We’ve seen countless movies based on old TV shows (“Land of the Lost” will be the latest – welcome back, Chaka!), comic books (“Wolverine” has already clawed its way to $300 million in world-wide box office receipts) and even toys (more “Transformers” are set to wreak havoc in June).
But this may be a first: There’s reportedly a movie in the works based on a comic-strip bubble gum pitchman.
The latest entry into the no-new-ideas annals comes with the bizarre news that a Bazooka Joe flick is in development. Michael Eisner, who revived Disney, is trying to do the same for the Topps trading card company. And he’s apparently betting that the eye-patch-wearing star of the often-surreal gum-wrapper comics will reinvigorate the franchise, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Eisner has a track record boasting of some considerable successes in Mickey Mouse land. Bazooka Joe, on the other hand, is responsible for decades of cavities and disappointment.
The comics – in addition to lame one-liners and predictions that wouldn’t have made it past the fortune cookie editor – offered promises of cool gadgets that kids could get by redeeming a certain number of strips. Which meant buying more gum. Which made for some very happy dentists.
The gizmos, sadly, usually didn’t live up to the ad copy. The “Two-Way Space Phones” proved to be a less effective communications device than two tin cans strung together. The “Real Camera” produced black-and-white photos that had to be snapped under a blinding sun to capture any discernible image. The “Powerful Telescope” provided an excellent view of across the street.
So a movie about Bazooka Joe, who debuted in 1953, might not sell too many tickets among the more bitter members of the nostalgia crowd. Which begs a more pressing question: Does anyone born in the last 25 years really know Joe like some of us know Joe?
Topps recently updated Joe and His Gang with a multi-ethnic, wholesome lineup. There’s Cindy Lewis, the environmentalist; DJ Chang, the music spinner; and Wolfgang Sprekels, the McDonald’s loving German exchange student. Joe still sports the unexplained eye patch, but rides a skateboard.
There’s no sign of Mort, the dimwitted comic foil with the red turtleneck covering half his face.
With the Two-Way Space Phone obsolete, thanks to digital technology, new prizes include a baseball, a bobble-head doll and a mousepad – all featuring the now athletic-looking Joe.
So can Eisner and his gang turn gum into box office lucre – and turn around a legacy of shattered promises? There’s something to chew on.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.