• Michael T. Christensen

Inception: The Animated Series

For those who feel the need to go to a movie theater during the worst pandemic in a hundred years, the Christopher Nolan film "Tenet" was released. My friend saw it and said it was fine, and in a group text we lamented that a lot of Christopher Nolan films from the past ten years are a bit... devoid of humanity. Oh sure, some cool stuff happens, and there's a narrative arc and a main character who wants something, but they tend to be pretty superficial desires.

As we talked about Inception and Interstellar and Dunkirk, and all of these films that focus so much on non-linear storytelling rather than human interactions, a strange thought hit me:

If "Inception" had been released fifteen years earlier, there would have been an animated series, probably about Ellen Page's character teaching some teenagers how to sneak into people's dreams.

My childhood was dominated by cartoons based on movies that weren't for kids - Men in Black, Godzilla, Extreme Ghostbusters, Starship Troopers, and occasionally the Mask and Robocop.

I thought about what a weird trend that was - Starship Troopers was a film about the dangers of propaganda, and the show seemed to be all about cool marines killing aliens, so clearly these movies may have missed the point - but then I realized why Inception feels like a weird blockbuster compared to the ones I grew up on.

Inception is not intended for a wide audience. Or, more accurately, it doesn't feel like a movie you could pitch to a kid.

Godzilla and Men in Black had the same rating as Inception (PG-13) but they were both something that a kid would totally love - and I speak from experience, because I was a kid at the time. And even though Men in Black has a lot of violence, some gross-out scenes and foul language, kids loved it. So, of course a TV show makes perfect sense.

The Godzilla cartoon arguably works better than the film at representing the spirit of the source material; after all, the new Godzilla wants to help humanity, and he tags along and helps the heroes fight evil monsters.

Extreme Ghostbusters - essentially a sequel to the 80s Ghostbusters cartoon - was about college-age kids fighting spooky monsters. And it was great, even for someone like me who doesn't like horror, to watch them fight some legitimately scary monsters, that also had inventive designs (I remember a few that legitimately would not be out of place if you lined them up next to some Pokémon).

Even modern-day blockbusters fit nicely into this mold. Obviously the Marvel movies lend themselves well to cartoons, but even James Cameron's Avatar - a film that I do not like - would be fantastic fodder for a kid's cartoon. I'm legitimately disappointed that this trend of animated shows based on blockbusters didn't carry over to the early 2010s, because an Avatar show could've been pretty good.

Although, to be fair, the actual cartoon show called "Avatar" is pretty good, and much better than its film adaptation.

That actually seems to speak to the direction adaptations go these days. We don't adapt live-action films to cartoons, we adapt cartoons into live-action films. And these films are almost always bad, or at the very least they miss the point of the original cartoon. These films are meant to appeal to the kids who grew up watching the show, but does anyone who liked "Transformers" enjoy seeing those characters on screen? Optimus Prime from the cartoon was a hero, but the version from the films is a sociopath. And the less said about the recent "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" films, the better.

I understand how this shift happened - the film industry always plays things safe, so it's rare that I don't understand how a trend came to pass - but I think we lost something along the way. Those cartoons may not always have been good, but they broadened the audience for films. I loved these films not just despite my age, but because of my age. I remember excitedly walking around New York in late 2001 and finding places where they had filmed Men in Black, or seeing the bridge where Godzilla had been killed.

Christopher Nolan movies make me excited about filmmaking and storytelling. But they don't fill me with the same excitement that I had as a kid, watching blockbusters that didn't just have high concepts... but they also had characters I could connect with, and emotional moments of pathos, and FUN. Oh my god, I miss when most blockbuster movies (besides kids movies and Marvel films) actually were allowed to be FUN.

I think Disney is the only studio that still does this; WB has animated shows based on the DC characters of course, but Disney is always looking for new IP to put on TV. And they seem to be the only one willing to look to their films, instead of the other way around.

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