One of the main features of a superhero is the bright costume. Sure, there are superheroes who work in black or really dark grey, but the vast majority are in primary colours. Often, the costume will look like it was painted on, emphasizing the hero’s physique. Because comics are drawn, liberties can be taken with things like physics, so some costumes may be almost impossible to recreate in real life.
With comics being the popular source of adaptations today, studios have to figure out the almost impossible. Over the past few weeks, Lost in Translation has looked at a number of comic books adapted to a new medium, plus has reviewed others in the past. Josie and the Pussycats and Kingsman: The Secret Service get a pass here. The most unusual item the Pussycats wear are for on stage and is still in the realm of possibility. The wardrobe in Kingsman is based on high priced but still existing apparel found on London’s High Street.
Arrow, though, deserves a look. In the comics, the Green Arrow has worn a variant of a Robin Hood costume through most of his appearances. In the TV series, the goal was to create a costume that star Stephen Amell could wear and move in, going with a hooded cloak over dark green clothes. The costume is close to what the Green Arrow wears in the comics, and the producers are aiming at showing Oliver Queen becoming the hero.
Supergirl, on the other hand, starts with Kara Danvers embracing her Kryptonian heritage and catching a plane. The show is also lighter than Arrow; Kara is adorkable. So, hiding her costume away isn’t going to work. Fortunately for the producers, Supergirl has a number of costumes to choose from. On the show, the costume is a melding of a number of outfits seen in the comics, allowing Kara to have her own look while hinting at being Superman’s cousin. And Supergirl isn’t the only character with a costume from the comics. The Martian Manhunter in his normal guise is accurate to his appearances in the pages of DC Comics.
Both TV series can take advantage in advances in fabric thanks to man-made fibres. Older movies and TV series didn’t have the breakthroughs and it shows. The Batman serials of the mid- to late-Forties, having the added limitation of a low budget, tries to match the costumes from the comics, but between the war effort focusing on the needs of the military of both the US and the Allied Forces, the physique of the actors, and the lack of techniques, the result is “close enough but not really.” The costume looks like Batman’s, but it’s not the skintight version. The 1966 Batman with Adam West does have access to satin and nylon, but its approach to the character – played dead straight by West despite all the camp around him – meant that the more down-to-earth portrayal that Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil had wasn’t going to be seen. Adding to the fun, Cesar Romero didn’t want to shave his trademark mustache, so the Joker’s whiteface was placed on top. Yet, it worked for the series. The costumes did reflect what the characters wore, though.
The 1989 Batman by Tim Burton introduced a new twist – Batman’s costume was an armoured suit. All practical, the rubber suit allowed Michael Keaton to move, but not as acrobatically as in the comics. The change made some sense; Batman deals with people who shoot guns and he doesn’t have a power that will let him bounce bullets off his chest. His movement in the Burton film and subsequent sequels is more restricted. The costume looks right, compared to the Batman in the comics at the time, but the nature of the suit slows the actors down.
When practical effects won’t work, CGI comes into play. Over in the Marvel cinematic universe, characters that would be impossible to portray well have had their own movies. Marvel did try a practical effect for one of their characters in the past; Howard the Duck had many problems, and the appearance of the title character was one of the big ones. His appearance in the post-credits sequence of Guardians of the Galaxy is accurate. Guardians also gave audiences a proper Rocket and a proper Groot, two characters who would either be actors in costumes, puppets, or protrayed by a trained raccoon (in Rocket’s case) and a trained shrub (in Groot’s) before CGI.
Iron Man was the proof of concept. In the comics, Tony Stark has a number of Iron Man suits which he uses depending on mission requirements. The classic suit, the red and gold power armour, appeared in the first film and was as close as possible to being a recreation of the comic book version. Audiences accepted the premise of a comic book on screen. With Thor, the studio could build from the character’s appearance in the comics to present him on screen. Loki, when he appeared in costume, was resplendent in his green and gold. Marvel’s releases of today build from the comic books.
Marvel characters that appeared in films from studios other than Marvel Studios have had mixed success. The X-Men franchise, released via Fox, avoided using costumes, with an exception that will be named below. Instead, the films went with leather suits when the team broke into places. The Spider-Man franchise, even after the reboot, kept the costume best known to the general audience. However, the character’s 1977 TV series, The Amazing Spider-Man had problems; the suit didn’t quite work. Budget may have been the main problem there.
The comic book character who may have had his costume translate the best to film and television is the exception in the X-Men franchise. Deadpool went out of its way to make sure that the costumes were accurate. Colossus, being a CG character, had no problem with the transition. Deadpool’s, though, included having his eye coverings express his thoughts and emotions. Considering that his appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine completely missed the mark, the costume in Deadpool is a complete reversal and should be applauded.
Comic book adaptations are still an ongoing concern. Many have already been renewed for the 2018-2019 TV season. The CW has been doing well with DC’s TV universe, with Supergirl, The Flash, Black Lightning, and Legends of Tomorrow. Today, a look at the first season of the first superhero series on the CW, Arrow, the story of how Oliver Queen becomes the Green Arrow.
The Green Arrow first appeared in the pages of More Fun Comics #73 in November 1941, fighting crime with his sidekick, Roy Harper, aka Speedy. Instead of superpowers, the pair used archery, though Queen’s wealth allowed for a variety of gadget arrows. Creator Mort Weisinger and designer George Papp were inspired by the serial The Green Archer, based on the books by Edgar Wallace. They modified the idea to be more superheroic, pulling in ideas from Batman such as the Arrow-Cave and the Arrowcar. Despite the influences, Weisinger kept with a Robin Hood approach, which Papp emphasized with the costume.
