It’s time for a game of movie news Mad Libs. First, name a long-obsolete classic cartoon character. Then, an American Idol judge (past or present). And finally, an action normally taken by a moody teenager.
The results are in: The beloved character of Betty Boop is getting her own movie musical by Simon Cowell, prompting the rest of the world to roll their eyes with enough force to send them hurtling out of their sockets.
This random-seeming jumbling of nouns and verbs (okay, maybe the eye-rolling makes perfect sense) speaks the truth: Cowell really is working on a Betty Boop movie. According to Variety, Syco Entertainment, the entertainment magnate headed up by Cowell and Sony, is working on a “music-driven hybrid animated comedy” starring the animation world’s first leading lady. Also, “hybrid” refers to a mix of CGI and live-action, which I guess is the official term now.
Cowell actually has some experience as a producer — his name was attached to the regrettable One Direction: This is Us and the far less regrettable One Chance — and he’s been working on this one for a while. Variety has him, Fleischer Studios (who own the character of Betty Boop), and Animal Logic (the animation studio responsible for The Lego Movie and Happy Feet), all becoming a tight-knit unit about three months ago. What Cowell doesn’t have is a writer or director, but they’ll probably come onboard before cameras start rolling.
There’s also the mildly important issue of Betty Boop being enormously outdated for today’s audience.
I’m not denying that Boop is a classic; she’s the first female character to gain star presence in animation, and she did so while making brazen displays of her own 2D sexuality. All that is super cool. What’s less cool is trying to transplant the Boopster to fit with today’s audience. Especially the target audience for a classic-cartoon-character-done-in-CGI-next-to-real-humans film: young children.
Boop is a parody of the stereotypical ’20s flapper and was meant to take people’s minds off the Great Depression, a time when instead of money and happiness people had plenty of dust choking their farmlands to death. None of that is even close to applicable to the audience of 2014.
The people of the 21st century know Boop’s bizarre toast-shaped head mostly from her presence as a piece of merchandising. Sure, there was a brief revival of actual Boop media in the ’80s and ’90s, with a comic strip and a few TV specials. But once someone tried to push things into a 1993 feature-length film (something that Betty Boop has never had, unless you count a 75-minute collection of cartoons), the Boop revival quickly fell apart.
Here, enjoy the one remaining tatter of that ill-fated ’93 venture.
The other big issue in 2014 is what she’ll be singing. Cowell knows a lot about singing (or how to eat the still-beating heart of people who do sing, at least), so naturally he’s given this dilemma some thought, but Boop in a modern music movie is kind of a no-win zone. If she sings the jazz tunes she’s known for, the youth audience she’s courting falls asleep and/or flees the theater in abject terror. If she sings a kid-friendly array of pop songs Katy Perry-style, it’s like taking a hatchet to what makes her Betty Boop.
If there’s a winning answer here (of course, the real solution might be to not make a Betty Boop movie at all), hopefully Cowell can find it. The ’93 Boop went with jazz, and, like in most cases, it’s the less commercial angle that’s more likely to produce something of quality. But I’m sure Cowell likes money, thus making a Betty Boop wearing a gold dollar sign on a chain just as appealing.
Hey, it’s not like she was getting that much play in the first place. It’s a step up either way.