8 Cartoon Characters That Look Better In Live-Action (And 7 That Look Worse)

For decades, Hollywood has been capitalizing on bringing licensed franchises to silver and small screens, adapting them for live-action in hopes of meteoric success. The most notable and profitable examples, of course, are comic book characters. Based on the likes of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and AMC’s The Walking Dead continuously growing in scope, this trend shows no sign of coming to a halt anytime soon. As comic-centric stories were appealing to the masses in the mid to late 20th century with live-action interpretations, another form of media was slowly seeing its content similarly adapted for wider audience consumption -- cartoons.

Bringing to life an animated character seems a more arduous task than doing the same for a figure in comics. With animated adaptations, there’s more than a particular design to uphold; special behaviors, voice and mannerisms are additionally expected to seamlessly translate from animation to live-action. Nearly anything can be accomplished with hand-drawn or computer generated technology, but practical effects are a different brand of beast. Some cartoon to live-action adaptations have succeeded on every front with regards to the design of beloved cartoon characters. Others, however, haven’t been so fortunate. Here are eight characters that look better in live-action and seven that look worse.

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Gen-1 and movie Optimus Prime
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Gen-1 and movie Optimus Prime

Optimus Prime is one of the few characters who inarguably looks better in live-action than he ever has in the animation from which he hails. This is especially true when comparing Prime’s design from the Gen-1 days of the Transformers’ animated run to his Michael Bay-helmed big screen ventures. There’s enough of a difference between the two that the film version doesn’t feel as uncanny as the original series, but the similarities that are present offer a welcoming familiarity.

Particularly special of the live-action Prime’s physical features are the meticulous details in the Autobot’s CGI appearance. The myriad pieces that make-up his form all seem to have a purpose, sometimes moving independently of one another, and are practical given his adaption of a big rig’s frame. Transformers films may have declined in quality since the first debuted in 2007, but the visuals continue to impress.


Animated Scooby-Doo and 2002

As one of popular culture’s most beloved figures, it’s a wonder Scooby didn’t make the transition from animation to live-action sooner than his and the gang’s 2002 debut. Undeniably, the wait primarily rests on technology’s vast limitations. That didn’t stop Warner Bros. from trying twice with two films, though, and then again several years later with a made-for-television movie in Cartoon Network’s Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins. CGI characters are tricky, and a CGI dog, based on one who’s better known for being wildly expressive, cannot have been easy to get right.

For the most part, CG Scoob works. He’s easily the heart of both live-action projects. However, Scooby isn’t as expressive as he should be; some of the canine’s finer quirks are noticeably absent -- for instance, the movement of his eyebrows and tail. It’d be interesting to see how he translates now, considering the technological advancements.


BTAS Harley Quinn and Margot Robbie

The consensus amongst fans on the look of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is hard to deduce. While the character was favorably cast, initial images, both official and from set, weren’t so kindly regarded. For some, it was too much -- too revealing, too over-the-top, too tattooed. But seeing her in action seems to have assuaged the concerns and changed the minds of many. Within in the context of the DCEU’s Suicide Squad, and for today’s modern audience, this design of the villain isn’t half bad.

Robbie sells the performance, and by proxy the outfit she dons throughout a preponderance of the 2016 film works accordingly. There’s nothing quite like classic Batman: The Animated Series Harley Quinn, but for the sake of functionality and mass market appeal, live-action Harley is deserving of some praise.


Animated Fat Albert and Kenan Thompson

The 2004 release of the feature film Fat Albert isn’t fondly remembered. Honestly, anyone would be forgiven for not recalling its existence at all. Starring Kenan Thompson as the titular character, the film tried to bring a then dated franchise back to the forefront by literally ripping them from the cartoon and placing them in the real world. On paper, this idea sounds at least somewhat intriguing. Yet, in practice, the premise failed to properly come together.

Thompson, then better known for Kenan & Kel and Good Burger, did well in the role all things considered; personality-wise, it’s fair to say Fat Albert was done justice. The issue, however, is founded in the character’s build. He doesn’t look real, especially when compared to heftier characters played by Eddie Murphy or Martin Lawrence. But we’re specifically left to wonder why a heavier set actor wasn’t chosen for the role.