The first origin story was published in More Fun Comics #89. However, Jack Kirby updated the origin in Adventure Comics #250, having Queen get shipwrecked on a desert island. Andy Diggle added to the origin with Green Arrow: Year One, adding in smugglers trying to protect a slave-labour operation. Neal Adams gave Oliver his Van Dyke in The Brave and the Bold #85. Mike Grell aged Oliver for his mini-series, Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, showing a maturation and a move away from the gimmick arrows. The Green Arrow was also one of the first to deal with the effects of drugs, despite the Comic Code’s blanket ban. In Green Lantern #85-86, Roy was revealed to be a heroin addict, needing help to break the hold.
Through the years, the Green Arrow’s focus became social justice. However, the character was never one of DC’s A-listers, having been relegated to backup stories in various titles when his own were cancelled because of lack of readership. Still, the Green Arrow has enough of a hook for television without the massive public expectation that Batman or Superman have.
Arrow first aired in 2012, with Stephen Amell starring as Oliver Queen. The idea behind the series was to show Oliver becoming the Green Arrow while further exploring what happened when he was shipwrecked. Greg Berlanti is using Green Arrow: Year One as a launching point. The series starts with Oliver returning home after being missing on the island for five years after the family yacht, Queen’s Gambit was lost at sea. While the family reunion looks happy, there is a current of unrest beneath the surface. Oliver’s father, who killed himself so that Oliver could live after the shipwreck, left him a list of names, people who have failed Starling City, and a mission. To hide who is he is, Oliver creates a costume, one that includes a hood that hides his face in shadow and a painted green mask.
After Oliver kills a corrupt millionaire on his father’s list, the police get involved. Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) becomes the lead investigator trying to find the vigilante known as The Hood. Complicating things, Det. Lance is the father of both Laurel (Katie Cassidy), Oliver’s ex-girlfriend, and Sara (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), who was on the Queen’s Gambit when it was lost and the reason why Lauren is an ex. Adding to the complications, Oliver’s mother, Moira (Susanna Thompson) insists that he have a bodyguard, John Diggle (David Ramsey).
As the season progresses, Oliver realizes that he can’t handle his mission alone and recruits some help. Diggle joins, reluctantly at first, and acts as a humanizing element for Oliver. Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) gets pulled in because she realizes that some of the odd requests Oliver gave her just don’t make sense and starts asking awkward questions. As a team, they figure out that there is a plot against Starling City, one that would destroy the Glades, the city’s version of Gotham’s Crime Alley.
Oliver isn’t the only Queen getting into trouble. His little sister, Thea (Willa Holland), who Oliver calls “Speedy” is acting out and getting into trouble. After she crashes her car two days before her eighteenth birthday with drugs in her system, Thea is sentenced to community service, helping Laurel at her legal office. While working there, she meets Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), a young small-time thief. Roy at one point is kidnapped by another vigilante who is going after people who let the Glades become what it is. After the Hood rescues him, Roy wants to meet the him, and does what he can to find him.
However, that’s just half the series. The other half is told in flashbacks and covers Oliver’s time on the island. He wasn’t alone after he arrived; he was first found by Yao Fei (Byron Mann), who taught Oliver how to hunt and how to kill. A group of mercenaries hunting for Yao Fei find Oliver but can’t get him to talk. Eventually, the mercenaries do find Yao Fei, but Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) is also looking at takes in Oliver. The mercenaries’ plan is to shoot down a civilan airliner. Oliver, Wilson, and Yao Fei’s daughter Shado (Celina Jade) work to stop the mercenaries. The climax of the flashback plotline coincided with the climax of the main story, ending Oliver’s first year on the island.
At this point, Oliver Queen isn’t the Green Arrow yet. He’s still more vigilante than hero, but he’s beginning to show the social justice side of the the original character. But that’s the goal of the series, to show Oliver becoming the hero. As such, liberties are being taken. Yet, such is the nature of cinematic universes. Once the base has been set, a story will go in its own direction. Yet, /Arrow/ still is the story of the Green Arrow. It’s not just the trappings, poor adaptations still use the trappings, but present them badly or just wrong. With Arrow, while Oliver isn’t the Emerald Archer seen in comics, he’s heading in that direction. Every hero has a backstory; Arrow is Oliver Queen’s.
While adapting from one visual medium to another may seem to be a simple process, both media may rely on shorthand unique to it that can’t translate well. Today, Lost in Translation looks at that process using Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, and Matthew Vaughan’s Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Image Comics published The Secret Service #1 in 2012. The first issue opens with celebrities having gone missing. A Secret Service mission locates and rescues Mark Hamill from the kidnappers, whose ends don’t include ransom. However, budget cuts and faulty equipment turn a 007-style chase scene tragic.
In a South London housing estate, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, a chav, is trapped by circumstances into a dead end existence, living with his mother, his younger brother, and his abusive step-father. His life revolves around hanging around with his chav friends, drinking, toking, and joyriding. Eggsy’s driving skills are more than a match for the local police, but a loose dog and Gary’s unwillingness to just run it over ends the chase. Enter Gary’s uncle, Jack. Jack is more than the Fraud Squad computer analyst he pretends to be. Jack is a super spy, one of the Secret Service, and he sees potential in Gary. He arranges for Gary to go to Gosford, the spy school.
A mass wedding in Hawaii becomes the test bed for Dr. James Arnold’s new device, leaving no survivors. Arnold is concerned about global warning and overpopulation. To save the Earth and one billion people, five billion must die. Arnold is hand picking the core of his future society, mostly notable actors and directors from science fiction and fantasy. He has managed to get people in top positions in many organizations, too. It’s how he found his bodyguard, Gazelle, a man with prosthetics below both knees.
