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Forgotten Kids' Shows That Deserve Their Own Movie Universes

Old cartoons and kids' shows are a fertile ground to mine for modern blockbusters. There've been a whole bunch of "Transformers" movies at this point, plus a few takes on things like "G.I. Joe" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," with movies based on "He-Man," "Barbie," and "Thundercats" all reportedly in production. But what about the less well-remembered properties? Just because something didn't last that long, or hasn't retained as strong a following as "Masters of the Universe," doesn't mean it couldn't be translated into a successful movie franchise. Hollywood has never been afraid to look to the past for things to reinvent, and we shouldn't be either.

So with that in mind, let's travel back to the Saturday mornings and school day afternoons of the '80s and '90s, and pick out some obscure shows that we'd like to see hit the big screen in live action, or at least realistic CGI.

Aaahh!!! Real Monsters

Nickelodeon's "Aaahh!!! Real Monsters" is a classic of gross-out humor, with the addition of featuring memorable characters with enough depth to appeal to both kids and adults (adults who still enjoy gross-out humor, at least). It stars Ickis, an energetic little guy with low self-esteem, Oblina, a glamorous female monster, and Krumm, a gross smelly guy who hold his eyes in his hands rather than having them attached to his body. They're pretty strange looking in the two-dimensional animation of their '90s cartoon, but just imagine how wild they'd look rendered in CGI. Their whole world of monsters living and going to school under a New York City landfill could have a grimy, unsettling atmosphere that would set such a movie apart from similar but cuddlier fare like the "Monsters, Inc." movies.

Unfortunately, reuniting all three voice actors who originally played the trio is impossible, as Christine Cavanaugh, who played Oblina, passed away in 2014. But with that being the case, why not do what all the big animated films do these days and cast famous actors from live action? Imagine, for example, Kevin Hart as Ickis, Catherine O'Hara as Oblina, and Seth Rogen as Krumm. It would provide a bit of real-world grounding for a surreal movie about three gross young monsters having an adventure in New York City.

Defenders of Dynatron City

"Defenders of Dynatron City" was a superhero franchise that never quite took off, but superheroes have only gotten more popular (some might say they've become the most popular thing there is) in the decades since. Originally created by Lucasfilm Games for a 1992 Nintendo release, these intentionally goofy heroes were quickly given a Marvel comic and an animated TV pilot that aired as a special on Fox Kids. The pilot didn't get picked up, the comic only lasted six issues, and that was it. But now, in an era when superheroes and old franchises that '90s kids are nostalgic for are both major revenue drivers, it might be time for a big budget revisit.

There six members of the Defenders of Dynatron City: Ms. Megawatt, who has electrical powers. Jet Headstrong, whose head flies off like a rocket. Buzzsaw Girl, who has a big buzzsaw blade that she rolls around on in place of feet. Toolbox, a robot with a hammer for a head and other tools he can pull out when needed. Monkey Kid, a talking blue monkey who is somehow the leader of the team. And Radium Dog, who can fly, has super strength, and appears to glow with radiation.

Obviously a movie would have to be extremely silly, because if you make it even a little bit serious, the guy with the detachable head and the girl who's half buzzsaw turn into body horror pretty quickly. That said, there's room for more silly superhero movies, and this could certainly be a fun one.

Big Bad Beetleborgs

Created by Saban Entertainment using live action tokusatsu footage from Japan, "Big Bad Beetleborgs" was the even sillier sister show of "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers." In contrast to the long-lived "Power Rangers" franchise, the Beetleborgs only lasted for two seasons, which aired on Fox Kids from 1996 to 1998. It features three kids — siblings Drew and Jo McCormick and their friend Roland Williams — who spend their time hanging out at Roland's family's comic book store. On a dare, they enter a spooky mansion and find it occupied by a bunch of comedic monsters. They release a ghost named Flabber who'd been trapped in a pipe organ, who looks sort of like a very pale cross between Elvis and Liberace. Grateful for his freedom, the magical Flabber offers the kids one wish. They wish to become their favorite comic book superheroes, the Big Bad Beetleborgs, and gain the ability to transform into the adult-sized insect-armored team. Unfortunately, making the Beetleborgs real also brings to life their villains, the monstrous Magnavores. So then Drew, Jo, and Roland have to use their newfound abilities to battle their new-formed archenemies, while also helping Flabber keep a houseful of Monsters in check — and helping out at the comic book store.

