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Adaptational Mundanity

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A fantastical character/world has its more unrealistic elements toned down in an adaptation.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
Euan2000 on Dec 20th 2013 at 3:03:12 AM
Last Edited By:
Euan2000 on May 19th 2018 at 6:39:57 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

The great thing about a Fantasy Kitchen Sink setting is that you can introduce crazy new powers and foes at the drop of a hat. This however can make adaptions tricky, especially to exposition unfriendly formats like movies. What happens then is that the character stays but their fantastical elements are either toned down or removed. For example a Vampire would be downgraded to a serial killer who has a thing for drinking blood.

Subtrope of Doing In the Wizard. See also: Mundanger where in a series with supernatural elements a real world danger provides a threat. Compare Demythification.


Examples:

Anime & Manga

  • One of the manga adaptations of Simoun (an anime about magical airplanes) transplants its character dramas to the modern day Japan setting, with the female leads (elite priestess-pilots in the original) becoming Office Ladies and similar mundane professions.
  • In Pokémon Red and Blue Bill accidentally turns himself into a Pokemon using a machine. In the Pokémon anime he instead was stuck in a Pokemon costume. This change might come to bite them if they adapt Pokémon Sun and Moon accurately. When Lillie leaves for Kanto with her mother she mentions wanting to visit Bill due to his experience with Pokemon fusion.

Comic Books

  • Jem and the Holograms downplays the more wackier aspects of the characters and series. For example, in the Jem cartoon The Misfits routinely did things that should end up with them in jail or with various restraining orders however rarely got their just desserts. In the comic their Jerk Ass natures are on a more realistic level where they don't crash parties and disrupt the peace on an episodic basis. The characters hair colors are also implied to be dyed rather than natural. The comics tone down the more cartoony aspects of the cartoon and give the characters more realistic depth.
  • Age of Bronze adapts The Illiad by removing most divine intervention (there is no mention of the Apple of Discord):
    • Many people referred to as children of gods are actually priests of that god.
    • Where Cassandra's gift of unbelieved prophecy was the result of refusing the god Apollo's advances, here she was raped as a child by a pedophile who told her no one would believe her.
    • Heracles was a roving warlord whose strength and charisma was such that he ended up revered by a god by his own men, and later killed by his wife.
    • Chiron, originally a centaur, is now a big hairy Mountain Man.
    • The story of Iphigenia being rescued at the last minute by Artemis was invented out of whole cloth by Odysseus to try to comfort her mother.

Film — Animation

  • In the original Peanuts strips the Kite Eating tree was literal. In the The Peanuts Movie, it was just a tree that Charlie Brown lost a lot of kites to.
  • Downplayed in Batman: Under the Red Hood. Jason Todd's resurrection isn't due to reality resetting but with the life granting Lazarus Pits that have been in the Batman Mythos for some time.

Film — Live Action

  • Zig-Zagged in the Super Mario Bros. movie. Koopa (Bowser) is no longer a giant dragon-turtle thing but a human from an alternate universe that evolved from a T-Rex. Basically it trades whimsy for dino-punk.
  • Dragon Ball Evolution. Goku is an average high school teenager rather than a kid raised in the woods and most of the cast, notably the dwarf Krillin, were left out. This is one of the reasons it's not looked upon favorably.
  • Troy is this to The Iliad: it removes all mythical elements from the story, turning it into a story about a mundane (although epic) war.
  • Batman is pretty grounded as far as superhero works go but the crazier elements get removed in the Christopher Nolan movies. Ra's Al Ghul is no longer immortal but uses body doubles to a similar effect, the Joker doesn't use Laughing Gas and other such clown based gimmicks (and uses hair dye and makeup as opposed to his hair and skin being permanently discolored in the comics) and Bane's power comes from his anesthetic mask dulling his pain rather than the Venom Super Serum.
  • The Jem and the Holograms film turns the cartoon from a romance-adventure with sci-fi elements into a Coming-of-Age Story. Synergy is a little Robot Buddy instead of a sentient supercomputer with holographic abilities and none of the campy drama is present.
  • The Smurfs was a live-action adaptation and instead of taking place in the Smurf world, they are transported to the human world.
  • Harley Quinn's voice in Suicide Squad doesn't sound much like her traditional voice. This is because it's a more realistic, toned-down variant to the point where it doesn't even sound like the same accent.
  • Averted for the most part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as most of the villains have similar origins to the heroes:
    • Iron Man 3: Played with for the Mandarin. His ring aren't alien weapons and are just for show. The true Mandarin turns out to be Aldrich Killian, using a more potent version of the Extremis Nanotech.
    • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: In the comics, The Falcon is able to telepathically read birds' minds and see out their eyes, including a particular empathic link with his pet falcon Redwing. In the MCU films, his psychic powers are left out. Redwing was later rewritten for Captain America: Civil War as a robotic drone aircraft.

