Adi Shankar, perhaps best known for his Bootleg Universe series of short films that recontextualize popular kids shows and comic books to have a more mature bent, has just teased to The Wrap that he is in talks to bring one of Nintendo’s flagship video game franchises to the small screen: The Legend of Zelda.
This is just the latest video game adaptation from Shankar, who broke new ground in the subgenre with Netflix’s Castlevania, and he is already slated to bring that same stylized treatment to Ubisoft’s massive Assassins Creed in the shape of a television series.
But if fans are a little wary, it’s not without good reason. Nintendo isn’t exactly known for creating hit shows out of their popular video games. In the late 1980s, they attempted to bring both Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda to television with an animated series housed within a live-action series called The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! Despite having a cult following, the show is routinely derided for its terrible dialogue and meme-able catchphrases and was canceled after only one season.
Our heroes Link and Zelda would return in the infamous Captain N: The Game Master, appearing alongside other notable Nintendo characters like Mega Man and the first animated incarnation of a Castlevania character, Simon Belmont. None of these series truly captured the spirit of playing a Zelda game, which is frankly all fans want from a video game adaptation. And that’s why Shankar is the perfect producer to adapt the hit series.
If Shankar is to learn from his past successes, that can mean only one thing: fan service. I don’t mean in the negative connotation, but only to highlight that when it comes to adapting beloved properties like Judge Dredd and Power Rangers, he approaches the material from the perspective of a fan’s expectations. What do they appreciate and cherish the most about these characters? What about these stories are most resonant, iconic, or necessary to understand how a franchise becomes so enduring? By pinpointing these traits, he is able to build a narrative out of what is important to not only the story, but it’s intended audiences.
And he does this in the simplest of gestures, like not having the titular Judge in Dredd remove his visor or by having his Venom film actually feel dangerous and raw. By focusing on strong, accurate representations of the characters, it creates a solid foundation to world-build off of. This should also sooth fans who may be concerned with Shankar being the one to tackle Zelda.
Compared to Castlevania’s heavy-handed seriousness and overt bloodletting, The Legend of Zelda isn’t a story that should harken to other modern fantasy epics like Game of Thrones. Link may fight monsters, but he also captures fairies with a butterfly net and smashes clay pots. He doesn’t blaze a bloody trail across Hyrule.
While Adi Shankar may have cut his teeth with violent, darker storytelling, that doesn’t mean he is looking to push those attributes in everything he does. Just look at his first film, Main Street, a light ensemble drama written by acclaimed playwright Horton Foote and directed by virtuoso stage director John Doyle. That’s about as far removed from Thomas Jane decimating bad guys outside of a laundromat as you can get.
I have no doubt that Zelda will be chock full of the kind of action that you would expect from an adventure series, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the action will be as explicit as Shankar’s past pedigree. However, it’s this type of clear understanding of the characters that will help the audience through some of the knottier, hotly debated chronology that a Zelda series will bring with it. And this is exactly where the show’s potential gets cranked to 11, because the possibilities are limitless thanks to how the game’s story bends time.
The Legend of Zelda series of games weren’t released in chronological order, so while 2011’s Skyward Sword is technically the beginning of the story, I envision Shankar taking the same route as the games and allowing the narrative to unveil nonlinearly. And the only way to properly do that is to start exactly where the series was revitalized: Ocarina of Time.
At the end of that game, the franchise branches into three separate timelines. From these three timelines, we see past, present, and future versions of Link as he struggles to protect Hyrule. This branching could allow Shankar to explore each timeline independently, or layer them on top of each other as we see child and adult Link’s stories intertwining. With 19 games making up this fractured timeline, there’s no doubt that Shankar and company will not lack for stories to pull from.
But here’s the thing: we think this will be an animated show because Castlevania was animated. There is a distinct possibility that we will finally see Link and Zelda in a whole new way if The Legend of Zelda finds a home on Netflix, as only three years ago it was being reported that the streaming giant was producing a live-action series based on the games. After all, they have already cast Superman as the lead in their live-action adaptation of The Witcher, based on a series of books but mostly recognized as a video game franchise.
All of this is bound to rankle Zelda stans’ feathers but I say, come what may, we should be excited. Now more than ever we need stories about persevering in the face of egomaniacal braggarts with legions of monsters at their disposal. With Zelda, we could use a bit of optimistic whimsy in our fantasy. And for those of us with indelible memories of falling in love with this series as we sat in front of our televisions, it only makes sense for The Legend of Zelda to find its home on the small screen.