Combining "Iron Man" aesthetics with a "Shazam" premise and a "Hotel Transylvania" supporting cast, the Beetleborgs would make for a really weird movie, but one that kids and nostalgic adults might go for. What's most interesting is the meta aspect, that these are kids who choose to become superheroes because they're superhero fans, and then the comic book world bleeds into the real one. A movie would definitely want to draw on later storylines where the kids meet the comic book artist who created the Beetleborgs and can create more allies for them, and his brother who draws villains that also come to life. It would never be as Earth-shaking a universe as the MCU, but it could certainly be an interesting one.


"Centurions" was one of the most toyetic cartoons of the 1980s, but it was also surprisingly smart in its themes and characterization. Set in the near future, it stars the titular trio of heroes who band together to stop the evil cyborg Doc Terror from taking over the world. The Centurions wear "exo-frame" suits that allow for the attachment of larger "assault weapon systems" for different missions. Max Ray, the leader, is equipped for underwater missions, Jake Rockwell is equipped for land-based missions, and Ace McCloud is equipped for (can you guess?) aerial missions. All of this is coordinated by Crystal Kane, who stays in their space station headquarters and transports them wherever they need to go with whatever equipment they need. Other inhabitants of the space station include Jake's dog and orangutan named Lucy.

In addition to featuring big action set pieces with a flying guy, a swimming guy, and a speeding across the ground like a living motorcycle guy all fighting robots, "Centurions" deals with themes about humanity's evolving relationship with technology. The bad guys, Terror and his sidekick Hacker, are full-on cyborgs, with most of their bodies replaced with technology. The heroes are also fully dependent on technology that works as an extension of their bodies, but they retain their humanity underneath. The whole thing has a real "technological singularity" vibe that only feels more relevant today, and it could make for a great sci-fi action movie.

Bionic Six

The Bionic Six aren't just a team of cybernetically enhanced super-agents who protect the world from the evil Doctor Scarab, they're also a family. Jack Bennett, code-named Bionic-1, was the original bionic secret agent, although he'd kept secret that from his family. Then they were all injured in an avalanche triggered by a UFO, and the whole family became bionic too, joining him in his adventures from then on. Jack's wife Helen became Mother-1, with cybernetics that gave her a variety of psychic powers. Their jock son Eric, called Sport-1, gained magnetic powers, which he often employed to use various metal objects as baseballs and bats. Teeny bopper daughter Meg, aka Rock-1, is super-fast and has sonic powers. Adopted son J.D., code-named IQ, is super-smart and super-strong. Foster son Bunji, known as Karate-1, has bionically enhanced agility that he uses to (you guessed it) do karate. Also they have a robot gorilla named F.L.U.F.F.I. for some reason. Their life-saving enhancements come courtesy of Doctor Sharp, benevolent scientist and brother of Doctor Scarab, who's obsessed with stealing Sharp's cybernetic secrets and using them to conquer the world.

A racially diverse super-powered family while dealing with sibling rivalries and teen drama? You have to admit that sounds like a perfect family-oriented action movie. Sort of like "The Incredibles" in live action, but with different powers and two additional non-white sons. They'd probably want to do away with the cheesy code names (or at least not call the one Japanese kid "Karate-1"), but definitely keep the robot gorilla. That thing's merchandising gold.

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light

"Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light" mixed sci-fi and fantasy in a swirl of epic world-building and mythical themes. On an Earthlike planet called Prysmos, the human population is living comfortably in a world of futuristic technology, until the planet's three suns come into perfect alignment in a rare cosmic event. Whether it's magic or some form of electromagnetism, the solar alignment causes all technology and complex machines on Prysmos to stop working, suddenly reverting its people to a new Dark Age. Then the wizard Merklynn appears and offers great magical power to whoever can overcome a series of obstacles and reach his temple inside a mountain. Those who gain these powers — the Visionaries — are divided into the heroic Spectral Knights and the evil Darkling Lords. Each of them wears armor with a magical totem on the chest, which enables them to transform into the animal it depicts. Most of them are also given magical staffs that also have specific powers, with the rest of them gaining the ability to magically empower otherwise useless futuristic vehicles.

Although the original animated series only lasted for thirteen episodes in 1987, the unique premise could make for a complex and fascinating series of live action films. It has the trappings of medieval fantasy, but in an apocalyptic future on another planet. Some of the more blatantly toy-focused aspects (like the magically powered vehicles and oversized holographic staffs) probably need to be toned down a bit, but super-powered knights with totem animals that represent their personalities locked in a battle between good and evil sound like a lot of fun.


