland by the time I read the books, and we didn’t yet have access to the cheese delivery system known as Nickelodeon. Or maybe we did, but you needed satellite or whatever to watch it. I can’t remember. Anyway, I found out about the show somehow, and immediately decided that I had to have it. It was like that time I discovered there are a few unpublished Calvin & Hobbes strips available online; suddenly my knowledge of this thing I loved was incomplete. A few months later, my dad sent over some tapes of the first few episodes of the show from America. Happy days!
Well, not quite. If you remember VHS,
may God help you you’ll no doubt recall what a colossal pain in the ass it was to get region-locked tapes to work properly even on a player that was supposedly multi-region. My aunt owned such a device, so I went over to her place, inserted the first tape into the player, and….
Uh. I’m not sure what happened after that. I vaguely recall watching a few episodes and thinking that the special effects were really terrible, which is saying something given that this was around the time I thought that Power Rangers movie was the cinematic equivalent of the Sistine Chapel. Mostly I just remember feeling profoundly indifferent. Not even disappointed, which would have been understandable given how long I’d waited to watch the series, but genuinely indifferent. I can’t remember if I watched the second tape, but if I did, it must have left no impression on me whatsoever.
That’s one reason why I was curious to try the series again. The books have held up far better than I expected, and it’s been enormous fun to reacquaint myself with them. Will the series be as boring as I remembered, or will it prove to be an unfairly-maligned attempt at adapting a fairly extravagant kid’s SF series to TV with minimal resources? Let’s find out…
My Name is Jake starts things off with a two-parter. It’s ostensibly based on The Invasion, but manages to leave out roughly half of the book’s content. If you think that sounds ominous, you would be right.
The book starts off in an arcade/comic-shop, which is a thing that apparently existed back then. The TV episode starts off in what appears to be an alien space ship:
Watching this scene was like having an IV bag of pure nostalgia plugged directly into my carotid artery. I remember watching a ton of shows back in the day that all featured these weird, ‘futuristic’ arcades where the main characters would hang out and play games that clearly weren’t arcade games. (In this case, it’s the Transformers: Beast Wars game for the original Playstation. I’m sad to say that I didn’t have to look that up.) The Animorphs rendition of this archetypical establishment is a particularly fine example: everything is green, the decor looks like it came from either a theme park, and if you look in that screenshot up above you’ll notice some sort of glowing blue doohicky just sitting in the middle of the table for no discernible reason. We’re less than a minute in, and already this doesn’t feel like it’s taking place in any version of the real world.
Oh, but I forgot to mention the series’ theme song. All I’ll say is that it is exactly what you’d expect from a kid’s show made in the year 1998. You can watch it here.
The intro also gives me a good chance to mention the actors:
So, there they are. Of all of them, Nadia Nascimento (Cassie) and Brooke Nevin (Rachel) look the most like how I pictured their characters. Boris Carbera and
Shawn Sean Ashmore look absolutely nothing like how I imagined Marco and Jake, respectively. Ashmore in particular looks more like how I would have imagined Tom than Jake.
But anyway, back to the episode itself!
The kids all leave the arcade/alien HQ, but in the show they wind up going through the construction site of destiny for a different reason than in the books: Homer is with them, and he runs off into the site while they’re walking past it. As we’ll see in a minute, there’s a good reason for the change.
For the next few minutes, everything plays out the way it does in the book. They see a bright light in the sky, it turns out to be an alien spaceship which subsequently crash-lands, and we get our first glimpse of an Andalite.
So, here’s a quote of something K.A. Applegate said in that Reddit thread I’ve mentioned a few times:
We were not huge fans of the TV show. We wanted it to be animated because with kid actors, animals and FX it had every expensive thing in Hollywood. We knew Nick didn’t have the kind of money to make it good.
This is a tactful way of saying ‘We knew it would look like crap’. And boy, were they ever right. Elfangor’s initial appearance isn’t too bad. We get a shot of his hooves (which look like real horse hooves), and then for the rest of the scene he’s mostly a close-up head in shadow. It’s an obvious cop-out, but it’s the kind of cop-out most kids will readily accept. Unfortunately, we get to see Visser Three in a bit more detail. Behold the alien overlord threatening the entire human species:
Where do I start? His stalk-eyes look ridiculous (although they were always going to be a tough sell). His face-eyes eyes appear to be pointed in different directions. And why is he so fuzzy? We also only get either a view of his upper body or an extreme close up of his face, meaning that it isn’t immediately clear that Andalites are built like centaurs. I could imagine someone who hadn’t read the books being extremely confused about the shot of Elfangor’s hooves. Oh, and there’s no scorpion tail on display either. I am disappoint.
I will say that they got his voice down perfectly, though. He actually sounds menacing, unlike in the books where a lot of his dialogue comes off as too over-the-top. So well done on that, I guess.Things play out more or less like they do in the book: Elfangor gives the kids the ability to morph, Visser Three shows up and eats him (off-screen), and the kids hide from a bunch of Hork-Bajir. Oh wait, no, they hide from a bunch of human Controllers and a single Hork-Bajir. It looks like this:
There’s an extended chase sequence, during which Jake eventually hides in a big metal tube. Homer runs in after him. Remember how I said Homer’s presence was going to be important? Well, here’s the payoff: Jake acquires and morphs Homer right there and then, rather than waiting until later like in the books. This removes the cool ‘Discovering their powers’ section from the first book, but I can see why they needed to speed things up for the show. Oh, and in this case at least, the morphing doesn’t look too bad. My only major complaint is that everyone can consistently morph full sets of clothing in the series, but that’s another thing that was obviously changed for the sake of convenience.
After making their escape, the kids meet up in school the next day to talk about the fact that they’ve been entrusted with the survival of every species on Earth. Chapman walks past them, and Jake realises that he was at the construction site the previous day. Duh-duh-duuuuh, Chapman is a Controller.End episode.
No really, that’s where it ends, having gotten through something like the first third of The Invasion. Luckily, it’s a two-parter! The second part mostly deals with the kids trying out their new abilities and acquiring their first few morphs. It also provides a brief introduction to their home lives.
One thing I didn’t mention before is that in the TV episode, Elfangor tries to give Tobias some sort of ‘Andalite disk’. This is presumably based on Elfangor’s mental connection to Tobias in the book. The disk takes up the second half of the episode, with the Animorphs trying to retrieve it from the construction site while avoiding Controllers. There’s not much to say about it, except that it’s a good indicator of things to come in terms of the producers trying to reuse sets as much as possible.
The second part of the first episode ends after covering barely half of the content in The Invasion. There’s been no mention of the Yeerk Pool, no major fighting with any Controllers (get used to that), and nothing about Tobias getting stuck as a hawk. In the next post, I’ll cover the rest of the first half of the first season and then move on to hit some ‘highlights’ of the series’ cost-cutting efforts. For example: remember how the book where they go and rescue Ax is really cool, what with all the underwater shenanigans? It’s not quite as good in the series.
See you next time!