As expected, G.I. Joe won a weekend at the box office two weekends ago. Between that and the summer-long success of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, people are talking about the power of toy company HASBRO at the box office. But just because the promise of childhood nostalgia has been enough to lure twenty-somethings into the theater, it doesn't necessarily mean they've been leaving happy. Transformers 2 has a dismal 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. G.I. Joe is faring only slightly better. And these are just the latest creative disappointments in Hollywood's never-ending quest to bring our most beloved childhood memories to life on the big screen. But whether they're remaking classic family films (Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas), adapting our favorite children's books (Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat), or attempting to bring our favorite toys to life (see above) they always let us down. Here are a few ways in which they usually fall short:
1. They modernize it: The marketing theory behind movies like G.I. Joe and Transformers is that the studios will be able to attract both the kids looking for a break from their usual diet of the current Nickelodeon cartoons, and the parents who originally played with the toys and watched the cartoons they're based on. It's something new and exciting for the kids, and something old and familiar for the adults. Everybody wins, right? Wrong. Because when it comes to how the film is ultimately going to look and feel, the filmmakers will have to choose between appealing to the kids and appealing to the adults -- and they stand to make more money if they go after the kids. That means modernizing things. It means giving G.I. Joe newfangled weapons and designing Transformer robots that will look impressive to kids who grew up with iPods and Xboxes. It's hard to feel nostalgic toward something you barely recognize.
2. They prolong the premise: Just because something's popular doesn't mean it's a good idea for a movie. Your average children's picture book doesn't have enough story to fill two hours of film. That's why it was conceived as a 20-page picture book and not a movie. As Jim Carrey and Mike Myers learned with their respective Dr. Seuss movies, failing to live up to the challenge of coming up with filler scenes that are worthy of the iconic source material will weaken your entire film.
3. They waste your imagination: You know how your parents and teachers always preferred that you read a book or go outside and play with your toys rather than watch TV or a movie? That's because your mind is getting more valuable exercise interpreting words and acting things out with dolls and action figures than it gets watching a story unfold on the screen. When you're reading a book, you're picturing your own private Narnia. You're imagining yourself fighting COBRA. And as great as it would be to see a talented filmmaker use their impressive resources to build those worlds for you to view again as an adult, it's just never going to give you as much joy as building it with your own LEGOS did. Instead of relying on Hollywood to re-create your childhood for you, you may be better served to just enjoy observing the childhood of your own kids. Share in their excitement as you both get to discover the classics of tomorrow. And look forward to the day when they'll grow up and start grumbling about Hollywood wrecking their childhood memories, too.