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.
Wait, there are more episodes?
Yes, there are more episodes. Lots more, actually! Despite some questionable production values (and man, will I be harping on those in a few minutes), the Animorphs TV series managed to last for one full season and part of another. The episode order loosely follows the book order for the most part, although as we’ll see, there’s not exactly a 1:1 relationship between the two.
The first two episodes cover some of the events of The Invasion. The third episode includes most of the rest: the kids realize that Tom is a Controller, find the Yeerk Pool, fail to liberate anybody from the Yeerk Pool, and almost get killed.
Also hilariously-dated computers:
Remember that ‘Andalite disk’ thing from the previous episode? They try putting it in Marco’s computer, but DOS apparently doesn’t play well with alien technology. The computer crashes (for some reason), and the Mystery of the Disk is left for another day.
But wait, Tom is here! And he’s poking awkwardly at his ear! A doe, a deer, a female ear! Jake realises that his brother is a Controller and also appears to be in his thirties:
Anyway, the rest of the episode goes as you’d expect: Chapman’s evil, Yeerk Pool sucks (and is surprisingly well-done as the sets in this thing go), but Tobias disappears right at the end instead of meeting up with Jake. Oh, and the disk get stolen by the Yeerks.
It’s the next episode where things start to go screwy. Jake and Marco are hanging out at the Bizarro Internet Café when suddenly the computer screens start showing a message from one Mr. Andalite. The (incredibly garish) e-mail thing informs whoever might be reading that the Yeerks are willing to make a trade: one Andalite for the disk thingy. I have no idea why the Yeerks would do this, since they think the Animorphs are Andalites, and I can’t imagine why Andalites would be hanging out at a badly-decorate internet café. But whatever, let’s just go with it.
The kids devise a risky plan: they’ll do a bait-and-switch by tricking the Yeerks into taking an animal rather than one of them, then they’ll walk off with the disk. As part of the plan, Marco acquires and morphs a security guard with no hesitation whatsoever. I’m sorry, were you expecting a bit of moral complexity or introspection in your children’s TV? TOO BAD.
The plan goes off more-or-less without a hitch – but wait, it turns out Visser Three isn’t quite as dense as we thought! Instead of giving the Animorphs the Andalite disk, he gave them one of those sparkly things that makes patterns when you twirl it around.
I mean he gave them an advanced Yeerk tracking device. Yes.
The twirlyymajigger lets a trio of
godawful actors Controllers follow the Animorphs using an utterly ridiculous-looking machine. Here’s a screenshot:
Oh, and remember Dracon beams? In the TV series they’re played by flashlights:
But our heroes have tricked the Controllers by sticking the Thing into a cardboard display and putting it on an elevator. Ingenious.
If this episode starts to suggest that the series creators were willing (or forced) to suckify a lot of details from the book in order to keep costs low, then the sixth episode leaves absolutely no doubt about it. It’s based on The Message, Ax’s introduction, and it’s atrocious.
The setup is (mostly) the same as in the book, only without the scene where Jake notices some Andalite technology on a news report about beach combers. The kids start to get psychic hallucinations of NASA stock footage and a strange voice calling for help. In the books, this was Ax, and he was trapped at the bottom of the ocean. In the series it’s still Ax, but he’s trapped in an abandoned warehouse.
No really, an abandoned warehouse. In the first of these posts, I mentioned that the TV series didn’t really disappoint me as a kid, but watching this episode brought back a few bitter memories along the lines of ‘Where the hell is the Dome Ship?!’ This is without a doubt the episode that demonstrates why the series really should have been animated. Obviously, doing the Dolphin morph –> container ship –> underwater shark fight progression would have been ridiculously expensive even if Nickelodeon had been working with a Hollywood budget, so instead we get half-hearted investigation –> half-hearted stumbling around an abandoned construction site –> half-hearted ‘fight’ with a bunch of Human Controllers wielding flashlights. And isn’t it amazing how much it lowers the stakes when the kids are running away from humans all the time? I’m guessing they only had one Hork-Bajir costume/model and were afraid to bring it out too often in case they broke it.
Speaking of humans, Visser Three spends most of this episode as one.
Let’s count down what’s stupid about this:
- He hates humans. Why would he willingly choose to become one if he didn’t have to?
- His natural form is better in every way than any human morph. His Andalite body is faster, stronger, and more imposing than the guy in that screenshot up above. Him walking around as a human would be like a lion deciding to turn into a domestic cat.
- At one point, Visser Three breaks down a door with his tail blade and then walks through it as a human. In other words, he goes into what he knows will be a fight against six people in his weaker form.
- As an Andalite, he can use any one of his ‘combat’ morphs at will. This is his primary strategy in the books. As a human, he has to demorph first and then remorph if he wants to use any of them. He is, again, placing himself at a huge disadvantage.
I’m not someone who usually goes all NERD OUTRAGE AARGH about these things, but goddamn. You could have at least tried, guys. Having Visser Three remain off-screen most of the time would have been infinitely better than this.
The episode ends with Ax joining the team and creating a human morph for himself using the FROLIS MANEUVER, and no, I will never get tired of that phrase. (Say it out loud! It really rolls off the tongue.)
If I was watching the series today, this is where I would have stopped. Whatever goodwill it might have generated in its initial episodes (and the first one at least is actually better than I remembered) is utterly squandered here.
The rest of the series feels as if it’s stuck in a holding pattern. Visser Three continues to spend most of the time impersonating the principal of a high school, the ‘Andalite Disk’ keeps coming up as a McGuffin without ever becoming interesting, and the series as a whole continues to lack any of the more grandiosely fantastical elements that make the books so fun. If you were to pick a random scene from any episode, I’d find it very difficult to distinguish it from any other scene. The second season gets a new, less cringe-inducing opening sequence, but doesn’t up the ante in any way. It’s boring, basically, and that’s something that a kid’s science-fiction show should never be.
All things considered, I can’t think of any reason to recommend the TV series, even to die-hard fans of the book. You might get a kick out of hearing real-life actors (well, mostly) talking about Andalites and morphing and whatnot, but overall the experience is like seeing a high school stage production of a book you really like: endearing and worthy of a certain amount of praise, but you’re going to start feeling restless at the half-hour mark.
In other words, stick to the damn books.