What Happens When Your Kids TV Show Is Really an Ad For Books

The Nickelodeon Animorphs TV show wasn’t a very good adaptation. But maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

Eric Ravenscraft

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Lord Ravenscraft is a video essay series created by Eric Ravenscraft. You can watch the latest full episode on YouTube.

In 1998, Scholastic Entertainment produced a live action adaptation of the Animorphs book series to be distributed on YTV and Nickelodeon. It was coming out alongside the books and, according to both fans of the series and new viewers, it was a poor adaptation of the books it was based on.

Except. Was it?

Answering that question is harder than it sounds. The common criteria we use to judge whether or not an adaptation is “good” tends to be simple: how faithful was it to the core of the material it’s adapting. But on that front, the Animorphs TV show isn’t quite as bad as it fans might remember. Some plot points are changed, sure, but many episodes are lifted almost verbatim from the books.

The plots are the same, and in a few cases the show even enhances the original material precisely because it doesn’t have the budget to do more elaborate scenes. When you can’t indulge flashy morphing and combat scenes, the moments where characters sit down and talk naturally have to come to the forefront, which means the relationships between characters are emphasized even more.

On paper, this sounds like a win. Maybe the show is low budget, but if it means the core elements of the story shine through, isn’t that a good thing? Well, that’s not what happened with Animorphs. Instead, it was bogged down by a limited budget attached to a project with astronomical scope, it was attempting to plan out a show based on a book series that hadn’t been written yet, and, well, they were working with productions that make low-budget shows for kids. Not everyone who does a job is the best in the world at it.

But that might not even matter. You don’t rush out a kids show based on a monthly book series that’s not even finished yet because you want to get every detail of the overall story right. You do it–or, more accurately, Scholastic did it–to sell books. So, if the show’s goal is to sell books, it might actually be a success.

In this video, I explore all of this and more by doing a deep dive into the old Animorphs TV show, comparing it to the books it was based on (at least one of which was published only seven months before the episode that adapted it came out), examining what aspects of the production failed, and why that probably doesn’t even matter in the end.

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Eric Ravenscraft

Eric Ravenscraft is a freelance writer from Atlanta covering tech, media, and geek culture for Medium, The New York Times, and more.