Gary’s training progresses. He’s picking and excelling in the physical aspects of being a super spy. None of the other trainees can match him in firearms accuracy. Eggsy outdoes the trainee who stole a drug dealer’s Maserati by nicking Her Majesty’s Rolls Royce. His only problem is social; thanks to growing up in the estates, he doesn’t have the breadth of interaction or knowledge that his fellow trainees do. Frustrated, Gary wants to quit, but Jack manages to convince him to stay, promising an apprenticeship.
When Gary regains consciousness, he’s in a town in Columbia wearing his boxers and a bracelet. Jack has moved up Gary’s final exam. The goal, find his passport and airline tickets back to Britain, with the plane leaving at midnight. Gary’s solution is unorthodox; while he doesn’t make his flight, he does return to Britain in time bringing along a couple of souvenirs, a Columbian drug lord and his private jet, earning a pass and becoming Jack’s apprentice. The apprenticeship doesn’t last long. Jack seduces Arnold’s girlfriend, getting her to explain the nefarious plot. Afterwards, though, Jack is killed by Gazelle.
Gary discovers just how deep the conspiracy goes. Seeing that the top echelons cannot be trusted, he heads to the bottom of the hierarchy, his fellow trainees. They work out where Arnold’s lair is, a hollowed mountain, and come up with an assault plan, with limited time until Dr. Arnold’s cell phone signal . One of the trainees gets to take a hot air balloon up twenty-three miles to shoot down Arnold’s satellite. Two other trainees are tasked with finding the source of Arnold’s killer signal. Gary takes on tracking Arnold for himself. The satellite never appears, but the signal still goes out. The second group of trainees, instead of finding the shutdown switch, reprogrammed the signal. Gary finds Arnold and ensures that doctor cannot try again, ending the six issue story..
Vaughan wanted to make a fun spy movie after having seen a number of grim ones in recent years. He took the story in The Secret Service and adapted it as Kingsman: The Secret Service, released in 2014, becoming the movie’s co-writer and the director. With one of the original creative team on board in two key areas, it’s worth looking at the final outcome.
The film opens in 1997, with a mission in the Middle East to recover information going wrong after Galahad (Colin Firth) missing an explosive on a prisoner. If Lancelot, Eggsy’s father, hadn’t noticed and dove on the prisoner before the explosive detonated, none of the agents would have survived. As it is, Lancelot sacrifices himself. Galahad delivers the deceased agent’s Medal of Honour to the widow, Michelle (Samantha Womack) and young son, pointing out the telephone number on the back. If there is ever a problem, all either have to do is call that number and use the code, “Oxfords, not brogues.”
Seventeen years later, the new Lancelot, who looks a bit like George Lazenby, Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, takes a quick side trip for a rescue mission. The rescue plays out like the one in the comic. The difference is that instead of rescuing Mark Hamill, Lancelot is rescuing Professor James Arnold, played by Mark Hamill. The scene diverges before Lancelot can lead Arnold out of the cabin. Instead, he is taken by surprise by Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) and is cut in half by her, lengthwise. Gazelle covers her mess so that her boss, Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, playing against type) can enter without being violently ill. Valentine believes in the Gaia Theory, where the Earth is a living organism and global warming is a natural response by the planet to get rid of an infection, and wants Prof. Arnold to help him.
Eggsy isn’t have a good life. He gets kicked out of the housing estate he, his mother, his baby sister, and his abusive stepfather live in so the parents can have alone time. At the pub with his mates, he gets on the wrong side of his stepfather’s cronies. Eggsy decides to let things be and leaves, but only after lifting the keys for one of the gangsters’ new car. The police give chase, only catching up when Eggsy crashes to avoid a dog in the road.
At the gaol, Eggsy refuses to give up his mates and, as a result, is looking at eighteen months behind bars. Eggsy uses his one call to dial the number on the back of his father’s medal. The voice answering the call thanks him for calling the Complaints Department and tells him he has a wrong number, but Eggsy uses the code phrase and gets his complaint registered. He walks out of the gaol, wondering what happened and is met by Galahad, Harry Hart. Hart offers him a chance to turn his life around. Eggsy was doing well in many subjects – school, gymnastics, even Royal Marine training – before dropping out of each. Hart still sees the potential in Gary.
Eggsy is the last to show up at the training facility. He joins eight other candidates to become the next Lancelot. Merlin (Mark Strong), the head of the technical branch and the lead trainer, explains how the training will work; trainees will succeed in tests or wash out. The training differs from the comic; what works as a montage in sequential art doesn’t in a film. Included in the training is the training of a dog from a puppy; Eggsy takes a pug thinking it will become a bulldog.
The cinematic Kingsmen were created after World War I after noble families lost several sons in the trenches. The Kingsmen are an independant intelligence agency, separate from political pressure, and pulled from the scions of nobility. Galahad, though, nominated Gary’s father, someone not from a blue blood line, believing that it is the man, not the family that is important. Eggsy is the outsider in the group of trainees, yet he is one of the final two, the other being Roxy (Sophie Cookson), after Charlie (Edward Holcroft) breaks under pressure in a test of loyalty. Roxy ultimately wins the position of Lancelot after Eggsy is unable to shoot his dog.
Meanwhile, when not training the next Lancelot, Merlin discovers Prof. Arnold walking around on a traffic camera despite having been kidnapped. Galahad heads off to discover why Arnold is free. During the questioning, Arnold’s head explodes. Examination of the video from Galahad’s eyeglasses shows that Arnold had a subcutaneous device on his neck that caused the explosion. Further investigation leads Galahad to Valentine. Valentine is offering a SIM card that will allow people to make calls and use the Internet for no cost. However, nothing comes for free. The SIM card is set to carry a wave that will trigger rage in the device’s owner.
Valentine’s test location is a hate group, the South Gate Mission Church, instead of the mass wedding. Galahad heads there to see what Valentine has in mind. Instead, he is caught up in the SIM card’s wave and gets involved in the fighting. There is only one survivor, Hart. Valentine, flanked by Gazelle and a couple of mooks, greets Galahad before shooting him in the head.
Eggsy returns to the Kingsman Tailor Shop to speak with the head of the Kingsmen, Arthur (Michael Caine). While talking about Galahad, Eggsy notices a scar on Arthur’s neck, much like the one Prof. Arnold had pre-explosion. Arthur, who had nominated Charlie, is very much a believer in maintaining class distinctions and sees Eggsy as a pretender. He tries to poison Eggsy, but the younger man sees it coming and switches the glasses around. Once Arthur is dead, Eggsy removes the chip in his neck and brings it to Merlin.
Merlin works his magic and determines what the chip does. First, it nullifies the carrier wave Valentine uses to turn people into unthinking, raging beasts. Second, it can get hot enough to superheat the implantees brain, leading to an explosion. With the countdown to the launch fo Valentine’s free cell network, capable of carrying the rage enducing carrier wave, started, there isn’t time to recall Kingsman agents in the field. Merlin has Roxy and Eggsy, the latter not officially an agent, to stop Valentine.
There are two steps to the plan to stop Valentine. The first is to shoot down one of Valentine’s satellites, giving more time to execute the second part, which is shutting down the signal at the source. Roxy is given the first part, going up with the aid of hot air balloons with a missile launcher. Meanwhile, Merlin flies Eggsy to Valentine’s mountain lair to use Arthur’s invitation to infiltrate and access a laptop, giving the technical branch head access to Valentine’s computer network.
Eggsy, now in his bespoke suit, purchased by Hart before dying, easily fits in with the crowd. He wanders through the main lounge and finds the Swedish Prime Minister on a laptop. A quick knockout dart, and Eggsy gets the laptop and Merlin on to the network. Unfortunately, Eggsy is discovered by Charlie, in the lair with the rest of his family. Valentine speeds up the countdown, but Roxy takes out his satellite.
Trying to escape, Eggsy is led back to the plane by Merlin. Unknown to Eggsy, Valentine borrows time from another satellite to re-establish his cell network, and the countdown is on again. The signal is sent through the network, causing mass riots around the world. Eggsy is sent back out, armed appropriately, to get Valentine’s hand off the computer. Back in the main lounge, Eggsy has to fight Gazelle before getting to Valentine and ending the threat once and for all.
For the most part, the movie follows the comic beat for beat, though some beats are moved around. The differences come up due to the differences in media. Comics, being a sequence of still pictures, have their own language. The reader is expected to fill in the gaps between panels. Movies can’t do that; being motion pictures, the film has to fill in those gaps. What can be a two page fight becomes a ten minute scene. Let’s take a look at some of the differences.
First up, characters. James Arnold went from main villain to villain’s henchman, replaced by billionaire philanthropist Richmond Valentine. Valentine, though, keep the motive, saving the Earth and one billion people by culling five billion. The method is the same, causing people to become raging monsters who kill each other. Even the lair remains more or less as seen in the comic. Eggsy is still the same, though his younger brother becomes a baby sister and his mother’s name changes from Sharon to Michelle. Minor change, really, one that doesn’t affect the storyline. Eggsy’s Uncle Jack, though, does change in a major way. Jack becomes Harry Hart, not related to Gary or his mother at all. The change came about because Vaughan saw issues with the My Fair Lady approach the movie plays with. If Jack remained, questions would come up why he didn’t do anything sooner. These questions get answered in the comic, but there isn’t time in the movie.
Time is another factor. The film runs 129 minutes. The same story ran six issues, giving the comic more space to expand ideas. Visual shorthands can make up for time, like letting Eggsy show what he can do instead of just hinting at it. But time in a film is still finite; audiences will only sit for so long before getting restless. Related to time is cast. Budgets can only go so far. The nature of training in the movie eliminated trainees, leaving just Roxy and Eggsy to deal with Valentine. In the comic, Eggsy leads ten trainees in an assault on Arnold’s lair, with another trainee, who isn’t Roxy, off to try to shoot down the satellite. Roxy doesn’t even get named in the comic, though there is a trainee who could pass as her.
Speaking of cast, the comic had artistic renderings of famous people who had been kidnapped by Arnold to restart society after his culling. Cameos, though, get complicated when using real people. The only person who appeared in both the comic and the movie was Mark Hamill, and he played a character other than himself in the film. Hamill’s first scene was much like his cameo in the comic, though his character survived the experience in the movie.
One other problem comes from a cultural difference. Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, and Matthew Vaughan are all British. The comic and the movie have roots in the different classes in British society. These don’t always translate well to something that North American audiences can understand, though TV series like Doctor Who, Coronation Street, and Eastenders have helped introduce the concepts. Chavs and housing estates have equivalents in American culture, but the matching isn’t one-to-one. The movie had to make sure the concepts in use could be understood by an American audience without dumbing them down too much that the themes get watered down.
The end result, though, is that the movie Kingsman: The Secret Service is very much the comic, despite the differences. The story matches, though scenes differ. The clash of classes, the over-the-top villainous plan, the maturation and the understanding of what makes a gentleman, all of that remains. A Kingsman is a Kingsman, no matter the path taken.
