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‘Percy Jackson’ gets a new chance at life on Disney+

Entertainment writer Lily Wahl (pictured here in a Camp Half-Blood shirt) hopes the newest adaptation of the myth-based children's classic "Percy Jackson" is true to the book.
Entertainment writer Lily Wahl (pictured here in a Camp Half-Blood shirt) hopes the newest adaptation of the myth-based children's classic "Percy Jackson" is true to the book.

A pen that turns into a sword. A classics teacher with hooves. A group of teens and pre-teens clad in orange shirts, bonded over the trauma of growing up unsure if they will see their sixteenth birthday.

Pulling together universal adolescent experiences of awkwardness, new friends and the pains of growing up, and pairing them with slightly more niche experiences like having an ancient deity for a parent, Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” franchise has touched the hearts of readers young and old across the globe since 2005.

Now, the series is making a comeback for a new generation.

The five-book series has led to multiple spin-offs covering Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Norse and more mythologies. More than 180 million copies are in print worldwide of Riordan’s New York Times bestsellers. 

It’s no wonder Hollywood was interested in getting in on the booming business that is “Percy Jackson.”

In 2010, the star-studded adaptation of “The Lightning Thief” was released, starring Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario and Pierce Brosnan. Despite a $95 million budget and gross box office sales of $226 million, the film tanked among fans and critics alike. Between brutal inaccuracies from page to screen, a four-year age-up of the main characters and a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, fans were more than disappointed. The failure of the movie became an internet meme, and many believed Percy Jackson would never grace the silver screen again.

Somehow, a sequel was released in 2013, adapting the second book “The Sea of Monsters.” 

It wasn’t any better.

A year later, “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” made its off-Broadway debut, spawning two national tours and a stint on Broadway with mixed reviews. While fans of the source material enjoyed the musical adaptation, it never reached the level of fame associated with the franchise, and many devout “Percy Jackson” fans are still unaware that there was ever a musical.

For a while, it seemed the franchise would never get another shot. It was simply too difficult to adapt the bold, iconic characters in a way that preserved their youth and originality while still appealing to the industry’s desire to generate as much money as possible.

That is, until rumors began to circulate surrounding Disney+.

In 2020, Disney announced that it had purchased the rights to produce a television adaptation of Riordan’s series on its up-and-coming streaming service.

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The acquisition of film or television rights for a show does not mean that a show will ever be produced. Just like the rest of Hollywood, the market for adaptations can be fickle and depends on trends, the will of studio executives and pure luck. 

However, Disney’s adaptation has gained momentum; not only has the main cast been announced, but on Sept. 10, a teaser trailer for the show was revealed at Disney’s D-23 convention. Barely a minute long, the teaser borrows from the opening lines of the first book, “The Lightning Thief,” while flashing through dramatic shots of the iconic setting, Camp Half-Blood and the campers who live there. 

The show received a lot of early attention from the public when the main cast was announced earlier this year, with upcoming actor Walker Scobell portraying the titular character; Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase; and Aryan Simhadri as Grover Underwood. The latter two actors are people of color, with Jeffries being Black and Simhardi being Southeast Asian. 

Riordan and Disney+ were criticized for changing the race of their characters, who were described as white in the books. However, Riordan has expressed that he will always stand behind his cast who were chosen because of their ability to portray their characters.

Riordan wrote the “Percy Jackson” series for his son, who has dyslexia and ADHD, as a way to show him that kids just like him are capable of saving the world. The main characters in “Percy Jackson” have ADHD and dyslexia, which are seen as a natural part of their being demigods, hardwired for battle and ancient Greek.

As Riordan says on his website, “It’s not a bad thing to be different. Sometimes, it’s the mark of being very, very talented. That’s what Percy discovers about himself in ‘The Lightning Thief.’” 

For now, Disney plans to release the series in 2024. Here’s to hoping the TV adaptation stays true not only to the books, but to the essential tenet of “Percy Jackson” — that our differences make us who we are. 

wahllm@miamioh.edu

@lilymariereads

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