'Jem and the Holograms' reboot betrays everything that made the 80s cartoon wonderful


The trailer for the new live-action film ‘Jem and the Holograms’ dropped Monday, and along with it the hope that the movie would hold true to the beloved animated series from the 80s. For fans of the original cartoon this new adaptation is truly outrageous; truly, truly, truly outrageous.

Sadly my friends, it appears that The Misfits have won the existential battle of the bands. In the reboot, Jerrica Benton is no longer the owner and operator of Starlight Music—likely the youngest female record executive ever—who transforms into her rock alter ego Jem with the help of a hologram machine. Now she is a sad teen girl with an ‘unexceptional life’ until a homemade, acoustic YouTube video goes viral, leading to Justin Bieber-style fame and a record deal. The filmmakers are doing a major disservice to young girls everywhere by erasing Benton’s historic role as a female CEO and replacing it with a sappy, Cinderella-ish coming-of-age storyline.

The movie still puts a woman (Juliette Lewis) at the head of the company, but she is Benton’s nemesis from the 80s cartoon (Erica Raymond). In a strange, horrible plot change, Raymond appears to be the one who comes up with the idea for the Jem persona, Jerrica’s rocking alter ego, which is both confusing and alarming. It’s alarming because anyone familiar with the original cartoon knows Benton invented Jem with the most sophisticated cartoon AI to date, the hologram-projecting supercomputer Synergy, a machine created by Benton’s father and bequeathed to her after his death. In the original cartoon, Jem activated her hologram by touching her earrings; in the movie reboot, she just slaps on some extreme pink eye make-up. While the latter is more realistic, it’s a tragic betrayal of the original conceit of the story. It was the rare fictional world with women at the center where computing is the source of their power.

In the trailer, this new live-action Jerrica impostor serves us the classic catchphrase, “It’s showtime Synergy”, but there is otherwise no mention of the AI. Never in my most outrageous childhood dreams did I think I would live in a world where holograms actually perform on stage, and yet here we are in 2015, when that is indeed our reality. How could it be that there are no holograms in this movie trailer? Synergy was one of those fantastical plot inventions that lit up imaginations and inspired a generation of young girls to dream big about wearable tech and ask their teachers how holograms worked. Much of the charm of the original series had to do with harnessing the power of technology to make your dreams come true. The new movie’s take is a paler version of that theme. Instead of a sophisticated holographic computer, it’s social media that has transformative powers.

In a movie landscape that is constantly rebooting male comic book hero franchises, I had high hopes that this remake would break through. But from the moment I saw that three dudes were pitching us a creatively ‘crowdsourced’ live-action movie, I should have known that it was doomed, and from the looks of Twitter I wasn’t the only one disappointed.

The vitriol doesn’t stop at Twitter either, fans have gotten downright political by starting a change.org petition to get the name of the new movie switched to something else.

Jem taught me many things. She taught me about the possibility that technology could change the world. She also taught me that large pink wigs are best suited for the stage, and that a sensible blonde bob will make them listen in the boardroom. The original Jem might have been a crazy storyline invented to sell dolls, but it was largely invented by a woman, Christy Marx, who wrote on Facebook last year that she was “deeply unhappy about being shut out of the [film] project.” If only Marx could touch her earrings and get Synergy to create a hologram to transform this disappointing movie into a rocking one.

Cara Rose DeFabio is a pop addicted, emoji fluent, transmedia artist, focusing on live events as an experience designer for Real Future.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin