An illustration of Percy Jackson
After a disappointing film adaptation in 2010, fans have high hopes for the latest attempt to adapt the series to the screen. (Illustration by Lucas DeJesus, Montserrat College of Art)

The ‘Percy Jackson’ Reboot Could Change the Game for Book Adaptations

Last year, Disney+ announced they would be giving this literary phenomenon a second chance at an adaptation. This new TV series already has the potential to win the hearts of fans and first-time audiences alike.

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An illustration of Percy Jackson

Last year, Disney+ announced they would be giving this literary phenomenon a second chance at an adaptation. This new TV series already has the potential to win the hearts of fans and first-time audiences alike.

When Rick Riordan created the world of Percy Jackson as a bedtime story for his son, he had no clue his ideas would later become a worldwide sensation responsible for a massive uptick in childhood readers. Since then, this fantasy adventure story of a boy who discovers he’s the son of a Greek god has become a massive symbol of children’s literature, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.

The “Percy Jackson” Legacy

Riordan’s first book in the series, “The Lightning Thief,” was released in 2005. In the following years, Riordan released a new book in the series annually, and eventually expanded the “Riordanverse” to include other series related to Percy’s world. Riordan’s books for middle-grade readers span across five series and 22 novels. Presently, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is the longest-running children’s series on The New York Times Bestseller’s list of all time, beating out the likes of “Harry Potter” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

Not everything related to the series has been a success, though. The 2010 film adaptation of “Percy Jackson” was not well-received. The New York Times called the film “flat and mechanical,” and claimed that the main character was “blandly appalling.” Book fans also found that the two films lacked the magical charm of the original series, in part due to the increased age of the cast and the botching of major events from the novels. Thankfully, in 2017 the franchise saw some light when the first book was adapted into an off-Broadway musical. “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” was a hit with new and original fans, and was applauded for its inclusion of character and plot developments from the books.

Ten years after the first adaptation, fans were recently overjoyed to learn that Riordan is working closely with Disney+ to produce a TV adaptation for the streaming service, and they have every intention of keeping the show as faithful to the books as possible.

What We Know So Far

In April of 2020, Riordan and his wife announced that the show was in its earliest development stages and mentioned their involvement as producers. Riordan is also writing the scripts, much to the delight of fans everywhere. Adaptations rarely incorporate the author’s input to such an extent, so Riordan’s involvement is promising.

“Everyone who has read the pilot script loves it,” Riordan said in an article on his blog. “All the input has been super positive and helpful. Everyone is committed to making this the best show we possibly can. I remain excited and guardedly optimistic that we are on the verge of getting a really first-rate project off the ground.”

Riordan has also assured fans that the budget will be comparable to Disney’s recent streaming shows. “Good TV ain’t cheap. Quality-wise, this has to stand toe-to-toe with Disney+ hits like WandaVision and Mandalorian.” For reference, Season 1 of “The Mandalorian” had an estimated budget of $100 million, while the budget of “WandaVision” likely stood around $200 million. If Riordan’s statement is true, the “Percy Jackson” show will have more than enough resources to provide a solid Season 1.

Additionally, Riordan has also stated the show will include both familiar and new story elements. “We know what each episode will cover, and how the season will narrate the action of The Lightning Thief in a faithful way, but also with some new and exciting depth, so if you know the story, you will love it and find it rewarding and refreshing. If you have never heard of Percy Jackson, you will also love it.” 

With such hopeful statements about the pre-production stages, how could fans not be thrilled? By the looks of it, this future “Percy Jackson” show has the potential to be one of the biggest screen adaptations to date.

Maintaining the Spirit   

One of the most memorable aspects of the “Percy Jackson” books was the blend of cleverness and adventure that readers of all ages can enjoy. Hopefully, the show will capture the spirit of the books at every opportunity.

When comparing the Chris Columbus 2010 film to the book series, many fans criticize the films for stripping the story of its wit and story depth. The films changed the order of revealed events, taking away the surprise from some of the most important scenes. For example, revealing that Poseidon has a son then immediately showing Percy in a pool implies that Percy is the son of Poseidon, and his ancestry is no longer a mystery to the audience. It’s only a mystery to the characters, which is only half of the fun.

The 2017 musical adaptation of “The Lightning Thief” excelled where the film did not, receiving praise from critics and even higher praise from lifelong fans of the series. Praise for the musical derived from its ability to capture the adventurous and sharp qualities of the books, as well as the spirit of the main characters’ personalities. “It’s really capitalizing on having the audience use their imagination to fill in the blanks in the storytelling, which is one of the things that I thought was so beautiful about reading the novel,” said Stephen Brackett, the musical’s director.

Since recognizing the musical’s ability to comprehend and engage with Riordan’s books, fans have grown hopeful for the show on Disney+, and Riordan’s involvement in the show is an even bigger encouragement. After all, who knows Percy’s world better than the author? Other adaptations with the author closely involved in production, such as Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” have been praised for creativity and cohesiveness. With his deep love for the series, Riordan is sure to bring these and more elements to the table.

Keeping the Development

Based on the recent preliminary casting call for the show’s main character, the showrunners are hoping to cast someone who can pull off a character aged 12, which is how old Percy and his friend Annabeth are at the start of the series.

Additionally, the casting call is open to kids of all identities, with the only requirement being that the actor “can embody the character we all know and love from the books.” These factors are a wonderful sign for the rest of the show’s development, since the 2010 film restricted Percy’s character to the typical image of a white, older teen. Though there was nothing wrong with the casting of Logan Lerman in the film, the use of older actors confined the prospective audience while simultaneously limiting the youthful personalities of the original characters.

Fans also believe the films stripped the story of its charming and humorous character development. Throughout the books, Percy is a complex character with levels of curiosity, impulsiveness and self-doubt many can relate to. Percy and his friends are constantly learning together as they face obstacles, often confiding in each other and attempting to lighten the mood whenever things get too intense. However, the film reduces these interactions to a jumble of events that often fall flat due to a lack of story comprehension and character depth. These changes made it difficult for many audience members to connect with the characters or become emotionally involved in their burdens.

When asked about what makes the story so captivating, Chris McCarrell, who played Percy in the musical adaptation, said it had a lot to do with the series’s whimsical coming-of-age appeal. “The magic of those books is the tone that does not waver the whole time,” he said. “This is a mess of a 12-year-old trying to figure out what is happening [in his life], and that’s what I love about it.”

While most people are constantly changing and growing throughout their lifetimes, there’s something special about the transition between adolescence and young adulthood. The episodic nature of the show will allow for the characters to fully develop over time, and by letting the characters grow up over the course of a few seasons, the nuance of each character will likely be maintained and possibly expanded.

The Show’s Promising Potential

“Buckle up, demigods,” Riordan said in his official announcement of the show. “It’s going to be a fantastic, exciting ride!”

With Riordan heavily involved, the potential for this series is high, and the possibilities are vast. Are you a fan of the series, excited for this show’s probable greatness? Based on everything we know to date, you have every reason to be.

Writer Profile

Alexandra Cortez

Trinity University
English and Communication

As an English and communication major, Alexandra is passionate about all things reading, writing and social media. In her free time, she enjoys writing fiction stories and watching her favorite Disney films.

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