Reinventing Beloved Characters

There are beloved characters in our culture, characters that everyone knows about, even if they haven’t seen or read the originating material. And they get used in phrases or idioms, or you can use them for comparison or descriptions, and everyone knows what you mean.

Beloved characters seem to fall into two categories:
1) Characters who are sacred
2) Characters who are reinvented over and over

And it seems, as time goes on, that they all tend to eventually fall into category 2. The longer a character exists, the longer they’re popular, the more likely they are to be re-used, re-invented, re-imagined, until eventually there’s hundreds of versions and yet they all seem to somehow be the same person.

Doctor Who may be the most obvious version of this–as the Doctor is literally re-invented every few years, taken on by a new actor, written and played slightly different. But it’s every incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan, King Arthur. Every time someone retells Oz a little differently. Every time someone takes a fairy tale and spins a new thread through.

And it can be seen in newer characters as well. Admittedly what made me think of this is that the small, mobile one and I rented some of the newest Scooby Doo series from the library. Now, Scooby and the gang are pretty old for cartoons, but in the great cultural timeline, they’re pretty new.

And how many versions of Scooby Doo has there been? There’s been different animated series on since it premiered in the ’60s. There’s live-action versions, puppet version, and the prerequisite version where everyone is kids. And the characters get tweaked. Shaggy’s intelligence level (I think he’s slowly gotten more useful as time has gone on), whether Fred and Daphne are dating, Velma’s level of nerdiness, Daphne’s level of stuck-upness, Fred’s level of stupid-jockness. Some combinations work better than others.

(I am not a fan of Velma in this newest series, which is lame because normally Velma is awesome.)

But through it all, the essence of the characters remain the same. Daphne is Daphne is Daphne. Shaggy will be eternally hungry. Velma will say “Jinkies!”

And that’s what’s important in a reinvention. Each character has something that makes them them, and as long as you retain that, you can move that character through time periods, alternate realities, and genres. Robert Downey Jr., Basil Rathbone, and Benedict Cumberbatch are all wildly different Sherlock Holmes, but, at the same time, there is something about them that is Sherlock.

And, as long as that essence can be retained, I say go for it. These characters resonate through our culture for a reason, after all.

What do you think, Squiders? Are you a purist, or do you like it when characters get a new story, a new plot? What are you favorites?

(Also, what is your favorite version of Scooby Doo?)

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One response to this post.

  1. I never liked Scooby Doo. As a kid, I never found the cartoons funny. I never liked Hanna Barbera in general.
    NBC is apparently doing a “single camera” comedy series about an office romance between a woman named Wendy and a man named Peter who refuses to grow up. Despite this sounding an awful lot like The Office, it begs the question of how re-imagined can something be before it’s not really related to the source material?

    Reply

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