#MUFFApproved (Status Pending): Jem and the Holograms

#MUFFApproved (Status Pending): Jem and the Holograms

Still courtesy of Universal Studios

Still courtesy of Universal Studios

Jem and the Holograms (2015)

dir. John Chu
Starring: Aubrey Peebles, Stefanie Scott, Hayley Kiyoko, Aurora Perrineau, Juliette Lewis, Molly Ringwald
Cinematographer: Alice Brooks 
Character creator: Christy Marx

Every generation needs a voice
Jem, childhood memories, and the stories we tell

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a weird sentiment show up on my social media feeds. With all the remakes, reboots, and retcons, I’ve noticed people who are in their 20’s and 30’s complaining that the ubiquitous "they" keep trying to “ruin my childhood”. Most recently for my fellow children of the 80’s, the movie Jem and the Holograms has begun ruining childhoods. Some of the comments include:

“Hollywood please stop ruining my childhood memories!”
— from Twitter
“I am in mourning! I have watched Jem growing up and am completely and utterly disappointed in this! I wanted a Jem and the Holograms movie with the REAL characters! There was so much and so many directions this could have taken! You completely RUINED my childhood memory of my and every TRUE fan’s beloved show! This is Not OUTRAGEOUS at all!”
— or more harshly from Facebook
Get over it, already. 

Get over it, already. 

Similar sentiments have been said about the new installments of Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China, and Point Break. I get it—there are a lot of remakes out there.

But come on ladies and gents. There are a lot of things that can ruin a childhood—I’m just not so sure a movie made decades after you’ve grown up has such retroactive powers.

I was pretty young when the cartoon series, Jem, started in the 80s, but I remember the glitter and glamour. It had a nice pink and purple, sci-fi/fantasy, weirdness which was cool and fit nicely with my love of Rainbow Brite, My Little Ponies, and Labyrinth. I always liked the part where Jerrica transformed into Jem in a flash of glittering light. Everything was super girly and shiny and fun-to-sing-a-long-to. It was truly outrageous!

Yup, definitely the best part. 

And of course there were the toys! Even after the cartoon was over, I remember one friend had a Jem doll that we would incorporate into our Barbie play time. She was awesome! She had her own clothes and accessories because she was an inch taller than all the other dolls—making her a true giant among the plastic people. After a few years her pink-streaked hair was so wild that I liked to pretend that she was a powerful sorceress or crazy cat lady or both. She was great!

And there’s nothing the upcoming movie can do ruin those memories!

I agree with some of the critics who were surprised by the lack of glitz in the official trailer. It didn’t seem to have much in the way of the Misfits, special effects and not a sparkly earring in sight. I would love to see those elements. If giant robots can come from outer space to work with Shia LeBouf and bad guys being chased by Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson can vaporize the Eiffel Tower, I don’t see why those sci-fi elements I loved can’t be included. We have the technology for amazing special effects—let’s use them! And for heaven’s sake, there are actual holograms in the world performing for rowdy crowds. I say let’s go big!

But it isn’t really my say, is it?

I’m not making the film.

I’m not even the target audience.

This movie is for all the 5-14 year-olds girls out there who need a fun, fabulous, ferocious girl-rock-group film for themselves!

The childhood my generation should be concerned about ruining is not our own that has long since past, but the childhood of girls who are still making their childhood memories, who are trying to figure out who they are, and who will hopefully look back fondly on the movie, the music and even the merchandise.

That’s why I have big hopes for this film. I still don’t know all the details about the story or what’s going on behind the scenes. Though with all the things that weren’t seen in the trailer (we are assured there is plenty more to see), I did see at least one promising aspect: women. The lead roles belong to a promising group of young actresses, notably Aubrey Peebles as Jem, who’s best known for going toe-to-toe with Hayden Pantierre’s Juliette Barnes on Nashville. There is a male-to-female gender-swap with Juliette Lewis playing Erica 'no longer Eric' Raymond. And who doesn’t love Molly Ringwald? I’m particularly excited by the fact that Samantha Newark and Britta Phillips—the respective speaking and singing voices of cartoon Jem—get cameos in the new film in yet-to-be-named roles (please let it be Synergy!).



While it would have been nice to see more females in behind-the-scenes roles, it is great to see Alice Brooks as cinematographer—a role with even fewer female representatives than Director. And it is good to hear that Director John Chu reached out to the amazing Christy Marx who first developed the characters for the original series based on the Hasbro toys (even if it’s sad she wasn’t more involved).

Before the film went into production Chu also took to YouTube, reaching out to fans of Jem asking for ideas, reasons they love the character, and even for talented performers who wanted to be a part of the film. Yeah, it might be a marketing thing, but it’s still nice to engage with and hear from fans who are interested in the project.

There are a lot of reasons to be wary of rehashing ideas. I like new things and new stories too. But I don’t mind the idea of drawing on older stories to tell new ones. There’s a nice folkloric aspect to reinterpretations of established characters. Heroines with varied personalities, exploits, and experiences like Hippolyta, Cinderella, Shakespeare’s Cordelia, Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett, Wonder Woman and Sarah Connors have and will continue to populate our stories across generations for good reason. It’s beneficial to retell old stories to see what can be learned when they are retold to a new generation. What if someone hadn’t decided to adapt my mother’s Josie and the Pussycat comic book and cartoon characters into a 90s-set film I fondly remember from my own teen years? Adaptation is key for all of us—we have to be willing to grow older and leave our childhood favorites to the next generation of young women.

Jem and the Holograms's #MUFFApproved status is still pending. I will be following the advice of Christy Marx for those of us curious but hopeful for Jon Chu’s Jem: “I urge everyone to judge the merits of his work on the result and I hope he delivers us an excellent, truly outrageous movie.” I don’t have to like it. I don’t even have to see it. But I will judge it for what it is and not what I wanted it to be. Does it have a positive message that girls can learn from? Does it have interesting and complex characters that show a range of life experiences and reactions? Are women involved in the creative processes?

No matter what the answers to those questions are, I’m happy knowing that my childhood is still intact—there’s nothing this movie can do to change that!

It’s time to focus on the films that will shape the women of tomorrow. Jem’s tagline is “Every generation needs a voice.” I don’t know if this movie will be that voice. But let’s make sure that our younger sisters are hearing our voice fight for them. Let’s show them how to find their own voice to tell the stories that they want to tell.

This is only the beginning, guys. 

SARAH MITCHELL loves movies, cartoons, comic books, Cheez-its, and traveling with her husband to obscure National Parks. She is easily distracted by stacks of books and can usually be found attached to her computer, desperately trying to finish her dissertation. @SED_Mitchell


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