Archie Comics, the third of the Big Three American comic book publishers, has survived since 1939 on the slice of life, laugh a panel stories of its characters. Sure, the company has dipped into other genres, like superheroes, but the company’s bread and butter has been the lives of teenagers in Riverdale, a town caught in a perpetual now that has incrementally changed over the years. Among the cast of characters are Josie and the Pussycats, an all-girl band from the neighbouring town of Midvale.
Josie didn’t start as the lead singer of her own band. Creator Dan DeCarlo was inspired to create the character after seeing his wife, who he named Josie after, in a cat costume on a cruise. After shopping the character and her strip around, DeCarlo sold the idea to Archie Comics. Josie debuted in Archie’s Pals & Gals #23, in 1963, followed by her own title, initially called She’s Josie. The title became Josie with issue 17.
The initial cast of characters included redhead Josie, who was essentially a gender-flipped Archie Andrews, her friends Melody, a blonde ditz, and Pepper, a dark-haired cynic. In the supporting cast, Josie had her beatnik boyfriend Albert, Pepper’s brawny boyfriend Sock, Alexander Cabot III who vied for Josie’s affection, and Alexandra Cabot, Alex’s skunk-haired twin sister. Josie would also appear in Archie titles, and the regular Archie cast would make cameos in hers.
The comic changed its title again in 1969, becoming Josie and the Pussycats. Josie started a band, becoming the lead singer and lead guitarist with Melody joining as the drummer. The Pussycats recruited Valerie as both bassist and songwriter. Alex became the band’s manager. Alexandra discovers that her cat, Sebastien, is a reincarnation of an ancestor who was executed for witchcraft, giving her some limited magical abilities. With the comic’s new direction, Pepper, Albert, and Sock disappeared. Alan M. stepped in to fill the role of Josie’s boyfriend, with Alexandra becoming a rival for his affections, and becoming a rival for Alex for Josie’s. The comic featured stories of the band on tour as well as day-to-day life as teenagers.
Archie had some success with a Filmation cartoon adaptation and a Billboard #1 hit, “Sugar Sugar“. Hoping to duplicate the success, Hanna-Barbera reached out to Archie Comics to adapt another title, getting Josie and the Pussycats. The first season of the cartoon saw the band on the road, getting involved in Scooby-Doo-like mysteries, with several characters taking on Scooby roles. In particular, Alan M. filled in for Fred and Alex, voiced by Casey Kasem, in Kasem’s Scooby role, Shaggy. The second and final season of the cartoon, Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space sent the band on tour in space.
The comic ended publication in 1982, though the characters continued to appear in other Archie titles and in various Archie digests, including Pals & Gals. In 2001, Universal released a live action movie adaptation of the comic and characters, with Rachel Leigh Cook as Josie, Rosario Dawson as Valerie, and Tara Reid as Melody. The film updates the Pussycats to what was current in 2001, giving the band a new sound without losing the core that people would remember from the cartoon.
The movie begins as the boy band, Dujour (Donald Faison, Alexander Martin, Breckin Meyer, and Seth Green), arrives at the airport to perform their latest hit to a screaming mob before getting on their jet to go to Riverdale. In the air, though, all is not smooth with Dujour as little annoyances have built up. Their manager and promoter, Wyatt (Alan Cumming), is more their babysitter. He smooths the rifts over, but the band brings up a concern on the latest remix. Wyatt’s denial could only fool the very gullible, so Dujour is placated. However, Wyatt heads to the cockpit to tell the pilot, “take the Chevy to the levee“, and they both bail out. The plane goes down near Riverdale.
In Riverdale, Josie, Valerie, and Melody are working hard to break into the music industry, working odd jobs so that they can perform anywhere that will let them, including a bowling alley. The Pussycats want to be rock stars with their own style. During the down time, Josie hangs around with Alan M. (Gabriel Mann), where both are having a problem getting out how they feel about each other to each other. Josie and the other Pussycats also try to find out where their manager, Alexander Cabot III, was during their bowling alley gig. Alex’s twin sister, Alexandra (Missi Pyle), reveals that he was in line for Dujour tickets. When the news breaks about Dujour’s disappearance, Josie decides that the band has to work harder to gain a following, something that can’t be done by sitting on a couch. The Pussycats go out to busk in downtown Riverdale, but a confrontation with a store owner forces them to flee.
Wyatt has been busy. He’s managed to get news of Dujour’s disappearance out, their last hit song out for listeners, and has been given new orders by the owner of Megarecords, Fiona (Parker Posey), to find a new band. Downtown Riverdale isn’t exactly bursting open with random bands just crossing his path. Except, he has to hit the brakes to avoid hitting the Pussycats. He offers the girls a contract and flies them out to New York. The roses have a few thorns. Wyatt renames the band to Josie and the Pussycats. But the thorns are ignorable as the band begins to chart.
Fiona has what she needs, the new band to replace Dujour. She takes a group of foreign investors on a tour of her underground facilities. Megarecords, in conjuction with the American government through Agent Kelly, is working on a massivie subliminal message project. Hit bands under the Megarecords label have had extra tracks laid under the music with suggestions narrated by Russ Leatherman, Mr. Moviefone himself. Said suggestions include fashion trends, what slang is hot, what colours are in, and what to buy. Dujour had made this same discovery and were silenced. But now, Megarecords has Josie and the Pussycats, who are the number one band in America.
Valerie, though, still sees the thorns. She sees the media focused on just Josie. She sees how she and Melody are being shifted away. Most movies in this genre – band climbing to fame – sees the lead singer arguing with her bandmates and letting her ego get away from her. The live action Jem and the Holograms is a good example of this plot. However, Josie cares too much about Valerie and Melody to just toss them aside; they’ve worked too hard together to get where they are. Nothing will get in between them.
