originally published January 11, 2013
Back in October, a news item plopped onto my desk like a sack of wet rubber thimbles. Perhaps you remember it. Hasbro, the toy company behind Nerf, Play-Doh and Catchphrase, announced that their film division, which runs out of a tiny yet surprisingly whimsical windowless office on the Universal Pictures lot, would be following up the immense lack of success from last year’s Battleship film with a new three-picture deal.
This seems right. And it makes fiscal sense – my comment on the film’s “lack of success” was actually a bit off. Sure, the budget was $209 million and the domestic take was a paltry $65 million, but this flick was huge overseas, bringing the total worldwide gross up well over $300 million. Why not give Hasbro the keys to a new trio of blockbusters?
And the products they chose to spin into celluloid? Action Man, a British version of G.I. Joe (already another successful franchise), Monopoly (okay, Wall Street with Atlantic City real estate), and Hungry Hungry Hippos.
No, I’m not making that up. A game whose skill and strategy level reach no further than slamming one’s hand down repeatedly on a plastic lever is getting green-lit for a major world-wide theatrical release, whilst my screenplay about an alcoholic mime who communicates with a wise but heart-broken snail named Plook sits on the shelf.
But I hold no grudges with that fickle mistress who calls herself Hollywood. On the contrary, I want to do my part to pitch in and help. To that end, I’ve come up with a few ideas of my own. If Hungry Hungry Hippos is coming to life on the big screen, I’d like a shot at writing it. Executive producer Randall Emmett can contact me through this site when he’s ready to talk numbers.
My first thought is to make this a family movie. The article insists these will all be live-action flicks, so instead of animation maybe they’ll go with full-body hippo costumes like the one above. Judging by the success of Teletubbies, if we skew toward the youngest possible demographic, there isn’t even a need for a plot. Just let the hippos roll down a grassy hill. Let them throw a ball back and forth. Let them dance a little. Then repeat each scene at least twice throughout the movie, because kids freakin’ love repetition.
To make a full-out narrative storyline, we can say that all these ridiculous activities are being done to kill time before dinner, and the hippos are getting increasingly famished as the day progresses. Throw in some product tie-ins: they can play Twister, eat some Play-Doh (then puke it up because we don’t want kids emulating that), maybe stick a Mr. Potato Head inside an Easy-Bake Oven to see if it’ll make French fries.
Rom-coms are always a surefire way to squeeze money from the wallets of desperate guys on dates, or husbands who have set up chick-flicks-to-sex exchange agreements with their wives. To that end, I suggest Hungry Hungry Hipos, the story of three Greek cousins whose names I have taken from three of the original hippo names from the game (yes, they all have names): Henry Hipos, Homer Hipos, and Harry Hipos. All three men fall in love with Lizzie, played by someone who’s really hot right now – I’m thinking Emma Stone.
As a side-story, the three men (who all work together at the Hipos family restaurant) are in some kind of Greek cooking competition. A spanakopit-off. Ultimately all three decide that family is more important, and they agree to give up on pursuing Lizzie. Dejected, Lizzie becomes a swimsuit model because then we can include a lengthy montage of Emma Stone in swimsuits. Everybody wins.
You know what’s really big right now? Longboarding. You know what they haven’t made a movie about yet? That’s right, this is my pitch for a teen-focused sports flick. The Hippos are a rough-around-the-edges urban gang of longboarding pros with matching jackets.
There’s Lil’ Henry, the mouthy one; Home-Boy, the sensitive one; Hairy-Ballz, the angry one; and Liz, the rebel girl. They win a competition and get to travel to Nationals in San Francisco, where the risk of death and dismemberment is highest. I see a lot of issues-based drama here: Liz gets pregnant, Home-Boy gets beaten into the hospital for breaking up a street crime, Hairy-Ballz goes to jail trying to get revenge for Home-Boy, and Lil’ Henry has to hold the team together.
After a working-class montage behind a Nickelback song, Lizzie loses the baby in a wipeout and Home-Boy slips into a coma. They pull together a replacement for Home-Boy just as Hairy-Ballz gets released for lack of evidence. Home-Boy dies, and the team wins it for him. I see 50 minutes of story and 40 minutes of montage making this a surprisingly inexpensive potential smash. Come on Emmett, send me a check already!
Lastly, I thought I’d make a pitch for a gritty, realistic depiction of the game. A wealthy madman constructs an arena he calls The Decagon. He drops four unwilling ‘contestants’ into the arena, and forces them to fight, mixed martial arts style, in an effort to grab as many white “Life-Balls” as they can to toss into their respective goals. Maybe these are four players kidnapped from an MMA tournament or something.
I see Lizzie and Harry being the ones we root for, played by Ellen Page and Ryan Reynolds. Then there’s Homer, the psychopathic goon fighter (played by whichever Asian action star has the most followers on Twitter right now) and Henry, the diva and reigning champ (definitely Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad). The madman should be played by David Cross, because that guy deserves more work on the big screen.
I need to differentiate between this pitch and the previous one – this one will be bloody and violent; more Hunger Games than Karate Kid. In fact, forget the Decagon. The action will take place in some elaborately constructed environment, filled with theme areas in which numerous Life-Balls are stashed. Now we’re into Running Man territory. Naturally, Lizzie and Harry will rise up and defeat David Cross, whose dreams of a real-life Hungry Hungry Hippos competition will go up in smoke.
Even if none of my ideas are chosen, I can’t wait to see what Hasbro and Universal put together for this film. And if somehow I am not chosen to pen the screenplay, I’ll get an early jump on the next great blockbuster: Connect-4: The Connectoning!