HomeOur ObsessionsThe best and worst live-action remakes of cartoon shows, ranked

The best and worst live-action remakes of cartoon shows, ranked

Live-action remakes of cartoon TV shows can go well – or crash and burn. Here are 15 live-action cartoon remakes, ranked from good to bad.

The best and worst live-action remakes of cartoon shows, ranked

Well, the end times are officially upon us folks: 20th Century Fox is reportedly developing a Family Guy movie. And not just any Family Guy movie, either. This one is said to be combining the traditional animated format with live-action elements.

There’s no news just yet about what hilarious plotline the movie will follow or what cast members are confirmed as being part of it, but we’re already bracing ourselves for some attempt at meta-humor where real life celebrity figures interact with the characters of the show.

We’re reluctant to get excited about the project, mostly because the show’s been running for seventeen damn seasons already and we’re about done with it. But also because animated TV shows that are turned into some manner of live-action movies have a history of being fairly awful.

To rejig your memory about some of the times that live-action remakes of cartoon TV shows have gone surprisingly well and times when they have crashed and burned, here are fifteen live-action cartoon remakes, ranked from good to bad.

15. Paddington (2014)

This is how it’s done! Both of Paul King’s affectionate live-action renderings of this beloved British cartoon (and book series) are unbelievably warm and witty, while providing some unexpected timely commentary about modern society.

14. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004)

We’re going to go ahead and count this movie and the 2014 sequel The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water as one since they both blend live action and animation for a truly anarchic outcome. If you want to know how to bring a cartoon to life in the real world, both these movies provide the perfect examples as to how.

With stars like David Hasselhoff and Antonio Banderas chewing the scenery in live-action roles opposite the animated characters of the cartoon, the films are surreal and hilarious meta-masterpieces worth everyone’s time.

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13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Sure, it’s weird and has its flaws – but there’s a reason why Steve Barron’s live-action rendering of the hit cartoon series (and its beloved batshit sequel) has maintained a cult following ever since.

The combination of puppetry and people in suits brings the humanoid Turtles to life in a way that almost enters into the uncanny valley, but not quite. We seriously feel for the poor bastards who had to sweat inside those suits for hours at a time in making this movie, but we thank them for their service – it was worth it.

12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

By contrast to the movies of live-action adaptations of the 90s, the more recent live-action rendering of pop culture’s most notorious mutated turtle warriors is a little more polished, but also a little less charismatic for it.

Though the CGI of the ass–kicking turtles is disappointing compared to the 90s puppets, the writing in Jonathan Liebesman’s movie is far sharper and funnier, which more than makes up for the visual shortcomings. Plus, Megan Fox is genuinely the bomb as April O’Neil – fight us.

11. Space Jam (1996)

We still don’t have the words necessary to argue either way whether Space Jam is one of the greatest or worst live-action adaptations of a cartoon ever made, but there’s no denying it’s certainly the most apeshit and daring.

Supposedly developed because kids like basketball, Michael Jordan was free, and Bugs Bunny needed some new merchandise making, Space Jam is a million weird-ass ideas shoved into the one movie like a cartoon burger too big for its live-action bun.

But there’s no denying it’s an absolute hoot to revisit – even if it doesn’t make a single bit of sense. It’s Looney Tunes. Maybe it was never meant to make sense.

10. George of the Jungle (1997)

We barely remember anything from the original cartoon besides the incredibly catchy theme tune, but we have super fond memories of this live-action remake – mostly thanks to Brendan Fraser’s turn as the Tarzan-esque hero and his jacked body and loin cloth combo.

George of the Jungle does a fairly great job of bringing cartoonish japes to a live-action story and is dependably goofy, making it an entertaining family film that still holds up today.

9. Scooby Doo (2002)

James Gunn’s original screenplay for Scooby Doo was initially much darker and smarter, positioning the film as an R-rated meta-teen horror that would have perfectly fit the zeitgeist of the time.

What we got instead was this watered down and family friendly attempt at money-making that isn’t outright awful, but isn’t great either.

At the very least, we can say that the ever-wonderful Matthew Lillard is extraordinarily good as Shaggy (so much so, he’s continued to voice the character ever since) and that Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Linda Cardellini deliver suitably campy performances that we maintain a soft spot for.

8. Popeye (1980)

A lot of people still love Robert Altman’s musical live-action adaptation of the beloved cartoon (and comic book), even if it’s considered by some to be too strange an adaptation to be enjoyable.

At the very least, Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall are both incredible as Popeye and Olive Oyl, even if the film overall is a little challenging for some to appreciate. However, we’d argue that Allman actually nails the original vibe of the Popeye comics exceptionally well.

7. The Flintstones (1994)

People are quick to shit on Brian Levant’s live-action remake of The Flintstones and for good reason – it’s a hot mess. But in retrospect, it’s still mysteriously enjoyable to watch.

Not only is the ludicrously OTT campiness of the whole thing propped up by an appropriate guest appearance by the B-52’s, but it also stars Kyle MacLachlan as an evil, horny boss and Halle Berry as his evil, horny assistant. Plus, John Goodman kinda nails his Fred Flintstone impression!

6. Garfield (2004)

A film so bad, it’ll make you wish that Garfield (voiced inexplicably by the wondrous Bill Murray) would drown in one of the many lasagne dishes he dives head first into – and that somehow he can take Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt with him.

5. Jem and the Holograms (2015)

Presumably written and directed by somebody who’d never seen the original cartoon series, Jem and the Holograms is confoundingly bad. There’s every chance in the world it was made off the back of a 200 word Tumblr post about how Jem and the Holograms offers a totally empowering message for young women.

Sure, we can get behind that. Except the film is utterly joyless and the only connection to the cartoon are some disgracefully terrible wigs and neon makeup jobs that will make you wish the film had just been set in the 80s – or not made at all.

4. Mr. Magoo (1997)

Look, Leslie Nielsen is great and we’ll always love him, but holy shit this movie is terrible. The one joke – the only joke – of the whole thing is that visually impaired people are somehow fucking hilarious.

Maybe that was the whole point of the original cartoon too – we honestly can’t remember. But either way, we have nothing but acidic unpleasant hatred for this film.

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3. The Last Airbender (2010)

M. Night Shyamalan continued his proclivity of stories with unexpected twists to them by tackling this Nickelodeon cartoon as a live-action project and recasting Asian characters with white actors.

Like most of the filmmaker’s twists, nobody saw that whitewashing twist coming, but everybody probably should have. Plus, The Last Airbender sets new standards in terrible.

2. Inspector Gadget (1999)

Bless you, Matthew Broderick – we appreciate the effort. But this is a go-go-Gadget failure of epic proportions. One that trashes the original cartoon (and our beloved memories of it too).

1. Peter Rabbit (2018)

Unbelievably turgid on just about every possible level, including destroying something precious from our childhoods and casting the human equivalent of those wacky inflatable tube men you get outside of car dealerships (James Corden) to voice the once charismatic rabbit. Every copy should be set on fire.

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Amy Roberts is a freelance writer who occasionally moonlights as a hapless punk musician. She’s written about pop culture for websites like Bustle, i-D, and The Mary Sue, and is the co-creator of Clarissa Explains F*ck All. She likes watching horror movies with her cat and eating too much sugar.

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