Live-Action TV

  • In The Adventures of Superman an alien with powers far beyond those of mortal men has to fight gangsters every episode because there is no budget for any other FX.
  • The Incredible Hulk has David Banner Walking the Earth and coming across various mundangers. Once he fought an older Hulk-like guy, and in the Made For TV sequel movies they brought in Thor and Daredevil.
  • Arrow is a lot more gritty than its source material and while it doesn't remove all fantasy, the few elements of such remaining are treated as they would in the real world.
    • Canary (aka Black Canary) uses a sonic weapon rather than generating sonic blasts with her voice.
    • GA's tradmark trick arrows are keep to realistic functions. Explosive arrows yes, Boxing Glove arrows, no.
    • Cyrus Gold is no longer the immortal zombie, Solomon Grundy but gained super strength from a Super Serum. He still proves to be one of Arrow's most difficult foes to date.
    • Averted with Barry Allen aka The Flash. The strangeness of superspeed is emphasized but he still has it.
    • Inverted for Deathstroke. In the original comics the Super Serum he received stops his aging and keeps him in top physical shape. In the TV series the serum he received makes him downright super human, able to punch through a man's chest and recover from more than third degree burns.
    • Inverted to an even greater extent for Roy Harper. In the comics he is the Robin to Green Arrow's Batman but in Arrow he is injected with the same serum as Slade, making him super human.

Western Animation

  • The last Madeline book written by original author Ludwig Bemelmans, Madeline's Christmas, features a magician who sends the little girls home for the holidays on flying carpets. This stands out amongst the mostly naturalistic, Slice of Life tone of the series. The animated adaptation replaced the magician with an old woman who helps the girls in a Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane manner.

Feedback: 66 replies

Dec 20th 2013 at 4:15:50 AM

I think this is very similar to Doing In The Wizard (which is an awfully confusing name in my opinion).

Dec 20th 2013 at 3:56:36 PM

True, but doing in the Wizard is an in-work thing, this is meant to be across adaptations.

Dec 21st 2013 at 11:59:43 PM

  • In The Adventures Of Superman an alien with powers far beyond those of mortal men has to fight gangsters every issue because there is no budget for any other FX.
  • The Incredible Hulk has David Banner Walking The Earth and coming across various mundangers. Once he fought an older Hulk-like guy, and in the Made For TV sequel movies they brought in Thor and Daredevil.

Dec 22nd 2013 at 1:24:17 AM

Namespaced and italicized work names, sorted examples by media.

Dec 23rd 2013 at 8:56:29 AM

This is explicitly covered by Doing In The Wizard. From that page: "Removing a relatively poetic or mystical element (or possibility) and replacing it by way of retcon with a more "realistic" one, in a revision, sequel or other adaptation, or occasionally even just later in the same story."

That said, I think that it's significantly different enough from an internal Doing In The Wizard to potentially merit a subtrope.

Dec 23rd 2013 at 9:04:46 AM

^I also think this could be a subtrope.

Dec 23rd 2013 at 9:08:06 AM

  • Douglas Adams has said that giving Zaphod Beeblebrox two heads and three arms worked great as a joke in the radio version of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, but if he had known the show would become so popular and spawn television and movies, he might not have done it. In the 2003 film The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, they adapted the idea to have one head internal most of the time. (In other book versions, it is said he had the extra head attached after visiting Earth and meeting Trillian at a party on Earth, sometimes he pretended to be carrying a parrot in a cage on his shoulder- but then most of the adaptations explicitly have Alternate Continuity in various ways).

Dec 28th 2013 at 11:00:34 AM

I don't think randomsurfer's examples fit. They're not taking something that was fantastic and making it mundane, they're making the enemies the heroes face more mundane. They wouldn't fit a subtrope of Doing In The Wizard, in other words.

