I am a fan of cartoonist Berkeley Breathed. His strip, Bloom County, was a favorite when I was hitting an age when I was scanning the page for more than just Slylock Fox, and I still enjoy the occasional Bloom County collection.
A while back, I picked up Breathed's children's book Mars Needs Moms, and it was a fun read, if a bit off-beat for a story aimed at kids. And then I heard it was being adapted to a feature film by Robert "I Sucked the Soul Out of The Polar Express" Zemeckis.
The thing is - Breathed's character style and sentiment is distinctly Breathed's. And, somewhat shockingly, unlike Polar Express, Zemeckis didn't seem to feel any attachment to Breathed's artistic style.
Its hard to really explain that Breathed's character design is part of the story, and so abandoning that design for the movie's humanoid, motion-capture friendly designs.... missing the point.
Look, Breathed's story may be a little scary for kids: its about a kid who sees his mom getting kidnapped by aliens after he's decided his mom is mean during a typical kid/ parent spat. But the point of the story is to teach kids about sacrifice and explain to them exactly how much their parents love them. Frankly, its not a bad thing to share with kids, and nobody is going to walk away scarred from either a picture book or movie about the depths of a parent's love. Its called putting a conflict into a story.
Breathed's Mars Needs Moms is a slim picturebook, light on text and full of imaginative imagery. Simply covering that scaffolding in typical "family movie" hoo-hah is going to do little but distract from and muddle a pretty straightforward story, and the only time I've seen it truly work was with Where the Wild Things Are. Unfortunately we all know studios have a certainly saccharine version of reality they deal with when putting together family films, and it may be that adding spunky teenage Martians or whatever the hell the movie chose to do from the Hollywood Plot-o-Tron merely diluted the film to a nonsensical mess.
I'd guess Zemeckis and Co.'s insistence on the motion-capture technology took precedence over the exaggerated and intentionally absurd visual style that's been Breathed's trademark since his days on The Academia Waltz. Trying to make the characters move and look "lifelike" was never the intention of Breathed's style, and its hard to imagine exactly why a decision was made to stray from what would have been a pretty unique and fun adaptation of Breathed's work.
I'm hoping to read Breathed's reaction in The Hollywood Reporter, even if I have my doubts that we'd get the full story or what it feels like to watch your much-loved book turned into something completely different on the screen and then watch that movie flop. Or... we might.
I guess if there's any point to this post, its that a massive flop of a movie shouldn't reflect poorly on the source material, especially if the source is more or less ignored in favor of whatever the heck the producers feel is more fun to play around with.