Fans rejoiced in June 2020 when publisher Scholastic and film studio Picturestart announced that an Animorphs movie was in the works. The series follows five ordinary teenagers thrust into the middle of a covert interstellar war. They only have one weapon at their disposal: the ability to turn into any animal they touch. Over roughly 70 books, the Animorphs use their abilities to push back against the invading Yeerk army. All in all, they find themselves outmanned and outgunned, with next to no resources or allies.
Animorphs is a dark and harrowing tale, especially for its time and the middle-school-age audience it courted. It pre-dates the Young Adult fiction boom of the 2000s, which saw the rise of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, and others that delve into darker territory.
Animorphs tackles neglected topics
Animorphs is groundbreaking in its gritty portrayal of war, and the effects it has on the soldiers tasked with fighting it. It pulls no punches and often subjects its characters to horrific injuries, mental trauma, torture, violence, and death. The fearless commentary on child soldiers and the way society discards the physically challenged is seared into the minds of its fans. Authors Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant build the entire series around the idea that there are no real heroes in war.
The books received a short-lived television adaptation that aired from 1998 to 2000, but it received criticism for the way it watered down the events of the books and scrubbed them of their darker elements. But when news of a brand-new Animorphs movie surfaced in 2020, fans hoped this would be the faithful adaptation they’d been waiting two decades for.
A comedic Animorphs movie? This is insane!
Warning: Major spoilers for the Animorphs book series below.
The project’s initial announcement came with the news that Applegate and Grant were on board, which gave the project legitimacy. Applegate and Grant are proud of their series, and their involvement assured fans that the project wouldn’t go off the rails. However, a few months later, Grant announced that he and Applegate had parted ways with the adaptation. Subsequently, fans speculated that the filmmakers balked at the books’ dark tone and complex themes.
In February 2023, a rumor shared by Grant himself cast new light on the gestating project. On February 4, Grant tweeted he’d heard a rumor that the Animorphs adaptation would be a comedy about grown-up versions of the characters. Grant did not elaborate further on where he’d heard the rumor.
In the spirit of Animorphs, I must quote my favorite character, Marco, who often shouts “This is insane!” It wasn’t long before incensed fans responded, voicing their incredulity and frustrations.
Reminder: Animorphs ends on a depressing note.
So much comedy
Lack of respect for the source material
But seriously. A comedy?
Is it still Animorphs if its name is all that remains?
Animorphs is a war story!
Animorphs… the comedy?
Animorphs getting hacked apart and turned into a comedy is unfathomable to me. The books have light-hearted moments, sure—but the meat and potatoes are the disturbing things the characters must do to live to fight another day. They are central to Animorphs‘ identity.
In #33 “The Illusion,” an enemy locks Tobias in a cage and tortures him. Meanwhile, Rachel, addicted to violence, gradually becomes a bloodthirsty killing machine. Worse yet, Jake begins to use Rachel to handle the dirty work no one else is willing to touch. Marco learns that his mother is the host body of the Yeerk who began the invasion of Earth and later organizes a mission to kill her.
A brief addition to the team named David shows sociopathic tendencies early on. Later, he murders Jake and Rachel’s hospitalized cousin and morphs into him in an attempt to assume the boy’s life. A Twitter user wrote about each book’s most twisted moments in this viral Twitter thread.
After 70 stories, the series finally ends with a depressing entry that sees the deaths of Rachel and Jake’s brother, Tom. As a result, Jake is a broken shell of his former self, struggling with PTSD. Then, a new threat rears its head as another war begins; with most of the surviving Animorphs venturing into battle once again. It’s a horrifying look at the cyclical nature of war and how it breaks people in agonizing ways.
In what world is this comedy fodder? The last thing we need is another watered-down adaptation that lacks the courage to address the series’ topical subject matter. Animorphs is about war, and any adaptation that doesn’t acknowledge that is not Animorphs.
The bottom line
A comedic adaptation of the series is a slap in the face to anyone who ever read and enjoyed an Animorphs book. It shows that the people involved don’t understand the IP they’re adapting. Or worse, that they do understand it, yet are making drastic changes in an attempt to “make it better.” Someone, please tell Scholastic and Picturestart how that worked out for the much-maligned Percy Jackson films—perhaps they forgot.
Co-author Michael Grant agreed, responding to a frustrated fan by saying:
If this latest Animorphs rumor is true, it’s a heartbreaking step back for fans of the series. And as Mr. Grant points out, it’s a sign that the IP will never see a true adaptation as long as its owners fail to understand what makes it special in the first place.