Wyatt and Fiona realize how close the Pussycats are, so arrange to turn Josie into a solo act. First, Valerie and Melody are lured to a fake taping of Total Request Live where the real Carson Daly and a fake Carson Daly (Aries Spears) try to murder them. With Josie alone, Wyatt passes along a new remix of a new song to Josie to listen to, one with subliminal messaging telling her that she’s far better than Melody and Valerie. Valerie and Melody manage to escape both Carson Dalys and return, only to be driven away by Josie.
Alone, Josie storms off, still listening to the remix with the subliminal messaging. She winds up skipping Alan M.’s gig as a solo guitarist, leaving him to the tender mercies of Alexandra. Josie does break through the brainwashing, though, and realizes what happened. With help from Alexander and Alexandra, Josie gets the proof she needs that Megarecords, Wyatt, and Fiona are up to no good. Fiona catches her in the act, though, and forces her to go to the Sega Megarena to perform.
Melody and Valerie catch up at the Megarena. Josie tries to make up for her bad behavior to them, but the bridges are too badly burnt. Fiona threatens to kill Valerie and Melody to force Josie to go on stage, to the point of having an MTV news bulletin already created reporting the deaths of the bandmates in a firey explosion. Josie acquiesces, but still tries one more time to make up with her friends. All looks lost, until the deus ex puer cohortem arrives, in the form of Dujour. They had managed to land their private jet. Unfortunately, they set down outside a Metallica concert and only escaped the fans because of one of Dujour knew “Enter the Sandman“. Dujour isn’t up for a fight, but they are the distraction Josie needs to try to free her friends. Too bad the car Valerie and Melody are in are on a turntable, letting Fiona catch Josie in the act.
Josie, though, has had enough and launches herself at Fiona. With chaos breaking out, Valerie and Melody break free and help out. Valerie takes on Wyatt leaving Melody to deal with Fiona’s bodyguards. The latter fight isn’t fair; Melody knows kung fu. Valerie manages to clothesline Wyatt. Josie goads Fiona into swinging a guitar at her; the miss destroys the machine controlling the subliminal messages. Agent Kelly arrives with several other G-Men. Josie reveals the plot to them, telling them that Fiona and Wyatt were brainwashing teenagers. Kelly has little choice but to throw Fiona under the bus and takes her away.
The Megarena is still filled with an audience who wants to see Josie and the Pussycats play. The Pussycats are blown away by the size of the crowd, but still go on with the show, even without the subliminal messages, giving the audience a chance to make its own decision on whether to like the band. The Pussycats bring down the house.
The movie is a satire of the music industry and consumerism. Dujour is the boy band of the day. Product placement is everywhere, obvious and obnoxious, none of it paid placement. There’s even an Evian ad in a whale tank. The Pussycats get co-opted to sell everything, even themselves. There are times when the movie is cynical about the music industry. At the same time, the movie understands its target audience. Teenagers are media savvy and know when they’re being pandered to, with some extras for fans of the cartoon. Fiona’s plot is comically over the top to satisfy a very human need, the need to be accepted. All from Archie Comics’ film studio, Riverdale Productions. Josie and the Pussycats isn’t what is expected from the company*.
The characters from the comic are critical to making the movie about the Pussycats instead of any other all-girl band. Josie is the ambitious one, wanting to become a rock star, the one pushing her bandmates. Valerie is the rock, the one still anchored to reality that her friends can count on. Melody is still the ditz, not quite all there and capable of completely missing the obvious. Josie and Alan M. are trying to be a couple, with Alexandra trying to insert herself into Alan M.’s life. Alexandra remains true to her comic book incarnation, unpleasant but willing to let herself be dragged along when the going gets tough. She even keeps her skunk stripe. The effort is there to keep the characters true to the original. Again, it helps that the owners of the property are involved; that’s one less separation between the original work and the adaptation.
The movie has had an effect on the characters in the comics. The names given in the film – Josie McCoy, Melody Valentine – have been accepted as canonical. Valerie‘s last name was Smith in the comics, though it changes to Brown when Pepper Smith returns. With the New Riverdale line of comics, with new but still familiar designs for all of the Archie characters, the Pussycats get a look that fits in with the movie, though Melody is less a ditz and more living in her own comic book that just crosses over with Josie and the Pussycats.
The live action Josie and the Pussycats is an evolution for the characters. They were brought up to date, given a new sound that resonated with the era, and yet remained true to their comic book forms. While the movie didn’t do well in theatres, it provided satire of an industry while delivering a comic book-style plot that would fit in with the animated adaptation of 1970.
* Then again, the publisher has released such titles as Archie Meets Kiss, Archie Meets the Punisher, and Archie vs Sharknado, so maybe the movie isn’t all that unexpected.
Nostalgia is powerful, especially when decision makers choose what to remake. It works to get long time fans in, but an original’s target audience may be far younger than the fans have become. Today, a look at once such case, 2000’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle from Universal Pictures.
The characters of Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose first appeared in 1959 on Rocky and His Friends, airing in black and white on ABC. In 1961, NBC picked up the series and aired it as The Bullwinkle Show in colour until cancelling the show in 1964. In syndication, the series became known as The Rocky Show, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and The Adventures of Bullwinkle and Rocky. While the series had low-quality animation from an outsourced studio and a small cast of voices, the writing featured puns, satire, and self-deprecating humour.
