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Series / Animorphs

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The popularity of the Animorphs book series eventually led to a live-action television series. This was initially met with a lot of resistance within the fanbase, due to feelings that this would eventually cheapen the great book series, and that the books would translate more easily to an animated adaptation due to their truly alien aliens and the premise of morphing. But even in the midst of the backlash, Scholastic went ahead with production and the series premiered September 15, 1998 on Nickelodeon. The series didn't gain the same popularity as the books, and only lasted 26 episodes.

This series provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Tobias has black hair here, while in the books his hair is described as dirty blond (and at least one book cover used an outright blond model for him).
  • Adaptation Name Change: Tom's Yeerk is given the name Iniss Three-Three-Five. Because in the books his first Yeerk has a different name and his second Yeerk has no name at all, 'Iniss Three-Three-Five' is the name sometimes used in fandom for Tom's second Yeerk.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Inverted with Tobias. In the flashback episode that bears his name, it's revealed he led a pretty comfortable life before becoming an Animorph, in stark contrast to his rough background in the books.
  • Adaptational Badass: Oddly enough, two Animorphs get this treatment.
    • Tobias is this from day one, due to being portrayed by Tall, Dark, and Snarky Christopher Ralph. In the books he's a meek, gangly bully magnet, while in the show he carries himself with quiet confidence, and due to Ralph being the oldest teen actor on set at 19 viewers got treated to the absurdity of seeing Tobias "bullied" by a boy who's both smaller and shorter than his supposed victim. And while Tobias is an often Ineffectual Loner in the books, at least early on, Ani-TV definitely downplayed the "ineffectual" part of that trope with him.
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    • Marco, on the other hand, becomes one only in the season one finale (though instantly) when he single-handedly destroys the Yeerk Pool. In line with his book characterization, he feels no remorse for this genocide.
  • Adaptational Curves: In the books, Marco is described as being shorter and smaller than both Jake and Rachel. Boris Cabrera on the other hand is a weightlifting enthusiast and is quite buff compared to book!Marco. He even went on to become a fitness trainer later in life.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance: The episode Not My Problem, which focused on an It's a Wonderful Plot where Jake was given a choice to rewrite history so that he and the other Animorphs never met Elfangor, predated the fourth Megamorphs book (which used this premise near-wholesale) by almost two years. Despite this, it's generally believed that Applegate came up with the premise independently of the TV show, as she has claimed in interviews to only have been able to stomach the first two episodes.
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  • Adaptational Jerkass: All the television Animorphs are delighted at boiling several thousand Yeerks alive in the episode The Capture, even Cassie. While they had not yet learned to empathize with the Yeerks at that stage in the books, they also viewed their actions as much less triumphant, with the Yeerk controlling Jake even saying that he's never happy when a sentient creature has to die, with Jake acknowledging that it was just what he would have said.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy:
    • Rachel goes from a straight up Blood Knight to just a generic Nice Girl.
    • Very downplayed for Visser Three. While he's still the Big Bad, he's not quite the murderous loony he was in the books,and never kills anyone except Elfangor.
  • Adaptational Personality Change: In the books, Marco is a cynical, but sympathetic, Snark Knight. His television counterpart, on the other hand, is an all-round sweet guy with a sense of humor who, despite the lightened-up nature of the show, just has bad things happen to him until he finally breaks down and cries.
    • In a complete reversal of their book characterizations, at one point in the show, Marco makes a suggestion and Rachel shoots it down as too dangerous.
  • Adaptational Wimp: More than a few examples, owing to the Lighter and Softer nature of this adaptation.
    • Rachel suffers from this as a symptom of her Badass Decay. She goes from a legitimate Action Girl (and eventual Blood Knight) in the books to a Faux Action Girl.
    • Visser Three counts as well, due to the series simply not having the special effects budget to portray any of his wide range of alien monster morphs (except for the one very brief scene when he uses one to kill Elfangor in the pilot episode). Even outside of the alien monster morphs, the limited budget means that he spends most of his screen time in a human morph instead of his actual Andalite host body. While he is arguably more successful than his book counterpart, he doesn't actually accomplish much in his plans, and what he does accomplish is more due to the Animorphs' incompetence than his own efforts.
    • Erek King can also be considered this, as while he is still shown to have enough Nigh-Invulnerability to tank being hit by a truck, his One-Man Army scene from the books is cut entirely.
    • In the same vein as Visser Three, Ax also suffers from this to a degree because of the limited budget requiring that he spends most of his screen time in a weaker human morph instead of his natural Andalite form.
  • Adaptation Species Change: Variation; the series rarely used the signature morphs of the protagonists, most likely due to the budget. Rachel's bear morph becomes a lion, Marco's gorilla becomes a wolf. Cassie, whose primary morph in the book is a wolf, uses a horse morph most often in the TV series. Then the Transformers toys got into it, with things like a Jake-bear and Jake-stingray toy (neither of which Jake morphs), and most egregiously a Fusion Dance toy that portrayed Jake, Cassie and Marco all combining to fuse into a "Tri-Rex".
  • Adapted Out: David, the team's Sixth Ranger Traitor, never made an appearance in the show. Several extraterrestrial races, such as the Taxxons and the Pemalites, were cut from the show altogether (due to the show's very limited special effects budget), without even one mention of them (the Pemalites in particular were a bizarre case as their creations the Chee did appear, at least in the character of Erek).
  • Age Lift: In the book series, the protagonists started off as middle school students, and progressively got older. Here, they're already in high school. This was unintentional on the show writers' part, though, as the team members' exact ages were never given until The Answer, which was written and published after the cancellation of the TV series.
  • Anachronism Stew: The setting. Ostensibly set during the late nineties, the computers seen recall late eighties tech and the movie they see in one episode is straight out of the fifties. It's not clear if this was a deliberate choice of setting or if it was just another consequence of Ani-TV's low budget.
  • Animal Motifs: The resistance movement seen in Changes has adopted the hawk as their sigil. Weirdly, this isn't because of Tobias.
  • Ascended Extra: Crazy Fran from The Forgotten, who is based off a throwaway character seen in the first Megamorphs book. Also Melissa Chapman, who makes more appearances in the show than she does in the books.
  • Bald of Evil: Visser Three in his Victor Trent human morph.
  • Big Bad: Visser Three, as per the books. Even after his boss Visser One is revealed, Esplin remains the primary foe of the team.
  • Big "NO!": Visser Three in The Message, when he realizes that, for him, everything is not better with butterflies.
    • In the pilot, Marco when he witnesses Visser Three devouring the Andalite.
  • Bottle Episode: "Tobias," which only features Tobias and Ax, and is nothing but character material.
  • But Not Too Black: Nadia Nascimento, Cassie's actress, is considerably lighter-complexioned than the Cassie depicted in the books' cover art. Not nearly as much as it may seem from the article photo, however.
  • Butt-Monkey: Harold Nesbit, a Canon Foreigner from Changes.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The Yeerks are described as slug-like in the books, although they look more alien upon closer inspection. In the show, they're literally just slugs, with actual living (Earth) slugs used in every scene that needed a Yeerk.
  • Canon Foreigner: Several, though the most memorable are Hugo, Fred, Mr. Perkins and the unnamed kid played by Shawn Roberts, who is credited as "Skater Dude." Elfangor's disk is a non-character example.
  • Character Exaggeration: Eugene Lipinski's Visser Three. He was already kind of a ham in the books, but Lipinski took it Up to Eleven.
  • Clasp Your Hands If You Deceive: Reversed - Hugo is steepling his hands as he talks with Tobias, but it's Tobias and not Hugo who's the one lying.
  • Coconut Superpowers: One of the reasons why Ani-TV has such a poor reputation among fans.
