Lessons on Teen Wolf

Sunday was a strange day for me. My youngster and I spent hours watching “Teen Wolf” in all its incarnations. Well, we watched everything available in the “Teen Wolf” franchise, but not its precursor: The Michael Landon B&W vehicle called “I Was A Teenage Werewolf.”
Part of it my interest was that “Teen Wolf” was birthed from the mind of famed comics and television writer Jeph Loeb.
The other part of it was the fact that my little one is currently obsessed with werewolves. True, it’s probably not good to be interested in lycanthropy at such a wee age, but until the little one is REALLY interested in it, I’m not worried.
Let’s take a look at each of the works, but don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a thesis-sized discussion — more of a Post-It note version.

TEEN WOLF (1985)

Starring Michael J. Fox, this movie is surprisingly mediocre. The basic plot is that Marty McFly — er, Scott Howard — is a remarkably average teenager, and he’s sick of being overlooked, unpopular and unknown. But somewhere deep inside him is his key to fame: It starts with a deep voice and piercing red eyes, and soon develops into full-blown werewolfism. This change isn’t something he hides. Instead, he flaunts it and uses it to be the big man on campus that he always dreamed about. But the change doesn’t sit well with his friends, or even his family, who are also werewolves. No, they think it’s changed him for the worse. The whole plot is also wrapped up in his high school’s basketball team as well, as Scott uses his new-found athleticism to play whole teams by himself.
In a film full of meek attempts at humor, Fox is essentially wasted in the role. He certainly has plenty of comedic skills, but the script is so dull, so PG that there’s little to sink his teeth into. As for providing any insights into lycanthropy (or even the human condition), there isn’t much to go on. It’s so bare bones, that he isn’t even once threatened with silver or wolfsbane, two common ingredients in every werewolf-fighting kit. Ultimately, iIt lacks subtly, cleverness and wickedness that would make this film a lot of fun.
Essentially, it only barely coasts into “watchable” territory, and that’s only thanks to Fox’s charisma.
In this one, it’s hard to even see a smidge of the greatness that Jeph Loeb has brought to his work. Sure, there’s a conflict — is Scott satisfied with being regular — but it avoids so many interesting angles of lycanthropy and steers clear of so much comedy, that you have to wonder if he wrote the whole thing a day before shooting began.


Whew. This is a film that’s bad in so many ways.
Its sports-themed plot is entirely recycled from “Teen Wolf.” It showcases Jason Bateman, who, at least at that point, was a vastly inferior actor to Fox. It turns out that Fox turned down the sequel, so this film was slightly re-written to feature Scott’s cousin, Todd.
Sure, it brings back two unessential actors (playing Scott’s dad, who is now “Uncle Howard” and Chub, one of Scott’s basketball chums), but it also gets negative marks for recasting the key role of Stiles — Scott’s sleazy party-hardy friend. Geez, why fork over a few extra bucks to get him back?
On top of all that, the movie is interrupted halfway through with a choreographed dance number. Ugh.
The film also takes place at college, but it appears practically empty most of the time. Apparently it was a very exclusive college.
The funny thing is, I remember that when I saw this movie as a kid, I even thought it stunk. Who knew I had sharpened my critical skills at such a young age?
I wrote that “Teen Wolf” seemed like it was written the day before shooting began? Well, this one feels more like a 20-minute turn around at Kinko’s with the original script. Geez, Jeph, where’s your mischeivious mind for plot twists, in jokes and genuine story-telling?
Aw, he was still young. We’ll forgive him, won’t we?
No, we won’t. This film is really that bad.

TEEN WOLF cartoon (1986)

A few years ago, I was at a local pawn shop looking for goodies when the dusty old racks of VHS tapes caught my eye. Thumbing through the offerings, I came across a copy of the “Teen Wolf” cartoon. As I’m always on the lookout for old cartoons, I snatched it up. A few weeks later, I watched it and was mightily impressed.
The “Teen Wolf” cartoon pretty much only takes the basic premise of the movies: Teen-aged kid is a werewolf, and discards the rest. In this version of the story, his family are all lycanthropes, but they’ve learned to keep it a secret. Why they moved to a town called Wolverton is beyond me, but they did. You’d think they’d want to be in a place that that doesn’t even sound remotely wolf-like, such as Daisy Grove, Mayberry or Milwaukee.
In Wolverton, Scott tries to be a normal teenager, but his unique condition keeps getting in the way. Sure, his friends Boof and Stiles (both imports from the first movie) try to help him out, but an abundance of full moons (– as in every episode–) keep him busy.
Hackneyed plots and recycled “wolf out” sequences aside, this is still is a damn fine cartoon. It’s really nicely animated (I love how the town looks so Halloweeny) and well-voice acted.
Though the plots are always high caliber stupid, the themes the show explores are pretty neat, such as “What’s really normal?” and people’s need to fit in.
All in all, of the three versions of “Teen Wolf,” the cartoon turns out to be the best part of the franchise. Who would have thought that in an era of “Ewoks,” “Pac-Man” and “Mr. T” cartoons.

Jeph Loeb put these two movies together when he was still a novice writer in Hollywood — in fact “Teen Wolf” was his first writing credit. He also served as a “creative consulant” to the cartoon. Loeb certainly has improved since then, and more importantly he’s got enough clout that directors (and maybe even studios) think twice before they put a red pen to one of his scripts. Such meddling was very likely in both Teen Wolf movies, and maybe even in the cartoon too thanks to network “standards” people. 
It certainly would be interesting if Loeb took another stab at the young-werewolf-comedy idea, especially since he’s one of the creative minds behind hits such as “Heroes,” “Lost” and “Smallville.” Sure, those are all dramatic works, but they’re all quirky enough to prove he’s got some interesting things to say. What could he do with a werewolf if he was really allowed to take it to the extreme?
Yes, except for the cartoon, this film franchise is fairly dimwitted, but hey, so was the original “Battlestar Galactica,” and it’s certainly been an interesting “reimagining.”
Maybe something like that could happen with “Teen Wolf.”  … Yeah, I’m probably fooling myself for nostalgia’s sake. After all, I used to enjoy catching “Teen Wolf” on HBO and the cartoon on CBS.
 But “Teen Wolf Too”? Well, let’s just be glad that Jason Bateman has moved on to far better and much brighter projects.


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