One of the more horrific kids' franchises of the 1980s, "Inhumanoids" might actually make more sense as a series of action horror movies than it ever did as a children's cartoon. The Inhumanoids of the title are a group of giant ancient monsters from beneath the Earth, who are revived in modern times by the machinations of an evil businessman and his cronies. A heroic group of scientists bands together to stop the Inhumanoids from conquering the world, and soon find themselves in an unlikely alliance with the Mutores, a friendlier race of monsters who had imprisoned the Inhumanoids in the first place.

Right off the bat, there are already similarities with the current "MonsterVerse" franchise that began with 2014's "Godzilla." The actual monsters, however, are pretty different. Metlar, the leader of the Inhumanoids, is basically a giant devil that throws lava. Tendril looks a lot like H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu, but made out of plants. The most frightening of all (despite his silly name) is D'Compose, a giant rotting dinosaur creature who turns normal people into his monstrous minions with a touch. '80s kids who remember the cartoon know this trio was already pretty scary, but in live action/CGI they'd really be terrifying.


"Silverhawks" has the trappings of a superhero property, but it's really more of a sci-fi space opera crossed with a police procedural. When the alien gangster Mon*Star escapes from prison and reassembles his mob, a crusty old Cyborg cop named Stargazer is assigned a new squad of Silverhawks, recruits who were converted into cyborgs whose chrome plating protects them from both the ravages of space and the perils of battle. There's Quicksilver, the fast-thinking field commander, Steelheart and Steelwill, fraternal twins with great strength and technological know-how, Bluegrass, a guitar-playing space cowboy who pilots their ship, and the Copper Kidd, a young alien who's both an acrobat and a mathematical genius. Except for Bluegrass, they all have retractable wings that let them fly through space under their own power.

With a big enough special effects budget and good production design, "Silverhawks" could look amazing in live action. The battles between cyborg cops and alien crooks would make for great action scenes, and there's enough characters to put together a great ensemble cast (John Cena would make a perfect Steelwill, for example). Find that balance where it appeals to both nostalgic fans of the original and younger folks who just like a good sci-fi action film, and you could have a major franchise on your hands.


"Bravestarr" only lasted one season as an animated show during the 1987/1988 season, but its blend of sci-fi and western tropes made it particularly memorable to the kids who watch it. "Space Western" has been an established genre for ages, but this show takes the concept far more literally than most. New Texas is a remote and arid planet where a rare and valuable mineral used in interstellar travel was recently discovered, which has led to a boom in colonization as well as crime. The planet's chief lawman is Marshal Bravestarr, a Native American from Earth who hopes to spread peace and order, only drawing his laser pistol as a last resort. His horse is a cyborg named Thirty/Thirty who can transform into a humanoid form and carries a big gun of his own. There's also Deputy Fuzz, one of the Prairie People native to New Texas (think hobbit crossed with prairie dog) and Judge J.B. McBride, Bravestarr's love interest who also helps him prosecute outlaws.

The outlaws are memorable too. Their leader is Tex Hex, a vicious criminal who was saved from death by a powerful arcane entity called Stampede, who resurrected him as a zombie-looking sorcerer (yes, there's also fantasy in this sci-fi western). Hex leads the Carrion Bunch, a gang made up mostly of snake people and robots. There are also vicious dog men called Dingoes roaming the desert. Some of the names might be silly, but it's actually a really well thought out sci-fi setting for a cartoon. A live action "Bravestarr" would rise about stuff like "Cowboys & Aliens" by actually being fun, plus it would be a rare vehicle for a Native American action hero.

Ulysses 31

Space westerns are one thing, but the anime series "Ulysses 31" brought Homer's "The Odyssey" into space, a far rarer feat. In the 31st Century, Ulysses is the brave captain of a starship called the Odyssey. He angers the Olympian gods who rule the entire cosmos when he destroys a robotic Cyclops to save his son Telemachus and a bunch of other children. His crew is placed in suspended animation by Zeus, leaving Ulysses with just his son, a rescued alien girl named Yumi, and a cute little robot named Nono. To revive his crew and have a chance of returning home to Earth, Ulysses must find the lost realm of Hades. Along the way, he and the kids face a wide variety of future-mythic threats, such as servants of Poseidon in trident-shaped spaceships, a riddle-asking cosmic sphinx, and a whole planet of lotus-eaters.

A French/Japanese co-production, "Ulysses 31" did eventually air in the U.S., but it's rarely discussed today. Still, its concept is strong enough to make a spectacular cinematic space opera whether anyone remembers the source material or not. After all, this is a story that his been part of humanity's collective unconscious for thousands of years, but this version has spaceships and giant robots.