Dec 28th 2013 at 5:38:15 PM

I think there's been a few King Arthur stories where they remove all the magic but I can't for the life of me remember what they are called.

Feb 1st 2014 at 11:40:14 PM

  • Troy is this to The Iliad: it removes all mythical elements from the story, turning it into a story about a mundane (although epic) war.

^ You might be thinking of King Arthur.

Feb 1st 2014 at 11:41:57 PM

Compare Demythtification. (Is this distinct enough from that?)

Feb 3rd 2014 at 9:17:34 AM

^^^^Well obviously I disagree or else I wouldn't have offered them. In defense I submit that the laconic says "A fantastical character/world has its more unrealistic elements toned down in an adaptation." (Emphasis mine.) In the Hulk and Superman comic book stories they have casts of thousands, including other superpowerful characters (not including the Verses that they live in) and travel to distant planets. In the TV series they battle assorted Mundangers.

Apr 5th 2016 at 9:30:11 AM

Apr 5th 2016 at 6:40:40 PM

This can be achieved by making high technology things "less high" or doesn't involve fictional/made up elements.

Apr 18th 2016 at 1:31:25 AM

  • Jem And The Holograms downplays the more wackier aspects of the characters and series. For example, in the Jem cartoon The Misfits routinely did things that should end up with them in jail or with various restraining orders however rarely got their just desserts. In the comic their Jerk Ass natures are on a more realistic level where they don't crash parties and disrupt the peace on an episodic basis. The characters hair colors are also implied to be dyed rather than natural.

Apr 16th 2016 at 10:30:49 PM

The Last Airbender: Firebenders no longer generate fire but need fire nearby to use their powers. Among the movie's many flaws, there's a scene where the waterbenders start extinguishing all the torches... and they're all lit again in the following scenes.

Apr 16th 2016 at 11:54:34 PM

Apr 17th 2016 at 9:10:55 PM

Guess nobody have answered how this isn't De Mythification yet. I've read it and what I got is that that trope is indeed about omitting the more fantastic elements in an adaptation/retelling.

Apr 17th 2016 at 9:27:00 PM

This is different from Demythification because it doesn't necessarily have to involve the supernatural at all. And whereas Demythification means outright removing supernatural elements, this trope just means toning them down and not necessarily removing them.

Hair-splitting maybe, but I think they're distinct enough even if there's some overlap.

Apr 18th 2016 at 1:13:00 AM

Why does the description say "Contrast Demythification"? "Contrast" usually means the other trope is somewhat of an opposite (i.e. this time, an originally mundane element is turned magical / supernatural). It should be "Compare Demythification", if anything, as both are about magical elements turning mundane in the adaptation.

Apr 18th 2016 at 1:08:15 PM

Done, necessarily, in TV adaptations of the Discworld. The televised versions show mainly human characters in a vaguely Victorian setting - probably because to represent the book-appropriate trolls, dwarfs and golems and others of non-human species might be tricky. These other humanoids are hinted at but are swamped on 99% human streets - in the Ankh-Morpork of the books, the human population might account for perhaps 70% or less of the people out on the streets at any one time. Ankh-Morpork is explicitly described as "the largest city in the Dwarf world", for instance, and Trolls account fo a large (in all senses) species-minority.

Apr 18th 2016 at 8:46:32 PM

@ caivu: that is hair-splitting and what do you mean by De Mythification not having to have fantastic elements?

Apr 18th 2016 at 9:03:54 PM

That's not what I said. This trope, Adaptational Mundanity, doesn't have to have supernatural elements. Something can be fantastical without being supernatural.

Apr 19th 2016 at 6:40:40 PM

^ the description disagrees with you

" What happens then is that the character stays but their fantastical elements are either toned down or removed. For example a Vampire would be downgraded to a serial killer who has a thing for drinking blood."

Apr 19th 2016 at 6:57:05 PM

^ No it doesn't, actually. How does what you quoted contradict anything at all I've said?

This trope is about when fantastical elements are removed or toned down. Just because the elements are fantastical does not mean they are supernatural.

Can this trope deal with supernatural things being toned down? Certainly, which is what I've been saying.

Apr 20th 2016 at 5:41:55 PM

So is this the opposite of Denser And Wackier then?

