Disney+ is now deep into the production of the Percy Jackson TV series, adapting the beloved works of author Rick Riordan, centered on the son of Poesidon. Of course, this isn’t the first time that the adventures of Jackson and his campmates have made it to the screen, but there are some strong indications that this time around, the adaptation is going to be far more faithful to what was on the page. After all, those initial movies certainly didn’t quite live up to expectations, nor did they launch the franchise they were perhaps intended to.
D23 revealed the first trailer for the Disney+ series, giving audiences a hint of how far this iteration of the story has come, in comparison to 2010’s Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and 2013’s Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters. What are the signs that the Walt Disney Company is moving in the right direction though? What can be learned from those initial movies and what do fans still need to see to be reassured that this incredible fantasy series is going to get the platform it deserves?
Percy Jackson Books
For those unfamiliar, the Percy Jackson series revolves around three heroes who attend Camp Half-Blood, a location designed to train the children of humans and gods who may one day become heroes. Percy, the son of Poesidon, Annabeth Chase, the daughter of Athena, and Grover, a mystical Satyr, are the leads in question. The original five novels focus on these heroes and an extended cast of Greek mythological-inspired characters, attempting to defeat the rising Titans while fulfilling an Oracle’s dark prophecy.
The success of Rick Riordan’s universe, which was inspired by ancient legend, has evolved far past the attendants of this Camp though. The sprawling interconnected landscape has included the Egyptian Kane Chronicles, Norse Magnus Chase saga, alongside other sequels such as the Roman-infused Heroes of Olympus series. Needless to say, there’s a lot of potential ground for Disney to cover if they are to guarantee a popular initial series, with this becoming a major opportunity for the streaming service to develop a new shared universe. With so many brilliant stories on the table though, what happened with the first attempt to bring Percy Jackson to life?
The Original Adaptations
The first adaptations made a valid attempt at taking the spiralling series from the page to the screen. But it’s fair to say that there was a lot to pack into a short run time, considering how sprawling the saga would soon become and the need to leave nothing out. It was going to be a challenge for anyone to get it right, but the movies made a few fundamental mistakes and got a couple of elements spot on.
The casting of Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, and Brandon T. Jackson as the three leads was absolutely inspired, with the wider cast full of major talents like Sean Bean, Rosario Dawson, Pierce Brosnan, and Stanley Tucci. The interpretation of Camp Half-Blood in the initial release didn’t fully take the visuals of the novels though, instead attempting its own interpretation of the location. Fans were disappointed, but the sequel made significant moves to try and craft a more familiar variation of the Camp.
What’s more, the movies didn’t shy away from some of the major plot points of the books. Percy’s battle with Medusa, the hunt for the Golden Fleece and even the prophecy that drives the narrative were all included, alongside plenty of other whimsical sequences. However, the plot points were rushed, with Sea of Monsters actually boasting moments from the third novel, attempting to wrap up the franchise in just two movies. By the time the credits had rolled, the Titan threat had already been defeated with audiences left unsatisfied with what could have been a far larger saga.
Lessons To Learn
There are plenty of lessons to be learned from how the movie adaptations turned out. Casting is important and while the actors in question were perfect in their roles, they were simply too old at the beginning of the process. The series works as a coming-of-age drama, with the action unfolding as the character and indeed performer ages, much in the same way as Harry Potter.
Fans have formed a genuine connection with Camp Half-Blood too and to see it essentially butchered in its first outing wasn’t exactly thrilling. What’s more, wrapping up the plot of a five-book series, so that it ends after just two movies wasn’t the best idea. A clear plan should be in place for how the ongoing series will evolve, so that the narrative gets a good amount of time to breathe and supporting characters have their chance to shine.
News Of The TV Show
Tackling this franchise once again was always going to be an ambitious project, but Disney seems willing to take on the challenge. News that the TV show that would be heading to the streaming service was the first indication that the entertainment company knew what they were doing. The fact is, the novels work far better in this serialized format, giving the fantasy piece enough room to adapt all the smallest details of the novels. The characters who make up the camp, what life is like in this odd academy and all the minor battles that Percy and his friends experience; the kinds of moments that had to be rushed in a movie.
The team involved with the project also demonstrated that Disney was taking the adaptation seriously. One of the shocking elements that the Fox movies missed, was that they didn’t have Riordan on board in any capacity. For the upcoming TV show, the original author is very much a part of the writing and producing process. Writer Jon Steinberg and his producing partner Dan Shotz are also a part of the creative team for the 8-episode run. With what appears to be a five series plan (one for each novel) fans can rest assured that it’s all in very safe hands.
A show is only as good as its cast though and the announcements for Percy Jackson (now given the official title of Percy Jackson and the Olympians) were only further indications that it was absolutely heading in the right direction. For starters, the actors involved actually match the age of the characters in the books. That’s massive as this is an obvious sign that Disney is committed for the long-haul.
Walker Scobell already demonstrated he had all the charm and action chops necessary to carry the show as Percy in The Adam Project. Joining him will be Leah Jeffries of Empire and Rel fame, who’s own quiet wisdom and incredible talent lends itself perfectly to Annabeth. The hilarious Aryan Simhadri, who recently worked on Disney’s Cheaper by the Dozen return, brings his own comedy experience to the table.
Much like the original movies, the cast is rounded out by veteran actors who can guide these young heroes on their journey, with Jason Mantzoukas, Virginia Kull, Glynn Turman, and Megan Mullally just to name a few. The thought that has gone into these choices very much feel like the early signs of a major show taking shape, that should have the talent to continue to innovate for the years ahead.
The Percy Jackson Trailer
The D23 trailer for Percy Jackson has to be the biggest moment yet in the show’s development in regards to promising fans that everything is on track. Despite coming in at only 52 seconds, the teaser already set out a lot of positive signs. The trailer features the first-look at Scobell in character as Percy and the role just fits. The bright orange Camp Half-Blood t-shirts that have become so popular within the fandom were directly adapted from the page, while the cabins of the Camp immediately played on imagery from the books.
From the setup of the other Half-Bloods, kitted out in their training gear indicating that camp challenges will return, to the brief shot of lightning that teases the plot of the first novel, there were so many easter eggs to look out for. When compared to the trailer for the first film, the DNA of the books is so evident. Even the remaining students are the right age, while Percy’s voice-over speech throughout the trailer nods to the reluctance of the character to have his world flipped upside-down.
Things That We Need To See
The trailer was just a teaser though and while we know so many details about the show’s development, there’s still a lot more that fans need to see before they are completely convinced by this adaptation. It has the word of approval from Riordan and his family, which is such a huge plus. But what does the CGI look like for the piece? After all, some of the monstrous creations of the movies didn’t reflect the budget of those releases.
We also would love to see the gods in action and get to know some of those casting choices. The staff at Camp-Half Blood were hidden from the shots in the trailers too, and it would be brilliant to see how they step into their roles. Plus, there hasn’t been any tease of the famous Oracle of Delphi and prophecy quite yet, but its inclusion in the first season would speak to the ambition Disney have for the wider Percy Jackson series.
Ultimately, while there’s a lot still up in the air, from the way the villains will be adapted to whether Disney has wider plans for a larger cinematic universe, ultimately at this stage of the show’s development everything is pointing to this being a worthy adaptation of the source material. There’s a lot to learn from the films that by all accounts failed to capture the spirit and potential of the novels, but with the accompaniment of Rick Riordan, the casting choices, production design, costuming and serialized format; the D23 teaser is just the final bullet point in a long list of reasons to have faith in the godly production.