Galaxy High

There's room on this list for one more property that combines galactic sci-fi with a more Earthbound genre, so let's talk about the teen comedy of "Galaxy High." In this American/Japanese co-production, two teens from Earth — nerdy Aimee and popular athlete Doyle — are chosen to attend Galaxy High School, an interplanetary school on an asteroid in deep space, populated with a wide variety of alien teens. To Doyle's chagrin, the Earth kids' roles are somewhat reverse in this strange new setting: the aliens have a much easier time relating to Aimee, and find Doyle's interests baffling. Many of the episodes revolve around Aimee trying to help Doyle make friends and impress the other students. The alien characters range from Milo de Venus, a six-armed nerd, to Blooey Bubblehead, a ditz whose tiny brain can be seen floating in her literal bubble of a head, to Beef Bonk, the school bully who looks like a rooster crossed with a dinosaur.

Okay, the character names are pretty silly, but the concept is strong. Sci-fi comedy is an under-utilized genre these days, and a teen movie set in deep space and full of weird aliens seems like something a lot of people would be into. After all, everybody gets excited about wizard high schools, and there've been a number of franchises about superhero high schools, so an alien high school seems like a variation worth trying.


Everybody loves the "Fast & Furious" movies, right? Now imagine how wild and over the top those action sequences could be if the cars could transform into planes, boats, helicopters, submarines, and other vehicles with the push of a button. And while we're at it, suppose the drivers wore high-tech helmets that gave them a variety of sci-fi superpowers, and the highways were lined with billboards and filling stations that conceal secret weapons banks. This is the premise of "M.A.S.K.," the animated series based on a line of Kenner toys, which ran for two seasons starting in 1985.

While every does get their powers from headgear that hides their faces, the name M.A.S.K. is actually an acronym for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, a task force lead by the heroic Matt Trakker, which is locked in battle with the criminal organization known as V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem), which is led by Mile Mayhem, who was once part of the M.A.S.K. team until he betrayed them and killed Matt Trakker's brother. Thanks to technology Mayhem stole from the Trakkers, both teams have similar transforming vehicles and superpowered helmet-masks.

That's all you really need, right? Drama, betrayal, revenge, and a jeep that turns into a hovercraft. How is this not a movie already?


Speaking of ideas so obvious that it's amazing they haven't become movies already, we have to mention "Dino-Riders." As you might guess from the title, this 1988 cartoon was about characters who ride dinosaurs into battle. Based on a line of toys by Tyco, the series was part of "Marvel Action Universe," a programming block that also included cartoons about Spider-Man and Robocop. "Dino-Riders" centers on two groups of aliens who find themselves stranded on prehistoric Earth. The heroic Valorians use technology that enables them to telepathically communicate with and befriend dinosaurs, who then carry them willingly. The vicious Rulons, on the other hand, just fit their dinosaurs with mind-control helmets that force them to obey. Both groups, however, outfit their dinosaurs with a variety of lasers and missile launchers, so they can engage in dino-based combat.

At the end of the day it doesn't matter that much whether there's any originality to the star-spanning struggle between the Valorians, who all resemble good-looking humans, and the Rulons, a wide variety of monstrous subraces led by the armored frog-like Emperor Krulos. What matters is that they all ride dinosaurs decked out in high-tech armor. That premise ruled when it was a cartoon, and it would rule even harder in a special effects-laded live action movie.

The World of David the Gnome

By far the most peaceful and least chaotic entry on this list, "The World of David the Gnome" was a Spanish cartoon that was dubbed into English and aired on Nickelodeon from 1988 until 1995, despite having only 26 episodes. David is a forest gnome, as opposed to a garden gnome, a dune gnome, or one of the other subraces. He and his wife Lisa live in a modest but cozy and fully furnished hole under a tree. David is a doctor who treats both animals and other gnomes, putting him in much demand throughout the countryside, which the tiny physician travels swiftly with the aid of his fox and bird friends. Often the ailments and injuries he treats are the result of human activity, like a deer caught in barbed wire or a young gnome girl who'd eaten a strawberry tainted by pesticide. Humans aren't the worst creatures around, however. That dubious honor goes to the trolls, brutish enemies of the gnomes who live to cause chaos.

With a mythic tone, a tiny scale, and an investment in the beauty of the natural world, a "David the Gnome" movie could appeal to all ages. Just cast a likable actor (Nick Offerman maybe), give David an epic enough quest, and include plenty of troll trouble along the way. Not everything has to be space cowboys, transforming vehicles, or dinosaur-mounted lasers. Most things probably should be, but not everything.