  • Complexity Addiction: The Yeerks are pretty good about avoiding this in the first season, but they take it Up to Eleven in the second season, cranking out one hare-brained scheme after another and each more ridiculous than the last.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Due to Ani-TV's limited budget, numerous factors of the series were scaled down - the Hork-Bajir and Taxxons, the size of the Yeerk Pool, and the battle morphs of the Animorphs all got this treatment.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Mr. Perkins from The Release, though he's light on the 'crazy' and heavy on the 'survivalist'.
  • Cry Cute: Marco, the team cynic, breaks down into tears when talking to Jake about his mother (making him the only character to cry in the comparatively light-hearted TV series) but his tears only serve to make him more handsome and endearing.
  • Cutaway Gag: In "My Name Is Erek" Ax is left out of the mission because he's busy... watching Julia Childs and making soup.
  • Cut Short: The second season ended after a mere six episodes, and the three-part finale ended with nothing resolved. The Yeerks were still a threat, Ax was still stuck on Earth, and aside from the inexplicable destruction of the Yeerk Pool, the Animorphs had accomplished nothing.
  • Dirty Coward: The Yeerks run away like little girls at the first sight of any wild animal.
  • Dull Surprise: Anyone who's infested with a Yeerk. A big departure from the books where Yeerk Controllers are able to make their hosts act perfectly normally, which naturally also greatly lessens the tension when it's obvious who the Controllers are.
  • Epic Fail: The fight scene between Ax and Visser Three is probably the most triumphant example. Two Andalites, in a glorious wrestling match to the death!
  • Expy: The Ellimist becomes one of Obi Wan Kenobi. Old man, same cloak, blue and transparent. Similarly, Visser Three's human morph is a dead ringer for Lex Luthor.
  • Flanderization: The characters in the TV adaptation were pretty much flanderized versions of their book counterparts.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: The series finale, which features the writers' plans for the rest of the season crammed into three episodes.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Marco often added Spanish words and slang in his dialogue, but in the books, Marco states that he barely knew any Spanish.
  • Harmless Villain: The Yeerks frequently come off as this. Even Visser Three, while memorable, is rarely a fearsome presence.
  • He's Dead, Jake: Tobias in The Underground. Until his inexplicable recovery.
  • Heroes of Another Story: The human resistance movement seen in Changes.
  • Idiot Ball: The resistance movement, a fascinating concept unique to the TV series, was doomed to carry one of these. It led to their swift recapture by the Yeerks.
  • The Igor: The bald Dr. Weenie is this to Visser Three.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Jake in Not My Problem.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The Yeerks, when they bother to use their weapons.
  • Improbable Weapon User: One episode memorably focuses on the Animorphs attempting to weaponize instant oatmeal against the Yeerks Via water balloons, even. Amazingly, this was not of the original episodes of Ani-TV, instead being adapted from more or less the same premise as the 17th Animorphs book, The Underground.
  • In Name Only: Erek the Chee in Season 2. There's no mention of the other Chee, and no mention of the Pemalites, except when Erek cheerfully quips that "everyone looked like upright dogs on my planet!" With no mention of the horrible genocide that wiped them out.
  • Inexplicably Identical Individuals: Despite Ani-TV's attempt to assert the Hork-Bajir as the shock troops of the Yeerks as they are in the books, there's always exactly one Hork-Bajir in a scene, and it's obvious that it's always the same guy in the same costume.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: In Not My Problem, Jake wishes he could be a normal human again. The episode notably predated the fourth Megamorphs book, which had the same premise.
  • Karma Houdini: Visser Three, who ends the series better off than he started - he lost the Yeerk Pool, but he's still leader of the invasion, he just seized Elfangor's disk and neutralized a human resistance, and he's acquired a new human morph to replace his fugitive old one.
  • The Klutz: Brooke Nevin's Rachel is depicted as notably clumsy, which makes as much sense as anything else on this show considering that she's, you know, a gymnast.
  • Kudzu Plot: The series three-part finale, Changes, cobbles together a mishmash of plot ideas most likely intended for future episodes and attempts to resolve them all at once. The result, while superior to anything else in the second season, is deeply confusing and disjointed.