Animated Maleficent and Angelina Jolie

Centering a film on the villain’s perspective and giving them the titular role was a bold move for Disney. Ultimately, it paid off, evidenced by Maleficent’s box office success in the summer of 2014 and the sequel that’s currently in development. Retelling an adored classic from a different point of view wasn’t the only hurdle in need of crossing, casting for the villainous role was also of the utmost importance. Angelina Jolie could not have been a better fit.

Surprisingly, no corners were cut in adapting Maleficent’s look from Sleeping Beauty (1959). Jolie dons comparable black attire, the horned-headdress translates beautifully to live-action, and well-made prosthetics even out her mystical look. Disney wasn’t initially keen on the use of prosthetics, but extensive hard work from the industry’s best and some convincing from Jolie pushed things in the best direction.


Fred Flintstone and John Goodman's Fred

Practically speaking, translating The Flintstones from animation to live-action seems relatively easy. They are characters set in a Stone Age-inspired world, which makes their costume design simple when compared to other cartoon adaptations. While both John Goodman (in 1994’s The Flintstones) and Mark Addy (in 2000’s The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas) looked the part, though the former is arguably the better of the two iterations, something never quite felt right.

In comparison to the look of the classic cartoon, some of the color seems to have been muted and the two costumes do not appear to reflect any semblance of raggedness. To an extent, the same can be said of other characters as well, such as Barney and Betty Rubble and Fred’s wife, Welma.


Animated and Transformers 2 Megatron

If Michael Bay’s often derided Transformers franchise does anything universally accepted, it is the design of the Autobots and Decepticons. Undeniably, the alien machines are visually stunning in live-action; their CG models and the action in which they take part are typically the highlights of the films. Megatron’s translation from animation to big screen visuals is the most notable, however. In the animated series, he and the Decepticons look no more menacing than their Autobot foes. But in live-action, this changes and drastically so.

As the representation of evil from Cybertron, the Decepticon’s leader, Megatron, had to distinctly embody said representation. He looks almost mechanically devilish, appearing to have been constructed from crude metals and his form bearing countless long lines and sharp edges. Specifically ominous is Megatron’s visage, as his head seems almost horned. A direct adaption from the Gen-1 series would not have worked nearly as well.


Animated Cobra Commander and G.I. Joe Retaliation

In an attempt to modernize G.I. Joe for a new generation of action fans, Cobra Commander, one of the animated franchise’s better known antagonists, had to be a priority in what to get right. To say the ball was dropped is an understatement. Based on the design of the character in live-action alone, little of the care given to his animated counterpart is reflected on the silver screen. Aside from his signature visor, nothing about the character stands out.

Among the pantheon of action hero villains, this version of Cobra Commander looks more befitting of a role as background soldier #5. In short, he’s plain, donning black leather attire that probably wouldn’t even turn heads on an episode of Smallville. It’s rather disappointing, to say the least.


Animated and Live Action Alvin and The Chipmunks

Taking adorable animal characters from one medium to another may have proved difficult for Scooby-Doo, but Alvin & The Chipmunks’ transition to life action is worthy of commendation. As if the singing forms of the Chipmunks weren’t cute enough, their CGI counterparts are exceedingly more appealing. Their being small animals is fully explored in live-action with their furry bodies, nimbleness, and characteristic behaviors all meticulously detailed.

In addition, nothing is lost in translation -- Alvin, Simon, and Theodore look exactly the same, from overall character design to the clothes they wear. As such, the Chipmunks have held up surprisingly well throughout the years, considering the minimal effort made in updating their look for modern audiences. In truth, this may be the preferred way of experiencing the decades-old franchise.


Nickelodeon and Michael Bay TMNT

Of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were comic characters first. However, the franchise’s ongoing success, and eventual adaptation to film, is due in no small part to the success of the original television series. With the critical acclaim of Nickelodeon’s rebooted animated series, which premiered in the fall of 2012, interest in the Turtles returned like never before. Inevitably, a movie reboot was on the horizon.

