Philosophy, War, and Challenging Conventions: Why Zack Snyder Should Direct an ‘Animorphs’ Movie

From Dawn of the Dead to Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zack Snyder has demonstrated his skill with both stunning visuals and deeply heartfelt moments. Animorphs beautifully blends action and emotion, as I discussed in this post. A movie adaptation wouldn’t necessarily be a great idea. A lot happens over a period of several years, and nearly all of the books contribute something valuable and meaningful. Even most of the fillers were good character pieces. It would be easy to lose some of that impact by trying to condense the story into one movie. In that regard, another attempt at a TV series would probably be a better adaptation. It would allow for more accuracy, as well as a less rushed seeming story. However, if the series were ever adapted into a movie, who better to take on the challenge than Zack Snyder?

Visual Storytelling

A major part of what makes Animorphs special is the characters and their internal turmoil. Each book is written in first person, and some of the most poignant quotes aren’t dialogue but part of their internal commentary. It’s something that would be really hard to bring across in an adaptation without excessive voiceovers, which is where Snyder would be perfect. He’s a very visual storyteller. His scripts don’t have any wasted words. He doesn’t tell, he shows. He’d be able to bring across all the emotion in those scenes without overusing voiceovers.

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Clark saying goodbye to Lois in ‘Batman v Superman’. [Credit: Warner Bros].
Snyder is the king of a distinctive visual style and subverting common tropes. We know for certain that Snyder’s not afraid of so-called silly topics. He’s made his career on geeky interests and comic book movies, after all. He makes bold choices and tries new things instead of constantly playing it safe. He uses his awesome visual sense and artistic eye to create beautiful, epic, memorable scenes in movies based on comic books. I’d love to see him take on the action sequences in Animorphs. They’re all fast paced, bloody, and almost ridiculously violent. They’re horrifyingly graphic, and Snyder is bold enough to commit to that.

Apart from his visual skills, Snyder specializes in philosophy. I still think Batman v Superman is his best work yet because of that. Animorphs is a masterpiece that beautifully questions right vs wrong and never flinches from discussing the realities of war. Snyder often works with religious philosophy, which isn’t the main thematic element in Animorphs, but the issues stemming from the morality of war would be something a little different that he could pull off beautifully. He conveys complicated issues clearly without oversimplifying them. He has mastered the art of making people take things seriously. A huge part of what makes his work special to me is that he clearly enjoys what he does and has fun working in the superhero genre without making fun of that genre. Adapting Animorphs would be a challenge he’s perfect for.

Most of all, though? Snyder’s strength is embracing all of those issues in the big blockbuster type movies that earn lots of money, in a way that a lot of people just don’t see. That’s exactly what Animorphs was. Everyone has at least heard of them. With the perception of them today, both among fans and people that haven’t read them, it’s easy to forget that they were hugely popular in their heyday. They were one of the best selling children’s series ever.

Prominence of Female Characters

Every movie Snyder has made has featured complex, awesome women that are completely different from each other. And his idea of a strong female character isn’t just one that punches people. No, his idea of a strong female character is a smart, brilliant journalist that isn’t a fighter, but is brave enough to stand between her injured boyfriend and the raging vigilante holding a spear that’s trying to kill him and is so important that Superman considers her his world, and the Flash travels back in time to tell Batman that she’s the key. Is a senator that’s not going to bow down to special interests just because she has somewhat similar reservations. Is a victim that fights back when against impossible odds and rendered almost powerless. They certainly can get into physical fights, but that’s far from all they are.

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Babydoll in ‘Sucker Punch’. [Credit: Warner Bros].
Animorphs has fantastic female characters, and I’d love to see Snyder’s take on them. From Rachel, the smart, talented, beautiful golden girl who got thrown into a war and learned she liked it to Cassie, the perceptive, kind, manipulative killer that hated all the violence but was nonetheless more dangerous than Rachel the Blood Knight to Eva, the mother that calmly walked right back into slavery because it was either that or risk open war that would kill billions of people when her slaver was no longer in power, the female characters were just as fully realized as the male.

Deconstruction of Conventions

Animorphs embraces a lot of dark topics. It’s a complete deconstruction of everything you’d expect from a kids’ series about aliens and saving the world. It’s also hysterically funny – made doubly so by how ridiculously nineties it is – with an underlying theme of hope. One book featured the lead characters staging an incompetent rescue of an android from a mall using a Bill Clinton mask, a misspelled sandwich board sign, a lava lamp, and Tommy Hilfiger underwear. One of the books was an extended reference to Yeats’s The Second Coming. The entire series is very reminiscent of Kafka. The last book was dedicated to the aftermath of a three year war and the ways in which the characters recovered – and didn’t – from the trauma of being child soldiers. It refuses to ever be pigeonholed as just one thing. It’s a science fiction war story about slavery and morality that’s told as the story of a bunch of idiot kids trying to save the world.

Snyder is fantastic at deconstructing tropes. Batman v Superman is a political drama on top of an action movie with superheroes. He has directed all sorts of cool, kind of trippy takes on classic genres. I wrote about how Batman v Superman and Man of Steel deconstructed the superhero genre here, and I think the ways in which it does are similar to the ways in which Animorphs deconstructs the sci-fi adventure genre. If Animorphs were better known, I’m sure a lot of people would decry it as “grim-dark”, like they did with BvS. It’s not. It’s grounded. It’s not dark for the sake of being dark, it’s dark because it’s a war story. And Snyder could do it justice better than anyone else.