Apr 20th 2016 at 5:59:16 PM

^ I don't think the two are related. I don't see how, anyway.

Apr 20th 2016 at 6:06:57 PM

  • The Smurfs was a live-action adaptation and instead of taking place in the Smurf world, they are transported to the human world.

Apr 20th 2016 at 11:36:00 PM

  • One of the manga adaptations of Simoun (an anime about magical airplanes) transplants its character dramas to the modern day Japan setting, with the female leads (elite priestess-pilots in the original) becoming Office Ladies and similar mundane professions.

Apr 20th 2016 at 11:59:26 PM

What do YOU mean by 'supernatural" and "fantastical"? I'm afraid we have semantic issues here.

Apr 21st 2016 at 12:18:23 AM

^ Here's an example: dragons wouldn't necessarily be supernatural unless they had some sort of magical attributes about them (because they'd be animals), but they'd still be fantastical because they aren't real.

The terms overlap, but they don't mean the same thing.

Apr 21st 2016 at 9:01:56 PM

^ overlaps a lot that they're inseparable.

Sorry, but "fantastical" and "supernatural" elements are played similarly and, in case of De Mythification, omitted all the same.

Apr 21st 2016 at 9:31:43 PM

Okay, this is the best example I can find as to why Demythification and Adaptational Mundanity are different tropes and why this one should be launched. If you still disagree after this, well... I don't know what else to tell you. I genuinely still don't understand why you think these tropes aren't distinct enough from each other.

Here's a quote from the Demythification:

"Parallel to External Retcon: taking a legend and revealing what 'really' happened by stripping all the fantastic elements out of it (or, at the very least, renders them Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane so that they do not have to be fantastic)."

That trope seems specifically concerned with actual mythology; King Arthur, the Greek gods, religious stories, that sort of thing, while this one isn't. Demythification is about adaptations that seek to show how the events of those myths could've still happened in a realistic setting, without magic or anything else supernatural.

Adaptational Mundanity is not necessarily about myths or the supernatural. It has to do with toning down fantastical things that may be appropriate in the source material (and specifically its medium) but wouldn't be good for the medium of the adaptation (see the Batman example above).

Apr 23rd 2016 at 7:48:10 PM

"Demythification is about adaptations that seek to show how the events of those myths could've still happened in a realistic setting, without magic or anything else supernatural."

That sounds like a grave problem.

Sep 1st 2016 at 1:35:36 AM

  • Age Of Bronze adapts The Illiad by removing most divine intervention (there is no mention of the Apple Of Discord).
    • Many people referred to as children of gods are actually priests of that god.
    • Where Cassandra's gift of unbelieved prophecy was the result of refusing the god Apollo's advances, here she was raped as a child by a pedophile who told her no one would believe her.
    • Heracles was a roving warlord whose strength and charisma was such that he ended up revered by a god by his own men, and later killed by his wife.
    • Chiron, originally a centaur, is now a big hairy Mountain Man.
    • The story of Iphigenia being rescued at the last minute by Artemis was invented out of whole cloth by Odysseus to try to comfort her mother.

Sep 2nd 2016 at 8:27:57 PM

I do actually think this is distinct from De Mythification (although this would probably be a Super Trope to it and to High School AU). De Mythification is about taking a pre-existing piece of folklore (myths, legends, fairytales) and stripping out the magical and the supernatural. This would be about when fantastical elements are downplayed or removed in adaptations of works. That doesn't mean that there can't be ANY unreal or supernatural elements, just that it's a downgrade from the source material. I feel like this happens all the time in comic book adapations, and it's not the same as De Mythification. For example, on Arrow, there ARE characters who have out and out super powers. But Black Canary (twice) has been portrayed as a Badass Normal who uses sonic devices, KG Beast is just a Bratva captain, and Count Vertigo is a drug dealer, among other things.

Looking at the examples in De Mythtification, I actually suspect this trope would help protect it from misuse, via Round Peg Square Trope.

Feb 10th 2017 at 1:10:59 AM

Mar 10th 2017 at 8:44:29 AM

  • The last Madeline book written by original author Ludwig Bemelmans, Madeline's Christmas, features a magician who sends the little girls home for the holidays on flying carpets. This stands out amongst the mostly naturalistic, Slice Of Life tone of the series. The animated adaptation replaced the magician with an old woman who helps the girls in a Maybe Magic Maybe Mundane manner.

