Whether or not shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force or The Simpsons succeeded in translating their television dynamics to the big screen depends on your point of view, but the release of Speed Racer this weekend raises a more specific question about the viability of turning an animated series into a live action spectacle on the big screen. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Underdog both suggest how this goal can go wrong -- namely, by imploding on its absurd conceits. You may disagree with the inclusion of some of the following titles, all of which culled their material from animation, but it's fair to say that each of them takes its subject matter at face value, allowing the natural ingredients of the original sources to remain intact. Well, maybe not Super Mario Bros., but that one is a special case (fire away, if you must). Until somebody makes an Animaniacs movie with real actors, I'm sticking to this list.
1. Popeye (1980)
Robert Altman's offbeat ode to the famous Fleisher cartoon starring the spinach-eating strongman and his darling Olive Oil is the great misunderstood work of the director's career. Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall manage to bring utterly ridiculous characters into a realm of believability that you could never imagine when watching the show. Suddenly, Popeye made sense -- goofy, almost surreal sense, but sense nonetheless -- in the real world. Thanks to veteran adult cartoonist Jules Feiffer's screenplay and a soundtrack so catchy Paul Thomas Anderson borrowed from it twenty years later in Punch-Drunk Love, the classic status of Popeye can't be denied.