Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Godzilla: The Series -- A Horrible Remake Spawns a Not-Bad Sequel

Read my look at the 1970s Godzilla cartoon here

In 1998, Sony's impossibly-hyped Godzilla reboot, starring Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria, and Mario Pitillo, hit theaters and promptly landed with a dull thud. While the combination of bad story, bad acting, bad effects, bad monster design, etc. certainly did the project no favors, I think it was most undone by its preordained "hit" status long in advance of its release. In the end, far from breaking any box office records, the Roland Emmerich-directed pic panted and wheezed its way to barely matching its production budget domestically.

Related: Zaki's Review: Godzilla (2014)

Of course, thanks to one of the most outsize bouts of hubris in Hollywood history, the folks at Sony were so overconfident in their movie's franchise prospects that they already had an animated series in the development pipeline early on, ready to lap up all those eager younglings whose appetites were sure to have been whetted by the film. Thus, in September of '98, just four months after the movie's less-than-auspicious premiere, Godzilla: The Series debuted as part of Fox's Saturday morning lineup. Here's what it looked like:

Produced by some of the same creatives behind Sony's animated Men in Black: The Series (which debuted the previous fall, and which I discussed here), Godzilla: The Series picked up exactly where the movie left off, with the titular monster lying dead on the Brooklyn Bridge due to an overdose of missiles. Of course, anyone who saw the film knows that it ended with an egg hatching (yeah, Godzilla lays eggs in the movie. A bunch of eggs. Seriously, don't ask.), promising another big guy just in time for future flicks.

And so this show followed Godzilla Jr., the spitting image of his old man. Imprinting on scientist Niko Tatopoulos (Broderick in the film, voiced by 90210's Ian Ziering here) shortly after his birth, he soon takes on a more protective role than his papa, serving as the last line of defense against various aliens, mutants, and monsters who show up to threaten humanity. Other than the fact that the entire design of Sony's Godzilla was ugly as sin, the TV cartoon did a lot right, and in turn fixed a lot of the most egregious problems with the flick.

For one thing, The Series sets up the title monster as a clear protagonist, as opposed to the movie's confused approach where it didn't seem to know whether we should be happy or sad when he finally croaks. And by loading up the mutant monster baddies, it effectively evokes the spirit of the Toho flicks that laid the pipe for the whole thing. Also benefitting the show, it actually had a running mythology that played out over its 40 episodes, letting storylines continue and develop. In one ep, he even squared off with the cyborg-ized remains of his old man:

Again, this really wasn't a bad show. But while it did well enough in the ratings, its biggest problem was probably the fact that it was associated with an instant stinker of a movie. Although it had primarily been intended to prime the pump between film installments, it became pretty clear early on (despite Sony's many protestations to the contrary) that there would be no sequels, so the cartoon didn't really have a reason to exist. Thus, it quietly ended its run in August of 2000 after two seasons.

Shortly thereafter, Sony let the big money dreams die and allowed the rights to lapse back to Toho. But even that turned out not to be the actual end for Sony's Godzilla. In an attempt to clearly distance the original from the Sony model (which they reportedly despised), Toho incorporated the latter into their own menagerie of giant monsters in 2004's Godzilla: Final Wars, establishing him as a separate character entirely (renamed "Zilla,") who'd merely been mistaken for Godzilla, and who is then promptly disposed of by the real deal. Check it out:

With last week's premiere of Legendary Pictures' Godzilla, I think it's safe to say that the Sony era for the Big G is well and truly forgotten. And while that's all well and good when it comes to the feature film, it's actually kind of a shame when it comes to the animated iteration, which did an admirable job of trying to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse. The entirety of the show is currently available for streaming on Netflix, and it just became available on DVD last week to tie in with the new film at a low price that makes an easy recommendation.

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