5 Failed Attempts to Turn Comedy Movies Into Animated Series
Adapting a popular comedy movie into an animated series aimed at adults rarely works out, but it’s still something Hollywood has been trying after decades of failed projects. In the 80s and 90s, there was a trend towards turning movies into Saturday morning cartoons, with Ghostbusters, The Mask, and Beetlejuice, amongst countless others, serving as the basis for successful kids shows. But when it comes to adult series, these animated adaptations always fail, with cartoon versions of Spaceballs, Clerks, Friday, and most recently, Napoleon Dynamite all being quickly canceled, all in 13 episodes or less. Despite the lack of success in the field, numerous comedy writers and studios have tried to turn their successful movies into animated series over the years and been met with failure. Some of the most unnecessary cartoon adaptations of all, like Austin Powers or the Blues Brothers, were planned but canceled before they ever made it to series. Let’s take a look at some of these failed shows now.
After the success of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, New Line Television convinced Mike Myers to agree to make an animated show based on the character in 1998. The studio planned to air the show in the fall of 1999 following the release of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, with New Line’s TV President explaining, “It’s not going to be a Saturday morning cartoon. It would be more akin to a King of the Hill, which pushes the envelope in a way that’s fun.” HBO purchased the show and commissioned 13 half-hour episodes, with USA Today reporting that an animated theatrical Austin Powers prequel was also in the works. Brian Posehn was hired as a writer, along with Nicholas Stoller, the director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek and co-writer of The Muppets. This was Stoller’s first professional writing job, but the series was scrapped before it ever aired.
Lorne Michaels produced an animated pilot, based on the “Coneheads” sketches from SNL in 1983, with Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, and Laraine Newman returning to voice the titular alien family. Original SNL writers Al Franken and Tom Davis penned the laughtrack-heavy pilot, which wasn’t picked up to series. It did air once and was released on VHS, and the characters were turned into a big-screen movie a decade later. Check out the pilot below:
Nine years after the release of his movie Joe Dirt, TBS signed David Spade to develop a script for an animated series based on said movie in 2010, with Adam Sandler’s company Happy Madison producing. The pilot script was to be written by Spade, his frequent writing partner and co-writer on the original movie Fred Wolf, and Simpsons and Bored to Death writer Donick Cary. The pilot was called off before it went into production.
Ben Stiller has been developing a big-screen sequel to his 2001 film Zoolander for years now, but in 2010, he announced he was working on an animated Zoolander web series for Paramount Digital Entertainment. Stiller told the press, “It’s just a way to say, ‘Hey, let’s go do a couple of little five-minute episodes, as opposed to saying, ‘Hey, let’s pitch it to the studio and then let’s have a fight over the budget for six months.'” Stiller wanted original cast members, like Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell, to return for the web series, explaining, “You don’t want to have the guy who did the Hanna-Barbera cartoons come and do the voices. No offense to the Hanna-Barbera cartoons – I’m a huge Scooby-Doo fan.” Stiller tweeted the cartoon image to the left in 2011, but that’s the last update on the animated series
and it’s pretty safe to assume the project is abandoned. Plans to make a movie sequel to Zoolander were still underway as recently as October.
CORRECTION: In response to this piece, Red Hour Productions’ Mike Rosenstein instagrammed a photo of folks working on the Zoolander cartoon, which is, in fact, still happening.
The Blues Brothers
Dan Aykroyd has licensed the Blues Brothers characters into toys, video games, a theme park attraction, clothing, a music tour, and a crappy sequel, but in 1997, he sold the rights to UPN to make a Blues Brothers animated series. Film Roman, the studio behind The Simpsons and King of the Hill, was producing, and David Misch, a writer on USA’s Duckman, was made showrunner. Worst of all, Jim Belushi and Peter Aykroyd, siblings of the original Blues Brothers, were set to voice Jake and Elwood Blues. UPN ordered 13 episodes (eight of which were produced), aiming to debut the series in the fall of 1998 to capitalize on the expected success of the movie sequel Blues Brothers 2000 (which had John Goodman filling John Belushi’s shoes). UPN backed out and canceled the show before it aired, a decision that was probably spurred on by the failure of Blues Brothers 2000 at the box office.
Aykroyd and John Belushi’s widow Judy Belushi began pitching a second Blues Brothers animated primetime series to networks in 2011 (with Aykroyd planning to voice Elwood and Jake’s parole officer), as part of a larger effort to resuscitate the Blues Brothers franchise with an ambitious bevy of projects that includes “a Broadway musical, licensing, endorsements, a branded radio network, book publishing, telephony and an accelerated Web and social networking presence,” plus a Las Vegas residency for The Official Blues Brothers Revue, which features two guys who aren’t Dan Aykroyd or John Belushi (obviously) playing Elwood and Jake and singing blues songs. If the Blues Brothers revival keeps Dan Aykroyd’s attention away from the Ghostbusters revival, it might not be all bad.