Julia Spitz: Leave He-Man and Smurfs in the past

Julia Spitz

Mom had big hair, Dad wore Jordache jeans, and Madonna was as hot as Ms. Pac Man.

Those '80s were gnarly bad to the max, fer shur, and apparently Hollywood is stoked to bring back the tubular times in the name of family entertainment.

Case in point: Doogie Howser is busy filming a movie about the Smurfs.

Holy Gargamel. Is this really a good idea? Is there really a huge demographic desperately seeking Smurfette?

I suppose it makes as much sense as a new "Masters of the Universe" movie, which doesn't have a release date, but does have a new set of scribes working on a plot, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Plot? Hello? He-Man doesn't need a plot. He-Man just needs to yell "By the powers of Grayskull" and look extremely masculine while Skeletor slinks away in defeat. And as a certain 30-year-old used to point out, repeatedly, He-Man doesn't need a little sister either. Not one named She-Ra. Not one named Emily. (And if I catch you putting Barbie on Battle Cat one more time, I'm cutting off all her hair with my plastic sword and I don't care if I have to spend the rest of the day in my room, so go ahead and tell Mom.)

Yes, I remember He-Man. But people who had young kids running around in a bathing suit and rain boots back in the '80s aren't the target audience.

Are the adults who spent Saturday mornings watching Papa Smurf dispense wisdom really likely to make a beeline to the box office to relive that piece of their past?

So it must be for the kids of those '80s kids. Like "The Karate Kid" for a new generation. Or "The A-Team" movie. Or "Footloose" on stage.

Sheesh. You borderline-Gen Xers are getting as ubiquitous as your baby boomer parents.

Then again, most of us aren't too picky when it comes to offerings bearing the "family entertainment" label.

Case in point: "Marmaduke," which is in theaters now. (Note to Hollywood: Not many viewers under the age of 50 are familiar with the comic-strip Great Dane. If you felt an overwhelming need to trot out the "Beethoven" big dog formula one more time, why didn't you give Cynthia Rylant's "Henry and Mudge" series a try?)

Not that all things family-oriented are painful. The "Shrek" movies have some marvelous moments that work on many levels, even if you're old enough to remember "Fractured Fairy Tales" on "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle." (Note to Hollywood: The 2000 movie version of "Rocky and Bullwinkle" should serve as a cautionary tale about leaving well enough alone when it comes to old cartoons.)

The painful part is watching the resurrection of something better left in the past, where the haze of memory keeps it warm and fuzzy, than reworked in an effort to recapture a certain moment in time.

Borderline-Gen Xers might have grown up wishing for "Go-go-Gadget arms," but the "Inspector Gadget" movie proved the rule about leaving well enough alone. (Hollywood's response, of course, was "Inspector Gadget 2.")

"Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Underdog" proved the rule yet again: Rather than going green and endlessly recycling, perhaps it's worth giving kids and parents a shot at something new. Or at least something new to the screen, like Maurice Sendak's bedtime classic, "Where the Wild Things Are," which got good reviews as a movie last year.

If it were up to me, I'd go with big-screen treatment for the "Magic Tree House" series.

Mary Pope Osborne's books have an element that's been a hit since Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn hit the road: Quick-witted youngsters get themselves in and out of scrapes without the help of their parents. The books also have a dash of myth and mystery -- the treehouse transports through time thanks to a spell with ties to Camelot. Then there's the time-travel aspect that offers a taste of history without feeling you've been trapped on a class trip to the museum. The only thing the adventures of Jack and Annie lack are the humor of a "Night at the Museum."

For my money, branching out into the widely read "Tree House" series would be a better way to lure kids and parents into the theater than trying to breathe new life into non-classic cartoons.

Where's the beef? Perhaps there is none. If bringing back the '80s makes sense to people who invest in movies and TV shows, so be it.

Some elements of the '80s are worth remembering.

He-Man and the Smurfs, however, are in the category with leg warmers, "Goodnight, Beantown" and Dexy's Midnight Runners -- the category that should forever remain gagged with a spoon.

MetroWest Daily News writer Julia Spitz can be reached at 508-626-3968 or Check or for the Spitz Bits blog.