Implementation

Animorphs shouldn’t be compressed into just one movie. It would need a series to do it justice. If I had to choose just one book for Snyder to adapt, though, I’d have to go with a combination of The Andalite Chronicles and The Hork-Bajir Chronicles, two of the prequels to the main series.  I’d have to sacrifice his take on the main protagonists of the series, but the Chronicles are some of my very favourite books in the series, and it would suit his directing very well.

These two books are set on multiple different planets, which would make full use of his skill with world building. They have a wide range of characters from different backgrounds – the idealistic scientist whose greatest wish was for the sentient species of the universe to explore the stars together; the person who had never known war or violence but found himself forced in the position of leading an army to defend his people’s freedom; the jaded, cynical warrior that had lost friends and becoming willing to do whatever it took to win.

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Krypton, depicted in ‘Man of Steel’. [Credit: Warner Bros].
Ethical issues galore, the difficulty of doing the right thing, complicated and well developed character dynamics – these two books capture a lot of the essence of what Animorphs is while being more self contained than any part of the main series.

Animorphs the book series was geared towards children, just like the TV show. But if a movie were to be made, and made accurately, it couldn’t be. I love the books, but even so, they probably traumatized me for life. There’s a scene in one of them where one of the characters loses an arm, then uses said arm as a club. The first book opens with an alien being eaten alive. Those are things you can apparently get away with in books. Not so in film. So even if Snyder – or any director that would commit to an accurate adaptation – were interested, it seems highly unlikely that any studio would go for an R-rated adaptation of a children’s series.

If more people gave Animorphs a chance, they’d love it. These books are dark. They never, ever shy away from discussing trauma. They’re so clearly an anti-war message that deals with slavery and the ethics of combat and intergalactic politics. But they’re also hilariousEven today, years after I read them for the first time, when I reread them, I still laugh, because the teammate is a slacker who mainly paid attention to girls and sports while in class and loves cinnamon buns and soap operas and caused a scene in a movie theatre because he’d never eaten chocolate before. A Snyder adaptation of it would open a lot of people’s eyes to how fantastic a series it is.

Zack Snyder is a perfect fit for an Animorphs movie because of his grasp on how to present philosophical ideas, his distinctive style, and his treatment of women. This movie will probably never happen, but if it did, it would have the potential to be one of the best science-fiction adaptations ever made.

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Animorphs: A Children’s Series That Deserves To Be Remembered As a Science Fiction Classic

Remember Animorphs? That super ridiculous nineties series about kids turning into animals fighting parasitic aliens that opened with a character being eaten alive and ended with most of the main characters dead that was somehow ubiquitous in just about every library, even if no library had all the books because there were more than sixty of them? Yeah. That was fantastic.

Something that’s pretty minor in the grand scheme of things that I still love about it -it had some of the most creative aliens ever. There was no all aliens speak English – the universal standard was something else; aliens were equipped with translators so they could understand each other; and they learned English when they were on Earth, some better than others. They didn’t all look humanoid – in fact, none of them did. Giant, cannibalistic centipedes with insatiable and uncontrollable hunger. Seven foot tall herbivores that solely ate bark and were covered with blades so that they could better harvest it. Mouthless centaurs with two additional stalk eyes and scorpionlike blades on their tails. Parasitic slugs that lived in the heads of other sentient creatures and controlled their every action. They were all different and fascinating and some of them were absolutely terrifying.

Animorphs had all the basic hallmarks of a traditional science fiction story. Freshman year, I took a class on Eastern European sci fi, and it struck me just how well Animorphs adheres to the main tenants of the genre, while not being confined to standard in any way. What is the nature of good and evil? What is love? What is life? What does it mean to be human? The books questioned the nature of right and wrong again and again. The fierce protectiveness and love the main characters felt for each other was constantly brought up. One of the supporting characters was an android, and the constant undertone when he was around was if he was really alive, and if his pacifism was at all justifiable next to the actions of the living things doing the fighting. A running theme was maintaining one’s humanity when fighting a war.

Animorphs is top tier fiction, because it’s completely accessible while embracing darker themes and working through hope, tragedy, humour, and heartwarming friendship moments in every book without it ever feeling rushed.

Animorphs makes me feel all kinds of emotions. There are scenes that I find horrifying and tragic and gutwrenching and all that, but they’re juxtaposed with some of the most ridiculously funny scenes I’ve ever read in anything. I’ll reread the books, and I’ll never not laugh at things like the lead characters’ incompetent rescue of an android using clothes from Tommy Hilfiger, a Bill Clinton mask, and a misspelled sandwich board sign, while they argue something stupid in the middle of a dangerous situation. It’s so hilariously nineties, that now even lines that would have been pretty neutral twenty years ago have me laughing. Then I turn the page, and it’s dead serious again. The same book that had an alien driving a yellow Mustang across a planet that neither he nor Mustangs come from while drinking Dr. Pepper had the same alien run away to Earth because he didn’t want to fight a war anymore.

The writing is geared toward children, and it’s blunt and direct and very far from subtle, but it doesn’t matter at all, because it’s effective. It’s simplistic and it gets the point across without ever getting bogged down in flowery language or needing elaborate symbolism. There are plenty of allusions to classics which allows for some really fun analysis, but the series stands perfectly well alone without needing to understand those references. Before all else, it’s an entertaining story. Most of the books are very short, but they still both address serious issues and entertain.

Animorphs is indisputably kind of weird and unexpected, but it’s fantastic. Sure, there’s some inconsistent quality issues and plot holes/contradictions – that’s to be expected when there’s so many of them and a large chunk of the series was ghostwritten. But the weirdness contributes to making it memorable, because it never holds back. It’s so, so good, and everyone should read it.