As I was scrolling through Facebook yesterday, I noticed a trending article about the Jem and the Holograms movie. After only two weeks in theaters, it was performing so poorly that, in an unprecedented move, Universal decided to pull the movie. It only made, on average, $160 per American theater. Yep, that’s right. ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY DOLLARS. Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, told Business Insider:
“This is unprecedented, and shows just how badly this film flopped. Not only is it the lowest-grossing debut for a studio film this year, but it’s the worst all-time — by a considerable margin — for any film released in 2,000-plus theatres.”
I don’t think there was one Jem fan who wasn’t surprised. When the movie was first announced, like many other Jem fans, I was really excited, being a fan myself and having grown up with the cartoon in the 80s. Then came the images of the main characters. Then came the trailer. And like many fans, I was done. I had no desire to see the film, and I didn’t.
Why did this project fail so badly? They had a huge budget and could have done so many things to get the nostalgic crowd pumped. And that’s where they failed. They tried so hard to update Jem for 2015 that they completely lost their nostalgic crowd. Where was Synergy? Where were the actual holograms? Where were the Misfits? Where was the girl power? WHERE WAS ANYTHING FROM THE ORIGINAL CARTOON?
The movie failed on every level to provide anything nostalgic. Universal tried too hard to reach a younger audience, failing to realize that by going for the nostalgic audience, they would have in turn reached younger people through their parents introducing them to something great from their childhoods. This was a film that seemed EMBARRASSED by its roots instead of embracing them. On top of that, according to many critics’ reviews, the lead females were presented as weak and with no agency whatsoever. In Forbes, the review stated:
“Most importantly, it takes a cartoon that was originally about a group of women who unquestionably held power and turns it into a tale of a meek and weak-willed young woman who is arbitrarily given fame and holds zero agency except for that which is granted to her by the men in her life.”
I think that says it all.
As disappointing as the movie was, the Jem comic from IDW and written by Kelly Thompson accomplishes all the things the movie did not. It does an excellent job of keeping the look and feel and embracing the roots of the original 80s cartoon while updating the references so that kids in 2015 who didn’t watch the original cartoon can still love it. The comic includes all of the elements you’d expect from Jem: girl power, big hair, bright colors, great music, the Misfits, Synergy, and women loving and supporting each other. It’s also body positive, portraying each of the lead females with a different body type and interests, and it’s diverse, including many women of different cultural backgrounds. The comic also addresses some heavier issues you wouldn’t expect, including LGBT issues and dating and relationships. The best part about all of this: the comic addresses all of these things without making them issues. These are just normal women living their lives. They all love music, they’re in dueling bands, they’re sisters, and they have relationships, and they’re just trying to do their best with what they’re given. And, unlike the horrible movie, these women have agency – they don’t have a manager; they don’t have parents to guide them. They have to manage their success on their own. Even with their almost overnight success bringing overwhelming and stressful new situations to their lives, the girls stand together, always realizing that the most important thing is each other.
Now, *that’s* the Jem I remember.
If you were disappointed in the movie, I recommend picking up the comic. It’s something that you’ll love to share with your kids (if you have them) to introduce them to one of your childhood fandoms. Even if you don’t have kids, if you’re a Jem fan, you’ll love this reboot for holding all the nostalgia you hope for in reminiscing about one of your favorite cartoons.
The first trade paperback volume of the comic was released at the end of October and is available today at Tubby & Coo’s and your local comic shop.