Last month, Lost in Translation analyzed the Renault Brazil live action D&D cartoon ad. Turns out, it’s not the only ad to adapt a cartoon. Today, Lost in Translation will look at the potential ads have for adaptation and take a look at another cartoon adapted into a live-action ad.
Let’s start with the actual adaptation, a car ad based on /Wacky Racers/. First airing in 1968, Wacky Races was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon that ran for seventeen episodes. Inspirations for the cartoon may have included The Great Race, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. The plot for each episode was simple – ten racers try to get to the finish line. Characterization was done in broad strokes; no one character, with two exceptions, got much screen time. The exceptions were Dick Dastardly and Muttley, who could be considered the stars of the series. Dastardly’s goal was to win, by hook or by crook. Dick Dastardly is so fixated on cheating that he never realizes that his schemes require him to race ahead of the pack to set things up. He could win if he never stops to cheat.
In 2014, French director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet and production company Partizan teamed up to create an ad for Peugeot, a live action version of Wacky Races with the Peugeot 208 added. Clocking in at 1:16, it’s about a tenth of the length of a typical Wacky Races short. Most of the characters from the cartoon are in the ad. Missing, though, are Pat Pending and his Converticar, Rufus Roughcut and Sawtooth in the Buzz Wagon, and Lazy Luke and Blubber Bear in the Arkansas Chug-a-bug. Given the length, the ad would’ve been too busy with those three cars in it.
The ad plays out like a Wacky Races short, with the characters trying to win. Dick Dastardly, naturally, tries to cheat and gets hoist on his own petard yet again. There’s no dialogue; there’s no time for it. Instead, the characters are portrayed through body language. This is where the nature of the original work helps. The characters are broad, so if the look is right, the body language follows. With Dastardly and Muttley, the laughs are critical, and the ad gets those right. The ad works as an adaptation because it gets to the core of the cartoon, the race.
This is where advertising has an edge when it comes to adaptations. Ads have a running time between thirty seconds and two minutes. With time shifting technologies like the VCR and DVR, audiences can fast forward past ads. Advertisers need to make the audience want to stop and watch. Getting the details right will catch the attention of viewers. Getting an adaptation’s look right gets that attention. But that’s just the first step.
A good adaptation gets people talking and sharing links. It’s how both the Renault Brazil and the Peugeot ad got into the sights of Lost in Translation. It’s not just getting the look right, but getting the core right. With Wacky Races, it’s easy enough; the original didn’t have that much depth beyond racing with odd cars and odd characters. But even with a work that has depth, the ad doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting. It just has to resonate enough for viewers to fill in what’s missing. Renault Brazil’s ad did that; it used the D&D cartoon’s popularity in Brazil to fill in the missing details. Miss what makes the original tick, though, and the differences will be jarring. Even if an audience stops zipping through ads to see what’s going on, the right look won’t save a bad adaptation. Worst case, the ad drives away the folks the advertiser was trying to hook.
Here’s where the time limitations help. In longer form adaptations, such as movies, the time available may be too much for the original work to fill without having to add details. In advertising, there may not even be enough time to get everything in. The ad has to cut to the essence. The Renault and the Peugeot ads did just that by getting to the action without wasting time for explanations. The audience fills in the gaps. Viewers unaware of the original work still get a fun ad to watch. The ads have no need for filler.
All adaptations all the time won’t work in advertising. The goal is always to be fresh or fresh enough to draw attention without bringing ridicule to the product being marketed. The more competitive the market, the more creative ads need to get. If every car was marketed through a live-action cartoon, one company would just have to show their cars in a different light to stand out. However, ads do have a good chance of getting an adaptation right because of their limitations. They have to do a lot in the short time allotted.