by Joe Bursley

There seems to be an entire decade’s worth of pop culture that will only ever be remembered by those born into the decade. Despite my parents spending much more time in the 1990s than I did, only I will be able to remember any of it. Having been born in 1999, I am technically designated a “90s kid.” It is an almost universally-accepted truth that from approximately 1987-2004 we lived in a period of wonderful, creative, diverse entertainment existed like no other. From the Disney Animation Renaissance, to the explosion of Nicktoons, to a dozen or so cult classic movies, the rich media of the 90s that many of us grew up with will, sadly, never be achieved in quite the same vein. That, however, won’t stop Hollywood from trying.

In recent years, Tinseltown has made a point of trying to revive older properties in the form of constant film and television reboots, revivals, sequels, or adaptations. Disney currently is on a quest to remake nearly every successful animated movie as a live action adaptation within the next decade. Dora the Explorer is getting a gritty live action movie, unsurprisingly helmed by Michael Bay. Similarly, the Transformers expanded universe (a phrase for which I have the utmost hatred) is creating a nostalgia/merchandising monstrosity. It’s important to note that this is happening all across the industry, but the question is why?

Reanimated Animation

Image from IndieWire

Given the Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie coming out this Thanksgiving, I’m going to begin with the world of animation. Along with the Hey Arnold! movie, Nickelodeon and Viacom are producing a Rocko’s Modern Life film and an Invader Zim film within the next year or two. The teaser trailers aired during San Diego Comic Con this past summer. Many hope these movies are a sign that Nickelodeon is returning to its roots of Splat-era NickToons. This hope is further supported by TeenNick’s primetime programming block, NickSplat. NickSplat airs classic 90s and early 2000s Nickelodeon shows from 11 PM to 6 AM every evening, along with occasional original bumpers and special programming. I’ve indulged myself a few times and watched the program back when it was just called The Splat and began at 10 PM. While the shows are typically limited to select episodes of Rugrats, Hey Arnold!, Rocket Power, and Rocko’s Modern Life, occasionally other 90s shows are aired as specials. I recall a promotion in which Double Dare and Double Dare 2000 episodes were specifically aired with bumpers starring Marc Summers, the show’s original host. Nickelodeon certainly seems to be trying to recapture their former glory, but they aren’t the only children’s entertainment media doing so.

Cartoon Network and Disney have also been dabbling in the nostalgia waters recently. Cartoon Network infamously rebooted Teen Titans and The Powerpuff Girls into tone-deaf, humiliating shadows of the original cartoons that fans enjoyed. I won’t say much about Teen Titans GO! (yuck) or Powerpuff Girls 2016 (double yuck) here, because of the extent to which CN dropped the ball. A failed attempt at nostalgia, however, still has the words “attempt at nostalgia” in the phrase. Ironically, Disney has never really been a powerful force in the TV animation industry – despite the fact that the company brought cartoons to the mainstream back in the 1930s. In recent years, however, after the success of Phineas and Ferb, Gravity Falls, and Star vs. the Forces of Evil, as well as Nick and CN proving they know how to run good cartoons into the ground (cough, Steven Universe, cough), Disney XD has become a well-matched competitor in children’s entertainment. This year, Disney XD premiered their Ducktales 2017 reboot 30 years after the original Ducktales cartoon first aired. This show, drawing elements from the original series, Carl Barks’ Scroog McDuck comics, and the overarching Duck-universe (a phrase I never anticipated I would ever write), has been quite entertaining. This is another example of taking a successful, well-liked property from decades ago and rebooting it for nostalgia’s sake – although it was much better handled than CN’s Teen Titans GO! (again, yuck).

The “Disney Renaissance” Renaissance

Disney is also reviving nearly their entire catalog of successful animated movies as live action marvels. This started with the 101 Dalmatians movies of the early 2000s, but has accelerated rapidly with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast – which went so far as to auto-tune Emma Watson as Belle to sell tickets. Disney has four movies slated for the next two years and 21 adaptations total announced for the coming years. This includes the recently announced Lion King live action movie (it’s going to have one less human actor than The Jungle Book which only had one human actor to begin with), a Cruella de Vil spin off from the 101 Dalmatians, and back-to-back Peter Pan and Tinkerbell movies. Heck, they’re even remaking The Sword in the Stone – a movie that I can almost guarantee nobody is petitioning to see a reboot of.

Image from Collider

Many other movies  premiering soon or currently in production are just gritty remakes of classic properties. This began with 80s media, but has encroached into 90s entertainment. The Transformers expanded universe doesn’t need to be a thing; it already has five movies too many and more on the way. Apparently, there is talk of a Transformers/G.I. Joe crossover movie. Somebody already made the mistake of letting Michael Bay ruin the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and now he’s got his grubby little paws on an upcoming Dora the Explorer movie. In 2015 we saw reboots of Star Wars, Star Trek, Jurassic Park, and Terminator. 2016 then brought us the cringe-worthy gender-bent Ghostbusters movie. This year we’ve already seen Power Rangers, Blade Runner, The Mummy, and freaking Baywatch all get movies. In a few weeks we’re getting Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Kevin Jonas in a Jumanji reboot. When will enough be enough for these vultures?

Why we still watch

There’s a reason Hollywood keeps rehashing older properties with little grace or tact; it’s green and rhymes with “honey.” These properties have an established base of fans and have had success in the past – even before good CGI was a thing. Why waste time coming up with an original idea when you can just add explosions to Transformers, or Power Rangers, or Baywatch? There is a reason, after the success of Iron Man in 2008, we’re getting nine superhero movies in 2018 alone (of which I will probably end up watching many). There is a reason Disney paid a metric butt-ton of money for Lucasfilm in order to make another trilogy and a Han Solo spin-off movie without the real Han Solo. There’s a reason we’re getting a gender-bent Ocean’s Eleven reboot next year. The reason Hollywood keeps doing this is that we as consumers have spoken with our wallets and told them it’s basically okay.

I’m not here to rip on adaptations and remakes. I enjoy many of these movies just like the rest of the population (except Transformers, which makes me gag). I do, however, share some of the concerns being raised by many in the new media entertainment sphere. CinemaSins Jeremy, for instance, goes on a terrific and entertaining rant about Disney announcing a live action Winnie the Pooh remake. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Movie adaptations and remakes can be good on occasion, but they shouldn’t be the norm for all blockbusters coming out in the next few years. I love a Hey Arnold! movie and a Ducktales reboot series, but I hope that CN, Nick, and Disney don’t become stagnant and comfortable just remaking old properties to satisfy 90s kids.

What 90s kids enjoyed so much about this era, what many of them are really nostalgic for is the diversity and creativity that all the different shows and movies offered. There was a mix of good and bad shows and plenty of cringe-worthy movies for every Jurassic Park or Fight Club, but the amount of content enabled that to exist and persist throughout the 90s into the early 2000s. When there is a lack of diverse, original content, most of the entertainment is either bad or, at best, just okay. Dwindling summer blockbuster revenues have shown that we haven’t had a truly good movie for a while. Superhero movie fatigue is already setting in with even the most dedicated comic book fans. Even new properties just don’t resonate with audiences the same way they did a twenty years ago, as we still talk about them to this day. The problem with rebooting old nostalgia instead of creating new properties is that, in twenty years from now, there won’t be anything nostalgic to remake. Perhaps then Hollywood will start to create original content for future generations to be nostalgic about.

Sources: Polygon, YouTube, Byte, Insider, SlashFilm, Movie Pilot, IMDB, Fortune, Disney Wikia, KnowYourMeme, Den of Geek, Taste of Cinema,

Images: Twitter, Collider, IndieWire


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