  • La Résistance: In Changes, Tobias is captured by a human resistance made up of former Yeerk hosts, led by Hugo. Sadly, they are not explored very deeply and end up getting taken down by the Yeerks in short order.
  • The Lancer: Marco to Jake, as per his role in the books. Also, the unnamed character played by Shawn Roberts, who appears to be second-in-command of the resistance movement.
  • Large Ham: Eugene Lipinski as Visser Three.
  • Left Hanging: It sucks to be Marco. Despite accomplishing more than any other Animorph, he never gets to rescue his mother from the Yeerks.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to the books. Most episodes were rated PG, and later ones were often G. This resulted in some very clumsy Shadow Discretion Shots when it came to the gory scenes.
  • Long Bus Trip: Eugene Lipinski's Visser Three never came back for the second season.
  • MacGuffin: Elfangor's disk, a device original to the TV series, serves this role.
  • Magical Negro: Fred, who randomly shows up in "Tobias" to offer encouragement. Fred moonlights as a walking Big-Lipped Alligator Moment.
  • New Media Are Evil: In The Front the Yeerks concoct a hare-brained scheme to sell cell phones with Yeerks nestled inside them. At the time this episode aired, cell phones were still relatively new.
  • No Name Given: The resistance fighter played by Shawn Roberts is credited simply as "Skater Dude." Which is strange, seeing as how he is never seen skating.
  • Opening Narration: Delivered by Jake, which replaces the kickass vocal theme in the middle of season 1.
  • Oxymoronic Being: Erek the Chee, who in the show is allergic to his own hologram crystals. To put it into perspective, that's like a computer being allergic to its own keyboard.
  • Power Creep, Power Seep: The Animorphs all have significantly weaker battle morphs than in the books. Rachel goes from her grizzly bear and elephant to a lion (stealing Sixth Ranger Traitor David's battle morph), Marco goes from his gorilla to a wolf, and Cassie loses her own wolf in favor of a horse. Even Jake loses a little; he still gets a tiger morph but he's forced to trade in the formidable Siberian tiger for a smaller, less dangerous white tiger.
    • Visser Three loses his menagerie of monstrous morphs. Aside from one (mostly offscreen) instance, the only morph he ever uses is his human morph.
    • In Season 2, Erek the Chee gets to keep his durability and strength but loses the ability to project holograms around anyone but himself.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Played with. Despite being saddled with a very low budget by Nickelodeon, the writers rarely played to this show's strengths, tending to focus less on the actors (which were by far Ani-TV's strongest point) and more on the setting (by far its weakest point). Locations from the books, most notably the Yeerk Pool, were also scaled down heavily.
  • Puppy Love: Ax stutters and trips around Marco more than he usually does, acts more excited to see him than the other animorphs, copies his body language, and follows him around without question. In response, Marco acts very protective of Ax and takes it upon himself to teach him about Earth. This comes to its logical conclusion when they slow dance together alongside the other main cast couples in the Grand Finale.
    • The innocent relationships between Jake and Cassie, and Rachel and Tobias, are also sweet and unassuming enough to fall under this trope.
  • Rebel Leader: Hugo, the brave and self-sacrificial leader of the resistance movement seen in Changes.
  • Recruit Teenagers with Attitude: Just like in the book series, a dying alien warrior gives a bunch of kids the power to transform into animals in order to fight against the incoming alien invasion.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Of a sort. If somebody scratches at their ear in the show, it's a good sign that they're a Controller.
  • Relationship Compression: Rachel and Tobias. In the books, they barely knew each other before becoming Animorphs. In the show, a flashback episode establishes they were already good friends at the very least.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Ax and Marco, in the books, take almost the entire series to overcome their distrustful natures to develop their eventual close relationship. In the show, Marco is immediately fond and protective of Ax, which eventually culminates in Ax shyly asking him to slow dance in the series finale.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Used the heroes and villains alike. The Animorphs at one point memorably defeat the Yeerks with water balloons, and the Yeerk plots in season two range from 'sell people cell phones with Yeerks inside them' to 'air an awful sitcom that will brainwash people.'
