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"The action is intercut with human scenes that seem dragged in kicking and screaming from another movie... If there is one thing everyone in Hollywood thinks they know for sure, it's that the three most important words in movie development are story, story, story. This is not a story: A group of inconsequential human characters watch animation."
Roger Ebert, regarding Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

So a Live Action Adaptation of your favorite childhood Funny Animal cartoon is coming out. You go to see it, and... what's this? Who's this guy? Where's the cartoon character? Why should we care about this guy? Can you move it along and get to the cartoon character now? Oh, there he is! And now they're back to that guy again. Looks like it's gonna be another Human-Focused Adaptation.

Family movies that are live action (and sometimes even animated) adaptations of cartoons that otherwise probably wouldn't work as a live action blockbuster, or actually would, normally seem to focus more on a newer human character and his love life, rather than the character from the series the movie is adapting. More often than not, the plot has an Unlucky Everydude with a crappy job and a crush on his hot co-worker, having a run-in with the cartoon character of the day, or having said cartoon character as a pet. Hilarity Ensues, and the cartoon character's hijinks somehow bring Everydude and his love interest together, and they live Happily Ever After.

These subplots mostly, if not always seem to do with the unlucky new guy in love. This even applies to already existing human characters who never had a love interest, and are either given a completely new one, or they take an existing character and pair them up, accuracy be damned.

This is probably caused by a combination of the costs (both time and money) of CGI and the beliefs that a human character might be more relatable or that people want to see a love story--no matter how much it has to be shoehorned in. This trope, while common to live action, is not exclusively a live action trope. There are many examples within anime, comics, and Western animation itself. If any adaptation reduces the importance of the major characters (or major non-human characters) to focus on more humanistic or traditional characters, it should count as being this trope, regardless of the medium. Note that this doesn't always mean "non-human characters are barely in it" but that the ratio is shifted considerably. The amount of human importance may shift from 10% original to 60% adaptation, it still leaves 40% of the movie to the non-human characters. It isn't always about "making it relatable" but being a Pragmatic Adaptation if you are going to make something in a different medium.

Related to Adaptation Decay, Most Writers Are Human, Developing Doomed Characters, Romantic Plot Tumour, Just Here for Godzilla, Spotlight-Stealing Squad, Demoted to Extra.

Examples:

Anime and Manga

  • The anime Sonic X during first two seasons has Chris Thorndike taking the spotlight and filling roles which in the actual game adaptations were filled by Tails and Amy. This turned off quite a few fans as a result.
  • Similar to the Sonic X example above, Kirby of the Stars gave a lot of focus and screentime to humanoid looking Fumu and Bun (Tiff and Tuff in the dub), though since Kirby was basically a baby in this continuity, pretty much everyone at some point got more focus over him. Kirby sometimes didn't even do anything until the climax of the episode.

Film

  • Sonic the Hedgehog. The only character from the games other than Sonic is Eggman (who is human, even if he does come from Mobius, or whatever you wanna call Sonic's home planet).
  • Underdog, which makes no sense.
  • Alvinandthe Chipmunks: Though the Chipmunks get a fair enough amount of screentime and focus, it still follows the "unlucky guy in love has cartoon characters as pets" formula. The "Squeakquel" introduced some reason why he couldn't be there and then replaced him with some completely random loser.
  • The first live-action Garfield movie came out at a time when in the comic, Liz looked down on Jon, when somehow she's madly in love with him in the movie. The comic would later follow suit.
  • The Rocky and Bullwinkle movie gave less screen time to the cartoon moose and squirrel than their traditional human villains and new human characters. Rocky and Bullwinkle are on a very small part of the DVD cover (pictured above) while the human characters are front and center.
  • Two Looney Tunes live action movies.
    • Space Jam puts its focus on bringing Michael Jordan into the Looney Tunes' world to save them from aliens by playing basketball. The first part of the movie plays like a Biopic of Jordan before the Looney Tunes show up.
    • Looney Tunes: Back in Action introduces two human characters to team up with Bugs and Daffy and even gives them a romantic subplot.
    • Additionally, a supposedly upcoming Marvin the Martian movie has been implied to follow this in its summaries.
  • Masters of the Universe: Although everyone in the cast basically is human (or at least Human Aliens given that the main characters are from another planet), the live-action adaptation still manages to have some of this going on. The first half hour of the movie focuses on the eponymous heroes, but once they journey to Earth, the story becomes more about the mundane Earthlings Julie and Kevin up until the final climatic battle, and then afterward returns to them for the conclusion.
  • Two Dr. Seuss live action adaptations (and one animated one):
    • How the Grinch Stole Christmas, while still mainly focused on The Grinch, has more focus put on the Whos (who are more or less Rubber Forehead Aliens) than in the original, especially Cindy Lou, who gets half the movie to herself and has far less makeup than the other Whos, making her look even more human than the rest of them.
    • The Cat in the Hat.
    • The Lorax focuses its "past" timeline on the interactions between the titular nonhuman and the Once-ler, but the former barely appears at all in the "present" timeline, which constitutes the first third and last third of the movie. (Also, the Once-ler is now clearly human rather than Ambiguously Human.)
  • The Smurfs Live Action Adaptation has the Smurfs taking refuge with a husband and wife in New York after being teleported there. Pretty much follows this trope to the letter.
  • The title character of Yogi Bear takes a backseat to Ranger Smith, of all people. Yogi and Boo-Boo are all but reduced to walking, talking plot devices, while most of the story focuses on Smith's efforts to save Jellystone Park from being demolished and turned into farmland. Perfect example of this trope played straight.
  • The 1932 film adaptation of The Call of the Wild focuses on the character of Jack Thornton, played by Clark Gable, over Buck the dog. In the book, he only factors into perhaps a third of the plot.
  • Although the original is also about a human, the first Mr. Bean movie, Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie did something like this. The original series is simply about a near-mute, accident prone-fellow causing chaos and havoc wherever he goes, which tends to lend itself best to brief vignettes. The movie, of course, had to flesh this out, so it centred mainly on some American art expert who Bean stays with and his troubled relationship with his family.
  • Some of the Muppet productions fall under this trope:
    • Played with in The Muppets where the trailer makes it look like a human-focused romantic comedy, only for Kermit the Frog to show up and reveal the real nature of the film. It still technically qualifies for this trope, though; most of the screentime is given to Jason Segel, Amy Adams and new character Walter (who is a Muppet but not in-universe[1] until the final act of the movie), although the humans' subplot takes a backseat to the main plot for most of the movie. That said, a concerted effort was made to give the Muppets enough screen time and have them qualify as main characters.
    • Referenced when Jason Segel hosted Saturday Night Live, and The Muppets were upset that they weren't asked to host.
    • In Muppet Treasure Island, the main focus is on Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver, played by Tim Curry. Originally the "Jim Hawkins" part was going to be played by Rizo and Gonzo (being named Jim and Hawkins as two characters), before it was decided to make it into a Coming of Age Story with an actual human kid as Jim. And in Muppets Wizard of Oz Ashanti's amount of focus makes The Muppets themselves feel like an afterthought. In this case both are based on stories where the main characters were humans, and the trope is just a side-effect of staying faithful to the story. The more original Muppet outings, however, tend to avert the trope by including major human characters but keeping the focus on Kermit and the gang.

