When people want to take potshots at Hollywood's lack of originality, an easy target the movie based on childhood nostalgia. Some, like the TRANSFORMERS franchise, become box office juggernauts, others, like G.I. JOE and LAND OF THE LOST, don't quite live up to expectations. But entertainment is in execution, not concept. The promise of revisiting our sugar cereal drenched, Saturday Morning TV memories is just a way of getting people to pay for tickets. It's what you do with that promise that determines whether you have a smash or a flop.
A couple of years ago, I took a shot at resurrecting a couple of childhood favorites. First thing I did was check YouTube for old episodes. Ouch. I could appreciate the shows in their original context but it was obvious that my fevered little kid brain was adding a lot between the lines. I decided to take the basic concepts and treat them as if they were brand new ideas... which of course guaranteed that I'd piss off fans of the original shows. Thing is, most of those fans don't watch cartoons anymore and the advertisers don't care if they do. They aren't the target of the toy and fast foodl commercials that ultimately pay for the shows.In the middle of writing the series pitch, it occurred to me that if I rewrote it as a live action movie for Will Ferrell, it could easily be huge. Yeah, Will Ferrell in THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN. I didn't know it but he was then in production on LAND OF THE LOST. Don't think Will will be donning barbarian togs anytime soon. But that was just a passing thought; I've never considered animation as a stepping stone to another medium. Besides, I was developing Thundarr and THE HERCULOIDS while finishing my time at Film Roman Studios. When Starz bought the studio and decided, for the time being, that the animation side would just concentrate on work for hire assignments. They don't own a piece of THE SIMPSONS but they get a decent paycheck for producing the show for Fox without risking their own money. Our plan was to generate new work by pitching ideas that other people owned in the hopes of getting the work producing them.
So we went to Cartoon Network and said, "Look at what we've done with these cool properties that you already own!" They said, "Cool. But we don't own those properties." Turns out that, although both companies are part of one conglomerate, Warner Brothers owns the rights to all those old Hanna Barbera and Ruby Spears shows, not Cartoon Network. However they said that if WB was interested, they might be interested. So the long shot became a longer shot because, as you may be aware of, Warner Brothers has their own animated studio.
But hey, Starz had nothing else for me and even though this was now a getting longer long shot, all they needed to pay for was an artist to work with me. I chose Ben Caldwell. I would love to work with Ben as my art director on a show. His style is unique, animation friendly and his brain is full of world building ideas. Check out his art books and his Wonder Woman strip in DC's Wednesday Comics if you can still find the back issues.
But the chances of our version of Thundarr shriveled at the start of the pitch when we were told it was already in development as an animated DVD by Bruce Timm's group. Now don't go getting all excited; those guys have tons of stuff "in development." Sometimes it just means they've called, "Dibbs!" as an idea they intend to get to someday. The intent is to go right back to Thundarr's CONAN THE BARBARIAN roots and do a serious fantasy/science fiction epic. Could be awesome and because the DVD audience can be older than a series audience, it makes more sense to try a straight version.
But obviously, "straight" was not the direction I was heading. I certainly planned to have major action in every episode but much more comedy with very broad characters. To me, the original Thundarr was packed with great Jack Kirby and Steve Gerber ideas but it carried a lot of dated baggage. First, a post apocalyptic world is a hard sell to the networks. Secondly, there's a lot of PLANET OF THE APES type material there, not as fresh as it once was. And finally, the trio at the core needed lots of 'splainin'. Why would a princess be traveling with a barbarian and a... hairy, metal-faced lion/bigfoot creature? Shouldn't she be taking care of her kingdom? Trying to come up with an explanation is what led to the show. I'm not saying you have to be 100% logical when developing an idea, where's the fun in that? But the basic relationships have to "feel right."
The Princess ended up being my favorite character, partially because she isn't a princess, she's a con artist. Thundarr became the guy who knows what's right but is incredibly naive to the ways of the world. He is smitten with the princess but won't admit it because, as a princess, she's out of his league. The princess (who you'll remember is not really a princess because I told you that just a few sentences back) likes him but can't admit it because she's afraid he'll leave her because of his hatred for criminals. Potentially great story fodder on a concept, character and humor levels. This would have been a really, really fun one.
Now rather than summarizing the pitch, I'll just let you read it. All the original ideas are mine and I'm sure I'll recycle the best ones into a future project. Unless I get a call from the Sam Register and the guys at Warner Brothers! Enjoy. -- Tad