The hidden reasons we’re rebooting the 80’s

Since 2016, Netflix has released several reboots of popular 80’s cartoons, including Voltron: Legendary Defender, She-ra and the Princesses of Power, and Carmen Sandiego. In fact, there has been a steady stream lately of 80’s reboots and shows inspired by the 80’s being created.

Why are 80’s reboots being made? Now that the original target audience of these shows have reached positions where they are the ones making shows, they want to share their favorite properties with the new generations. 

Reboots provide a great gray area for writers, where the stories and characters are all there, but exist more as inspiration. The writer is able to explore how the character developments change when they change the plot or vice versa. 

80’s and 90’s nostalgia is also very popular right now, in fashion, media, etc., as shown by the success of media such as It and Stranger Things. There seems to be a phenomenon, dubbed the 30-year cycle, where trends become popular again roughly every 30 years. While the media is adapted to the modern day, they often retain 80’s signatures, such as the fascination with space and aliens.

Reboots are also more appealing to the producers. Like adaptations and sequels, the story already has an audience, and the reboots have dedicated fanbases even before they start airing. The story also proved itself already, so it seems like less of a gamble.

The way the shows have changed from their original series is very telling of the ways that society has changed. For example, the character designs of the original 80’s shows were much more mature, while the characters in the reboots have much younger looking designs and are more visually diverse. This difference could be attributed to a difference in values. The 80’s version created characters children were supposed to look up to and aspire to be and the reboots focused on reflecting its audience in both age and diversity. 

In fact, these types of shows are often perfect for casual representation. When media is supposed to take place in the real world, it is often unrealistic to depict diversity without exploring how our society reacts to these differences. Regardless of realism, it can be tiring to see your identity as a constant point of conflict, which is why shows such as these have attracted many marginalized groups. 

Since they take place in a completely fictional universe, the characters can be of any race, sexuality, and gender without any obligation for the writers to point out how it makes them different. This isn’t to say that the shows always do a great job with representation or that the ability is exclusive to 80’s reboots, but it’s just something that these shows have heavily capitalized on. 

Another way that the shows differ is that the reboots are much shorter. The original She-ra: Princess of Power and Voltron have 93 and 124 episodes respectively, while the reboots have 52 and 76. This could be because the differences in how these shows were aired, as the originals were released semi-continuously on tv channels and the reboots were dropped one season at a time on streaming services and meant to be binge-watched. This change created a demand for more plot-driven stories with fewer filler episodes. 

Netflix has been trying to create shorter original shows, which could be another reason for this phenomenon. Shorter shows draw more attention and gain larger viewership, while longer shows often become more and more expensive to continue and don’t tend to see the same increase in interest that comes from an entirely new show. 

80’s reboots are also part of a larger pattern of Netflix adapting previous stories. Adapting previous stories isn’t a new idea by any metric (think Virgil’s Aeneid copying many ideas from Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey), but the number of adaptations made by streaming services is almost overwhelming. 

In 2019 and 2020, Netflix bought the rights to books such as Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, The Selection by Kiera Cass, and The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan. Even some of its most popular shows and movies such as The Queen’s Gambit and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before are based on books. While this is great news for book lovers, it is also slightly disconcerting and might mean that our demand for media is quickly exceeding our ability to create new media. 

These 80’s cartoon reboots are indicative of the changes we as a society have gone through and they mesh the nostalgia of the era it was originally made in with our modern perspectives on life and media, but more importantly, they’re just really entertaining to watch.