The recent buzz is that Will Ferrell is looking to bring Manimal to the big screen. The show represented classic WTF network programming in the ’80s. It seems ripe for turning into an absurd comedy. Dr. Jonathan Chase (Simon MacCorkindale) is a special assistant to the police for difficult cases. He suave college professor with plenty of expertise. The one thing that makes him special in helping the cops is his ability to transform into animal. That’s what makes him the Manimal. That premise is what makes viewers know they aren’t watching another CSI spin-off. Manimal: The Complete Series contains the precious episodes of man-beast action.
“The Pilot” is a 75 minute movie that sinks its fangs in viewers. Detective Brooke Mackenzie (Flash Gordon‘s Melody Anderson) is tracking down gun runners. Her path crosses with a black panther on the streets of New York City. What is such a creature doing prowling the night? She’s not sure since when she thinks she’s trapped the panther, out emerges Dr. Chase. Who is this guy? She finds out later that he’s supposed to help her case. Little does she know that he is her case. Turns out that through spending time with his father in Tibet and Africa, Chase has learned the secret of transforming himself into a variety of animals. This is a good thing since at the base of the gun running plots is the former Bond vixen Ursula Andress (Dr. No). Helping Chase is his buddy Ty C. Earl (The Wire‘s Glynn Turman). He’s a smooth character who knows the streets. The odd man out of the absurdity is Lt. Nick Rivera. He is clueless that Chase is the Manimal. Actor Reni Santoni (Dirty Harry) plays his character as if he’s in a real cop show. He looks across the police room as if Det. Callahan is going to bust through the door. This intensity makes things more believable. The movie has a serious comic element when Chase turns into a panther. He rips out the back of his coat mid-transformation. Yet when he returns to human form miles away, he’s back in his coat that’s fresh from the dry cleaners. How believable is that? How believable is a man turning into a panther? Not like NBC could deal with a naked Englishman on the screen in 1983.
“Illusion” has Chase investigating a smuggling ring connected to a magic show that involves animals. He’s all about cutting Det. Mackenzie in half. The big change between the pilot and the movie is the arrival of Michael D. Roberts (Ice Pirates) as the new Ty. He plays the character like the original incarnation of J. B. Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm. He makes the character more of a semi-comic foil for Chase. “Night of the Scorpion” mixes deadly poison with a suitcase full of millions of dollars. Chase must find a missing fortune for a woman who is being chased by foreign agents. Doug McClure (The Virginian) gets tangled in the action. “Female of the Species” is the classic story of a girl that appeared to be raised by wild animals in India. Chase gets to know the feral lady to uncover what happened to her parents. Actress Laura Cushing wears an enormous wig so that you can’t tell if she’s wearing any clothes while running with animals. This would be Cushing’s only role. “Breath of the Dragon”has Chase battling the Chinese mob. One of the interesting moments is when Walter Nebicher (Desi Arnaz Jr) from Automan appears in the background. The final episode “Night of the Beast” has a Boss Hogg character taking over a small town to convert it into his casino dream.
How could Manimal only last eight episodes? The true charm of the show was the suave nature of Simon MacCorkindale. He’s got an amazing vibe. You can believe him if Simon were at a dinner party and he said, “I can turn into a panther after I huff and puff for a few minutes.” Stan Winston’s transformation effects are effective at making the change seem feasible. The show has so much ’80s panache that it can’t be scoffed away. This blissful entertainment that would go so fine to relax your mind better than a Clamato and Bud. After watching all these episodes, the concept of Will Ferrell making a movie holds no intrigue. What can he really bring to a masterpiece of weirdness? This is a man who underwhelmed with Bewitched and Land of the Lost. Odds are his version of Dr. Chase will transform into a box office turd. Accept no weak comic substitute and embrace the furry joy of Manimal: The Complete Series.
The video is 1:33:1 full frame. The series looks fine with the transfers revealing Stan Winston’s transformation details. . The . The black & white look as good as the color episodes. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. You can hear the Simon huff and puff like something really bad is happening.
Man to Animal: An Interview with Glen A. Larson (17:57) about how he got this show on the air. Why didn’t it last longer? He points out that the pilot movie ran against the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode of Dallas.
Concept & Production Notes is from the original press release kit.
Biographies are the bios from the press kit. Sadly it doesn’t mention that he passed away in 2010.
Galleries include action shots, behind the scenes and publicity shots.
Automan Trailer (0:41) is a must buy if you loved Manimal.
Manimal: The Complete Series is Man-ificent.
Shout! Factory and Fabulous present Manimal: The Complete Series. Starring: Simon MacCorkindale, Melody Anderson and Michael D. Roberts. Boxset Contents: 8 Episodes on 3 DVDs. Released: November 10, 2015
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.