November 11, 2012


For the most part, a fair amount of our favorite childhood movies and TV shows are probably better left in our fond memories. But nostalgia alone will not prevent Hollywood from rebooting them for modern audiences; in fact, studios count on nostalgia to draw in old fans along with a new crop who will buy up all of their merchandise. Occasionally, a property pops up that deserves new life for more reasons than monetary gain. Our world is becoming increasingly interactive on a global level. At the very least, a rudimentary knowledge of world geography is to be expected. Who in the world could possibly help kids  learn these facts and have fun while doing it? Hit the jump to find out. Hollywood! Adapt this: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Where-in-the-World-is-Carmen-SandiegoIt’s hard to believe, but the Carmen Sandiego franchise has been around almost 30 years. The original 1985 educational computer game from Broderbund Software’s co-founders Gary and Doug Carlston kicked off a franchise that saw a new version of the game released every other year or so up to the current year, including a relatively new Facebook game. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the property…

What It’s About:

The original game put players in the (gum)shoes of agents of the ACME Detective Agency. Their target? Carmen Sandiego, a former ACME agent and ringleader of V.I.L.E. (Villains’ International League of Evil). Sandiego often stole rare works of art that were iconic to a particular locale, then meandered on a path through various cities and countries in order to throw the detectives off of her trail. Players pieced together clues related to those locations, thereby furthering their progress and learning in the process. (The first game I remember playing as a kid was tied to a Fodor’s Travel Guide.) Henchmen, by such names as “Ruth Less,” “Joy Ryder,” and “M. T. Pockets,” were captured by detectives along the way, each of them leading the player closer and closer to capturing Sandiego. While the early games focused on geography, later editions expanded into math, science, English and more.

How Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?

The long-running success of the educational games should be reason enough to warrant a transition over to a live-action feature. The property has already been adapted into two  television game shows, an animated series and a number of books, comics and other merchandise.  Disney had plans to adapt the series back in the 90s with Sandra Bullock set to play the title anti-hero.  More recently, Walden Media was in negotiations with Jennifer Lopez to play Sandiego in a live-action feature. The picture was described as “National Treasure meets The Thomas Crown Affair.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember learning too much from either of those movies.

We’re lucky that neither of those adaptations have gone through since it sounds like we would have had just a generic action adventure. That would be missing the point of the franchise. Carmen Sandiego was envisioned as an educational tool that would trick kids into learning by having fun. There’s no reason a feature couldn’t achieve the same thing. Too often, regional or cultural facts are overlooked or blatantly misrepresented in films in order to play up the exotic factor for the audience. The truth is that this world is stranger and more beautiful than fiction; anyone who’s seen any number of National Geographic or Discovery Channel documentaries or even Ron Fricke’s documentaries Baraka and Samara can attest to this.


Mark Twain has been quoted as saying, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” However, it is often the people who can’t afford to travel outside their hometowns who are most in need of a little bit of cultural exposure. The younger that exposure starts, the quicker it eliminates ignorance. Geographical knowledge is more than just knowing the capital of your state or what countries share our borders; it’s about appreciating this wide and wonderful world of ours and knowing that, no matter what our cultural differences are, people themselves are not so dissimilar. What better way for kids to learn that enlightening fact than by chasing a fictional criminal all over the world to recover stolen works of priceless art? Oh, I know! Watching their favorite actors tracking her down on screen!

The Final Word: 

Should Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? be adapted into a feature film and/or a franchise? I think it would only be worthwhile if the educational benefits of the property are at the heart of the adaptation. If done properly, the films could be as successful as, say, Spy Kids (but hopefully better) and could actually teach kids a little bit about the world. Imagine youngsters wanting to follow in the footsteps of the ACME detectives, dressing up like Carmen Sandiego for Halloween and setting up an appreciation of geography that will hopefully open many more doors in their educational future.

As a side note, I think it’s also very important not to sexualize Carmen Sandiego (as seen above). This should go without saying, but it’s pretty apparent in shows and films these days, even those aimed at kids. Do you know what happens to kids who are presented with over-sexualized role models and a lack of geographical knowledge?

Yeah, that happens. Do yourself a favor and don’t let your children become Miss Teen South Carolina, like, such as. Be sure to check out our previous installments of Hollywood! Adapt This and tune in next week when we stop being so serious and take a look at a classic Don Coscarelli franchise. If you like controlling ferrets with your mind, having the power of a black tiger and the courage of an eagle, then you’ll be a fan of next week’s pick!


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