A typical episode of the show would have two parts of an ongoing story featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle acting as bookends. Between the two chapters, other shorts appeared, including “Fractured Fairy Tales”, retelling classic fairy tales with a twist; “Peabody’s Improbably History“; “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties”, a parody of older melodramas; “Aesop and Son”, fracturing fables instead of fairy tales; “Bullwinkle’s Corner”, where Bullwinkle mangles poetry; and “Mr. Know It All”, where Bullwinkle demonstrates what not to do in different situations. All of this – the two chapters featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle and four other shorts – fit into a half-hour episode, including commercials.
The main draw, the actual adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, featured a small number of voice actors. June Foray portrayed Rocky and every female character that appeared, including Pottsylvanian spy Natasha Fatale. Bill Scott played Bullwinkle and Pottsylvania dictator Fearless Leader. Paul Frees took on the roles of Pottsylvanian spy Boris Badenov and Captain Peter “Wrongway” Peachfuzz. The narrator of the chapters was William Conrad. The writing kept things moving at a brisk pace, allowing for a hurricane of puns. Rocky and Bullwinkle would start off in a misadventure that would lead to a cliffhanger. Along the way, Boris and Natasha would get involved and try to eliminate Moose and Squirrel in ways that would backfire on them.
While the series lasted only five seasons, syndication ensured that the show would last through reruns. Rocky and Bullwinkle appeared on over-the-air broadcast stations and cable-only channels, entertaining several generations. The show’s influence can be seen in series like The Simpsons. Naturally, this level of popularity meant that a studio executive would eventually see the benefit of a Rocky and Bullwinkle film adaptation.
In 2000, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle picks up thirty-five years after the original series’ cancellation. Rocky and Bullwinkle have returned to Frostbite Falls in a forced retirement; the town, though, is suffering from deforestation. The Narrator has returned to his home, where he narrates aspects of his daily life, much to the annoyance of his mother. Pottsylvania has turned into a democracy after the Cold War, leaving Fearless Leader, Boris, and Natasha out of power and out of work. The animated world looked bleak.
Fearless Leader, though, did not take being out of power sitting down. With Boris and Natasha, he convinces Minnie Mogul, played by Janeane Garofalo, to sign a contract to bring back The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. When Minnie pulls the contract out from animated Pottsylvania, she finds that the villains are attached to the project. The three Pottsylvanians go from being animated characters to live-action characters, with Robert De Niro as Fearless Leader, Jason Alexander as Boris, and Rene Russo as Natasha. Despite the unforeseen attachments, Minnie still tries to get the project approved, but studio head P.G. Biggershot (Carl Reiner) hates moose movies shuts the film down.
Six months later, Fearless Leader has RBTV, Really Bad Television, set up over all available cable channels. Using the power of television, he will turn every American viewer into a zombie to command as he wishes. The FBI, though, knows that Fearless Leader is up to something. The chief, Cappy von Trapment (Randy Quaid), assigns Agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo) to get the two people who have had the most success stopping Fearless Leader – Rocky and Bullwinkle. The mission must succeed, at any cost. Karen flies to Hollywood and breaks into Phony Pictures Studios to greenlight The Rocky and Bullwinkle Movie as a fantasy adventure road trip film.
The green light breaks through the dimensional barrier between the real world and the animated and pulls Rocky, Bullwinkle, and the Narrator out of Frostbite Falls and into the lighthouse where films are green lit. Rocky, still voiced by June Foray who also voiced all the animated women, and Bullwinkle, voiced by Kevin Scott, no relation to Bill Scott, who took on all the animated men, are now 3-D computer animation, though still recognizably themselves. The duo and Karen leave the lighthouse to begin their road trip fantasy adventure, with just forty-eight hours to get from Los Angeles, CA to New York City, NY and stop Fearless Leader and RBTV.
However, a mole in the White House warns Fearless Leader that Rocky and Bullwinkle are on their way. He orders Boris and Natasha to stop Moose and Squirrel, giving the spies a new invention created by one of RBTV’s whiz kids, the “Computer Degenerating Imagery” or CDI. In a demonstration on an animated weasel, Fearless Leader degenerates the victim, sending him where other degenerates go, the Internet. Boris, though, prefers the old ways, and loads up a RBTV van with weapons of cartoon mayhem.
Boris and Natasha catch up to our heroes in Oklahoma. They force Karen, Ricky, and Bullwinkle to leap out of their car using cartoonish bundles of TNT. With the heroes still recovering, Boris and Natasha try a more traditional method of stopping Moose and Squirrel, a cannon. Rocky and Bullwinkle use a traditional method of not being blown up – running away. Karen, though, berates Boris on his evil ways, flattering the spy and getting her close enough to put out the lit fuse. With Boris and Natasha waiting for the boom, Karen takes their van and gets Rocky and Bullwinkle in with her. Seeing all their gear on the road, Natasha starts reading the user manual for the CDI.
Temporarily foiled, Boris and Natasha give chase on foot until, through a wild coincidence, they have the opportunity to steal a helicopter. Once airborne, Natasha radios the Oklahoma State Police, telling them that they are pursuing a stolen van driven by a woman claiming to be Agent Karen Sympathy. A patrol car carrying two troopers and a cameraman from a Cops-like TV show pulls over the RBTV van and arrests Karen. She tells Rocky and Bullwinkle to keep going to New York as she’s being put into the cruiser.