Michael Bay’s attachment to the Turtles’ big screen return soured some at first blush. It was the character models for Mikey, Donatello, Raphael and Leo that truly sounded alarm bells before the first film’s release, though. They’re kind of hideous, as they probably should be, yet the 3D-animation of Nickelodeon series proves that does not have to be the case. While watching the new films, warming up to the designs isn’t too bad -- if glaring plot and character development issues can be ignored.


Animated Timmy Turner and Drake Bell

This may seem an odd pick, but A Fairly Odd Movie: Grow Up, Timmy Turner! offered a refreshing take on a character who, to some, was beginning to overstay his welcome. Like many animated popular culture mainstays, Timmy Turner ages at an alarmingly slow rate. He can’t be a ten-year-old forever, but as shows like the Rugrats spinoff All Grown Up! indicate, no one is ever ready to see the youth depicted in cartoon worlds develop into adulthood.

A Fairly Odd Movie is an anomaly, then. Not only is Timmy depicted at age 23, he also graduates from the voice work of Tara Strong to a live-action portrayal by Nickelodeon alum, Drake Bell. It’s not half-bad; Timmy’s outgrown is overbite, but his dress and demeanor is relatively the same. Again, it was a breath of fresh air for the franchise. And Wanda and Cosmo looked pretty good, too.


Animated Music Meister and Darren Criss

Darren Criss is a great Music Meister; he plays the role well and is a joy to watch in the musical crossover between Supergirl and The Flash, “Duet.” That said, The CW seems to have missed an opportunity by toning down the character’s wackiness. From the look alone, there’s nothing special about him, and no one would think he’s the villain that stole the hearts of fans in Batman: The Brave and The Bold nearly a decade ago.

Obviously, the Golden Age character design may not have worked as well as it does in animation; however, that didn’t keep the network from having Mark Hamill’s Trickster dressed in his similarly zany garb. Perhaps just a green suit with music symbols and a matching top hat would be enough to make Criss’ performance all the more memorable.


Animated Snake Eyes G.I. Joe Retaliation

G.I. Joe is home to many iconic characters and Snake Eyes is easily one of the franchise’s more beloved. Originally introduced in Hasbro’s toy line, the character eventually made his way to comics, and later garnered a bulk of his popularity as one of the key characters in the animated series, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. The mysterious commando’s signature look helps differentiate from the rest of the G.I. Joe team; thus, the character design hasn’t been altered too much since his claim to fame in the '80s.

The live-action films then, the first of which is 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, maintains the familiar aspects of the character model. It is sleeker in design, though, with Snake Eyes bearing a few more notable details on his armor.


Animated and Live Action Skeletor

The evil Skeletor has returned to popularity of late, becoming a favorite meme for many online. In this case, the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe villain seems fondly. What isn't fondly recalled, however, are his ventures in the live-action film, The Masters of the Universe. Opposite the hulking Dolph Lundgren, who was cast as the hero He-Man, this version of Skeletor, played by Frank Langella, doesn't appear to be quite as imposing as his animated counterpart.

Abandoning the simplicity of the cartoon design, the film version adds several layers to the character, giving Skeletor a number of armor pieces and a set of thick black robes. It’s not that he looks bad, per se; he just appears to be more of a Grim Reaper caricature than the animated series had allowed.


Gen-1 and Transformers Movie Bumblebee

Bumblebee’s redesign for 2007’s Transformers film did more than put the Robots in Disguise back in the mainstream, it helped to reinvigorate widespread love in Chevrolet’s Camaro. Both the muscle car and the classic franchise were the topic of discussion again, but Bumblebee had the most to gain.

Gone was the simplicity that once made the sentient machine race from Cybertron an easy action figure cash-grab. This is especially true of Bumblebee’s character, who is probably the most visually appealing of the Transformers in the films. From the bright yellow color scheme, to his highly detailed facial features and glowing blue eyes, the live-action version of this fan-favorite Autobot could not possibly be anymore impressive. With his solo prequel film on the horizon, it would seem Paramount and the masses agree.

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