Franchises

  • While the 2007 Transformers film and its sequel are often mocked for this due to its high visibility, the franchise in general has a long history of it. The first half of Transformers Armada was almost more about the humans than about the robots, and Transformers Super God Masterforce takes it Up to Eleven, gradually morphing into a Henshin Hero series as the actual Autobots are displaced by an increasing number of humans in Powered Armor. In the case of the live-action movies, if they didn't have humans as part of the plot and focused more on the Transformers, there would really be no reason to make a live-action adaptation, as opposed to just going all CG. Plus there's the fact that the CGI for every frame with a Cybertronian in it took about twenty-four hours to render and Devastator melted a computer, so it would be pretty much impossible to be more robocentric without setting parts of Hollywood on fire. It got slightly better in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, where (apart from Sam's role in the first act) the Transformers are treated as actual characters rather than plot devices to help Sam get the girl and satisfy his sex drive. Although unhealthy amounts of time are still given to human characters, the main plot definitely focuses on the Transformers and their history (most of the human screentime consists of subplots).
    • This trope was lampshaded in the first panel of this VG Cats comic.

 Starring a cast of two-dimensional characters no one cares about! With special guest stars the Transformers.

    • The show was similarly human focused since the Autobots were learning Earth culture through their human friends and exploration. Also, very few plots were because the Autobots stumbled upon a Decepticon plot, and Teletraan-1 intercepted human communications for possible Decepticon involvement.
  • By default, every Digimon adaptation with the sole exception of Digimon X Evolution - though the existence of human Tamers for the Mons was part of the original fluff for the virtual pets, said fluff didn't mention any specific human characters, and the majority of adaptations - most prominently the various anime - tend to focus much more on the interactions and struggles of the humans, relegating their Digimon partners to more of a support role. This is also averted by Digimon Xros Wars where Digimons actually managed to end up being more developed than some of the human cast.

Toys

  • Greg Farshtey has stated this as the main reason why LEGO never allowed a theatrical Bionicle movie to be made. They received several pitches for it, and all of them involved human kids somehow ending up in the BIONICLE universe - which is supposed to be a Constructed World in which humans do not and never will exist.

Video Games

  • A rare video game example in Kingdom Hearts. The Disney and Final Fantasy characters seem secondary to the original cast. Part of this is that Disney laid down so much Executive Meddling behind the scenes in the first game that the production team decided that in general original characters were the only ones they could tell new or interesting stories with and not have to worry about Disney pitching a fit at characterization or portrayals of their properties.

Western Animation

  • A fully animated example is the Tom and Jerry: The Movie, whose title characters take a backseat to a little orphan girl, in a plot that seems like they were trying to remake The Rescuers as a musical with Tom and Jerry thrown in as an afterthought.
  • My Little Pony actually sorta inverts this trope. The original show had a human girl named Megan who helped the ponies in their fight against whatever apocalypse was threatening them at the moment. Most of the sequel series are Slice of Life series that focus solely on the ponies (it might be noted though that even in the original series, while the human girl Megan was nearly always around and involved in the ponies adventures, she was actually very seldom the main character of an episode. So all things considered, the My Little Pony franchise can be said to having avoided this trope so far).
    • Equestria Girls plays it painfully straight: most of the cast are humans, even Sunset Shimmer, who was subject to Baleful Polymorph by the magic of the portal. Every once in a while you get a short scene in Equestria, but then it's back to the humans, and Legend of Everfree features no Ponies at all (except for Sunset Shimmer, but again, Humanity Ensues means she doesn't count). Spring Breakdown downplays this, with a large chunk of the special set in Equestria.
    • Pound Puppies has another similar inversion. The show originally focused on an orphan girl named Holly who helped the eponymous talking dogs, while her Wicked Stepmother served as the main villain. The remake now focuses mostly on the dogs.

Notes

  1. In the movie's universe, "Muppet" only refers to members of Kermit's troupe
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