  • Repeat Cut: When the Controllers break open the door of the observatory in the final episode, the shot is replayed 3 times.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Rachel's dialog in the television adaptation of "The Stranger." After the Ellimist shows the kids what the future of Earth will be like if they continue to fight, Rachel asks a familiar question: "What you showed it the definite future or just a possible one?"
    • Marco's dinosaur dream in My Name is Erek (which has nothing to do with anything in the rest of the episode) is a strange shout-out to the second Megamorphs book.
    • The video game seen in the very first episode is the Beast Wars video game; ironic, considering that Hasbro then came out with a line of Animorph Transformers toys released shortly after this...
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Show: David. There was a teaser at the end of The Threat which implied he might show up in Ani-TV, but he never did and to add insult to injury, his lion morph was taken by his arch-nemesis Rachel.
  • Sliding Scale of Adaptation Modification: This series covers the whole gamut. Some episodes are very faithful adaptations of the source material (such as The Alien), whereas others borrowed the title and not much else (such as The Reaction).
  • Status Quo Is God: In Changes Ax builds himself a spaceship out of spare parts, preempting Tony Stark by a decade. Though this was the series finale, Ax's spaceship still failed to get off the ground, presumably because he never left Earth in the books.
  • Stupid Evil: The Yeerks always had elements of this, but it went into overdrive in the mercifully-brief second season.
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Christopher Ralph's Tobias, in a considerable departure from the meek bully-magnet book-Tobias started out as.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: In "Not My Problem." Too bad for the Yeerks it's just an It's a Wonderful Plot episode.
  • Theme Tune: "It's All In Your Hands," which is admittedly pretty good.
  • Took a Level in Dumbass: Compared to their book counterparts? Pretty much everyone.
  • Ultimate Job Security: Visser Three. Despite being even more incompetent than his book counterpart, he somehow retains his position as leader of the Yeerk invasion.
  • Unexplained Recovery: In the episode based on "The Underground," Tobias is shot with a dracon beam and falls down completely stiff, and even if he somehow survived, there's no indication that the other Animorphs took him with them in their escape. In the next episode, he's back to normal with no explanation.
  • Villains Blend in Better: Averted. In the books, it's said that Yeerks can perfectly imitate their host's behavior so that not even those closest to them can tell the difference. In the TV series, Controllers show clear differences in behavior from their hosts. For example, Principal Chapman says that he hates a pet cat that he once loved, which makes his daughter suspicious. Ax also says that he can tell who's being Controlled by looking in the host's eyes.
    • Oddly enough, it's averted in the It's a Wonderful Plot episode "Not My Problem," which actually has two surprising twists about characters being Controllers. It's a good thing they weren't this effective in the real world.
    • The Controllers also finger their ears a lot, which receives a Take That! in one of the later books.
  • Villain Decay: The Yeerks were never particularly effective, but in season two they threw all pretense of competence to the wind.
    • Visser One is a character-specific example. In the books, she's a menacing, proactive and dangerous figure. In the show, she spends most of her onscreen time watering plants, and while she threatens Visser Three with execution should he fail, these threats turn to be utterly impotent.
    • Visser Three can also be considered this, to the low budget of Ani-TV neutering him of his arsenal of alien monster morphs and making him a mostly ineffectual presence who rarely did more than stand around ranting.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: The Yeerks only rarely use Dracon beams, presumably for budget reasons.
    • Or maybe because the 'Dracon beams' are just glorified flashlights.
  • Voice of the Resistance: Shawn Roberts's unnamed resistance fighter plays this role, putting up graffiti around town with the movement's sigil.
  • Written-In Absence: Rachel during most of "The Message," when she's supposed to be visiting her dad.
  • You Have Failed Me: Averted with Visser One. She threatens Visser Three with execution if he continues to fail, but several major failures later and he's still inexplicably alive.

It's all in your hands...


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