A lot of Hollywood reboots get flak for being quick cash grabs that capitalize on nostalgia for easy money. While this might actually be the case for a number of projects, occasionally we get some original programming that is clear about the intention of selling merchandise. Like one of our previous adaptation suggestions in Tyco’s Dino-Riders, today’s installment of Hollywood! Adapt This has toys at the heart of its story. This one’s for every kid out there who wished he or she had a magical cap that would instantly transport them anywhere in the world. Hit the jump to find out why being the cap-bearer comes with more troubles than just hat hair. Hollywood! Adapt this: Mighty Max!
Running for a total of 40 episodes over 1993 and 1994, the animated half-hour series Mighty Max was originally envisioned as a way to sell Bluebird Toys’ products of the same name, themselves an offshoot of the Polly Pocket toy line. The main thrust of the story centered on your everyday average preteen, Max (voiced by Rob Paulsen), who receives a mysterious package one day. Contained inside a statue of a seated bird etched with Egyptian hieroglyphics is a red baseball cap. The inscription reads:
“You have been chosen to be the cap-bearer. Go to the mini-mart and wait for a sign, Mighty Max.”
Those two lines establish the light and humorous tone throughout the action-packed series, though portions of the show were decidedly darker than a lot of the other children’s programming at the time (almost every episode opens with a death of a random character at the hands of that week’s baddie). After donning the cap, which transported Max to the distant nation of Mongolia, he meets the wise old
chicken Lemurian fowl, Virgil (voiced by Tony Jay) and the enormous guardian, Norman (voiced by Richard Moll). As his respective advisor and protector, Virgil and Norman guide Max in his destiny to prevent the evil Skullmaster (voiced by the inimitable Tim Curry) from taking over the world.
Mighty Max was pure escapist fun in its finest form. In a brilliant bit of marketing, kids could buy the toys, watch the show and then re-enact their favorite episodes on the myriad of playsets available for purchase. It inspired as much creativity in kids as it did brand loyalty. While Mighty Max could have easily been a cheaply-written and produced bit of theater, it actually incorporated some pretty heavy moral lessons and more mature themes of destiny and free will. Max is fairly reluctant throughout the series but is repeatedly forced into saving the world by Virgil and the cap itself. In a surprisingly dark bit of writing, the series finale features the death of some major characters and the failure of the hero to defeat the villain. The show’s writers managed to turn a losing situation into a reason to re-watch the entire series, or perhaps even reboot it years later with a new look.
Since it’s been twenty years since Mighty Max debuted on TV, I’d say it’s time for a refresher. Watching it today, some of the jokes are clunky and outdated. I’m also not sure how well trying to shoehorn a magical baseball cap into today’s fashion culture would work out, but a reboot could keep the same general idea. (There’s a scene in the series finale that shows the cap doesn’t necessarily have to take the form of a baseball hat.) The humor, the action and the sheer goofy fun of the original series were what made it something worth revisiting.
I doubt a live-action feature adaptation would work for something like Mighty Max. The closest thing I could compare it to would be the Spy Kids series. Though not exactly critical darlings, kids and families seemed to like them well enough to make four installments. Mighty Max could see similar success considering the original series did well with its own varied merchandise.
I’d love to see a reboot of Mighty Max as it was in its original iteration: an animated half-hour series chronicling the adventures of its title character and his allies against the evils of Skullmaster. I’d also like to see something in the vein of The Legend of Korra where a strong female character actually takes center stage. It could be a nice change-up from the original series and might find itself a whole new audience. Honestly, other than the cap and the gender of the protag, I wouldn’t mess with the formula much at all.
As a sidenote, each episode used to end with an educational tag that had Max teaching the viewers which countries they visited in the preceding story with a bit of additional historical information tossed in. Longtime readers of this feature know that I’m a big fan of any educational bits that can be worked into children’s programming, so I’d love to see this continued.
If you’re interested in learning more about Mighty Max, check out the first episode below:
Be sure to tune in next week for Hollywood! Adapt This when we take a look at a powerful group of planet protectors and their green-mulleted patriarch. The power is yours!