Mar 10th 2017 at 6:56:03 PM

Saturday Night Live had a fake ad for a toy called the "Happy Fun Ball". At first it seemed like an ordinary orange ball, but then the ad gave a series of increasingly disturbing disclaimers ending with "Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball".

Aug 2nd 2017 at 6:41:11 PM

  • Harley Quinn's voice in Suicide Squad doesn't sound much like her traditional voice. This is because it's a more realistic, toned-down variant to the point where it doesn't even sound like the same accent.

Apr 18th 2018 at 12:17:39 PM

  • In Pokemon Red And Blue Bill accidentally turns himself into a Pokemon using a machine. In the Pokemon anime he instead was stuck in a Pokemon costume. This change might come to bite them if they adapt Pokemon Sun And Moon accurately. When Lillie leaves for Kanto with her mother she mentions wanting to visit Bill due to his experience with Pokemon fusion.

Oct 27th 2017 at 2:38:02 AM

My take on the difference between this and Demythification is that this is about changing specific details, while in Demythification the whole setting and story is made mundane. Also, I think Age Of Bronze is Demythification, not this trope.

Oct 27th 2017 at 2:45:25 AM

I'm also a bit bemused by the example describing Harley Quinn's voice as a fantastical element. It's pretty much Arleen Sorkin's real voice.

Nov 11th 2017 at 10:33:57 PM

^^ I've seen people spout that the intention was to make Harley's accent more realistic in SS, but I doubt there's a Word Of God on that. Her original accent exists in real life however it's not usually as thick as Harley's.

Nov 13th 2017 at 3:34:04 PM

I think Doctor No would count as this (probably the only Bond movie to do so). The book is easily the most fantastical 007 Ian Fleming ever wrote, featuring Bond killing a giant squid hand-to-hand as its climax. The movie, being Bond's first outing on the big screen, with a fairly low budget (compared to the small-country treasuries the later movies got) dialed a lot of this down into a more hard-boiled detective story.

Nov 13th 2017 at 7:22:02 PM

Film Live Action

  • Wanted stripped out all of the superhero trappings of the comic book that inspired it, turning the Fraternity into a more mundane criminal organization.

Mar 14th 2018 at 2:25:36 AM

  • The New 52 reboot took away Wonder Woman's magical origin. Instead of being born from clay, she was born the traditional way. She's the daughter of Zeus. Rebirth later reversed it with The Reveal that the New 52 backstoey changes for Diana were false memories..

Nov 28th 2017 at 7:20:01 AM

Another entry under Marvel Cinematic Universe

  • Runaways 2017 turns the Yorkeses (who were time travelers who genetically engineered a dinosaur in the future in the comics) into bioengineers (who still manage to genetically engineer a dinosaur).

Feb 18th 2018 at 3:49:09 PM

Bump

Mar 1st 2018 at 9:55:16 AM

  • Sam Wilson in Captain America Civil War. In the comic books, he has a falcon named Red Wing that he communicates with through Animal Whispering. In the movie adaptation, Red Wing is changed to a more mundane mechanical drone that he controls through his tech.

Mar 14th 2018 at 12:37:04 AM

Not sure if this is the right place, but I thought I'd try.

Fanfic

  • Downplayed in Connie And The Crystal Gems. The Gems still have their shape shifting powers, but it's severely limited, going from being able to turn into anything they want to only being able to change their clothes.

Apr 18th 2018 at 12:17:58 PM

  • Inverted in Wandering Son. In the manga everyone has pretty normal brown or black hair and brown eyes. The anime spices up the character designs by giving characters fantastical eye colours like purple and red.

Apr 18th 2018 at 10:59:20 AM

  • Bart in Young Justice isn't from the 30th century like in the comics. He was born only a few decades in the future.

Apr 18th 2018 at 11:43:27 AM

  • Judge Dredd is a dystopian Science Fantasy. While adapting the comics for the 2012 film incarnation Dredd, writer Alex Garland attempted to write several different scripts, one of which involved the supernatural characters the Dark Judges. The studio deemed this concept too esoterical for a first film, so Garland settled for a more "grounded" urban sci-fi story to properly establish the setting.

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