The road trip continues, with Boris and Natasha still trying to stop Rocky and Bullwinkle. In prison, Karen befriends Ole (Rod Biermann), a young prison guard from Sweden who may be the only character more oblivious than Bullwinkle. The FBI agent promises to go to a movie with him if he helps her escape. Once out, though, she steals his truck after telling him that she’s just going to park it. Rocky and Bullwinkle get off track and wind up in Chicago, still pursued by Boris and Natasha. The duo also escapes and, in another wild coincidence, they meet up again, almost literally colliding with each other. Unfortunately, the police looking for Karen catch up, and our heroes are taken into custody.
Karen, Rocky, and Bullwinkle are brought before the court of Judge Cameo (Whoopi Goldberg) and are charged with one count of grand theft auto, one count of escaping prison, one count of impugning the character of a guard, four counts of talking to the audience, and eighteen counts of criminally bad puns. That number goes to nineteen thanks to Bullwinkle. The defense attorney, Bullwinkle, calls his first witness, Agent Karen Sympathy. Unfortunately, Bullwinkle forgets his the defense, not the prosecution, and makes the case for the prosecuting attorney. Judge Cameo, though, finally puts on her glasses and recognizes Rocky and Bullwinkle. Since celebrities are above the law, she dismisses the charges.
Time is running short. The fastest way to New York, NY, is by flying. Karen buys an old biplane and the threesome take off, leaving Boris and Natasha behind. The biplane can’t take the weight of everyone and loses altitude. Karen falls out of the plane. Rocky manages to catch her and flies her to New York, NY. Bullwinkle is left to fly the biplane and manages to make a wrong turn, crashing on the lawn of the White House.
In New York, people have been zombified by RBTV’s broadcast. Rocky and Karen infiltrate RBTV to try to shut down the broadcast but are caught and hooked up to the zombifier and turned into vegetables. In Washington, DC, Bullwinkle has had his chat with President Signoff (James Rebhorn). When von Trapment arrives, he sees both Signoff and Bullwinkle staring at the TV and fears the worse. Bullwinkle, though, is too thick to be affected by the broadcast. With just seconds to go before Fearless Leader’s speech, the fastest way to send Bullwinkle to New York is to scan him and email him, letting the moose surf the web to RBTV HQ where he prints himself out.
Fearless Leader starts his speech, instructing viewers to vote for him in the upcoming election. Bullwinkle, though, accidentally disrupts the broadcast then rescues Rocky and Karen. With Fearless Leader, Boris, and Natasha defeated, Bullwinkle tells the viewers to vote for whoever they want, tells whoever wins to reforest Frostbite Falls, and tells everyone to turn off their TVs. RBTV stops being Really Bad Television and becomes Rocky and Bullwinkle Television. Agent Sympathy gets a commendation from von Trapment and goes to a movie with Ole; Frostbite Falls is reforested; and the Narrator returns home to his mother.
Much like the original cartoon, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle has elements in it for both children and adults. The kids can enjoy a road trip featuring goofy cartoon characters with situations that aren’t too much different from what could be seen in reruns. Adults can also enjoy that or get into the self-deprecating humour, the puns, and the satire. Throughout the film, Rocky and Bullwinkle wink at the idea of a fourth wall, talking back to the Narrator and generally have fun with the idea of being characters. Bullwinkle’s last line in the real world compares Really Bad TV with Rocky and Bullwinkle TV, noting that there isn’t much different. In the original, similar humour comes up. For example:
Rocky: “A-bomb! Do you know what that is, Bullwinkle?”
Bullwinkle: “Yeah! That’s what they call our show!”
The film rewards a wide knowledge of movies. At one point, Fearless Leader does an impersonation of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver; essentially, De Niro parodies himself. Elsewhere, as Karen is arrested by a Oklahoma State Trooper for grand theft auto and impersonating an FBI agent:
Rocky: “But that really is Agent Karen Sympathy.”
Trooper (John Goodman): “Yeah, and I’m really John Goodman.”
The puns come from everywhere. Character names, like Agent Karen Sympathy, Signoff’s military advisors General Admission and General Store, and Minnie Mogul. Place names, like Cow Tip, Okla, and De Bitter, Ind. Even Frostbite Falls had Veronica Lake. At least a third of Bullwinkle’s lines involved a bad pun. Even visual puns were used, like the green lighting of the movie.
The movie is shameless in its satire. Its main target is Hollywood, both film and television, particularly itself. Viewers of RBTV are turned into zombies, a common accusation against all of television. Minnie Mogul rejects scripts for being “too intelligent.” Celebrities are above the law and are never found guilty, though this works for the heroes. Outside the entertainment industry, President Signoff boldly stands in the middle of the road, kissing babies. The same cluster of fast food restaurants and gas stations appear every so often along the highway.
Casting a live-action adaptation of an animated work is difficult. The animated characters have a specific look that audiences are familiar with, but the characters don’t have to obey the laws of physics in their designs. Boris is far smaller than Natasha and is closer to Rocky’s height. Even given that Rocky is large for a flying squirrel, it’d be difficult to find an actor that size. The casting for the movie did well, though. Jason Alexander needed a few extras – fake mustache and eyebrows – to look like Boris. Rene Russo only needed to change her hairstyle and add makeup as Natasha. The costuming department did the rest, matching the actors’ outfits to the animated characters’. De Niro as Fearless Leader needed a bit more work; the character also went from Pottsylvanian dictator to ruthless entertainment executive and his look reflected the change.
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle made an effort to be a continuation of the original series. The initial problems – the deforestation of Frostbite Falls and the escape of the Pottsylvanian villains to the real world – were just catalysts for the main thrust of the movie, the road trip adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Once the duo reached the real world, the usual antics could be shown and played with. It’s not the destination that counts; it’s the journey. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle may not have been a critical success, or even a box office success, but it did get to the heart of the original series and brought it out on the big screen.