Percy Jackson and the Olympians crucially corrects missteps from films
The Disney Plus series will undoubtedly be a relief for fans.
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Fans of Rick Riordan's best-selling Percy Jackson series (and spin-offs), the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles, have long been waiting for a faithful adaptation of the beloved franchise following the disappointment of the much maligned films – and now their hopes have come true with Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
First released back in 2005, The Lightning Thief quickly became a phenomenal success, selling over 1.8 million copies during the first five years. With a winning mix of heart, humour and action – set amongst the fun backdrop of Greek mythology interwoven throughout modern America – the coming-of-age novel has since become a popular mainstay in children's and young adult literature.
With subsequent sequels and spin-offs launching a brand new universe and fandom, the franchise soon cemented itself amongst popular magical fantasy franchises such as Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl and His Dark Materials.
Looking to jump on the novel's popularity, 20th Century Fox quickly released a film adaptation, The Lightning Thief, in 2010 and a following sequel, The Sea of Monsters, in 2013. Despite being box office hits, the movies disappointed fans with their lack of book accuracy, key changes in Percy's portrayal and the creative choices around plot and pacing.
However, the upcoming eight-episode Disney Plus series will undoubtedly be a welcome relief for the fandom, as so far it wonderfully captures the spirit, magical essence and wit of the book – proving a much more faithful adaptation.
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And with an exciting universe filled with gods, heroes, monsters & mythology, it could certainly become the next big fantasy YA epic – and the glowing critic reviews and an impressive Rotten Tomatoes score at 97% are certainly indications of a strong debut series.
Keen to create a successful and satisfying retelling of the titular young demigod's tale – and crucially correct the missteps of the films – Disney made it a priority to work incredibly closely with Riordan. Along with co-creating the series with co-showrunner Jonathan E. Steinberg and executive producer Dan Shotz, the author has wisely been involved with all the creative changes to the adaptation to fit its new medium.
And it certainly shows, with plenty of wonderful little touches woven throughout, including episode titles named directly from book chapters, the series opening with Percy's iconic "Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood" speech and the inclusion of Annabeth's Yankees cap.
Firstly, casting age-appropriate actors for the core trio instantly lends itself to a more accurate portrayal, particularly amongst Percy's crucial coming-of-age narrative. Young adult adaptations in Hollywood typically cast actors who are clearly much older than their high school counterparts, or in terms of The Lightning Thief's lead Logan Lerman, age up their central protagonists to the disservice of the core themes and primary audience.
Casting Netflix film The Adam Project's breakout actor, 14-year old Walker Scobell, in the titular role certainly makes for a much more believable performance. Unlike Lerman's portrayal, there's also a more developed focus on Percy's difficulties and insecurities at school and (what he believes) makes him different, particularly his ADHD and dyslexia. The shift to a more intimate, first-person viewpoint (with added voiceover) also better allows viewers to see the world and experience events through Percy's eyes.
Scobell wonderfully captures the sharp wit, frustrations and heartfelt bravery of the young demigod, sharing a more genuine dynamic with best friend Grover (Aryan Simhadri) and Camp Half-Blood acquaintance Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries). Fans can also look forward to a much more true to form portrayal of Percy and Annabeth's relationship, which kickstarts with the amusing "you drool when you sleep" line, instantly setting the playful tone.
Furthermore, the episodic nature of the medium better lends itself to the adaptation due to the greater time devoted to character development and world-building. Through this extended runtime, the showrunners finally bring to life the many wonderful (and fan-favourite) moments from the book which the films unfortunately neglected.
Along with the amusing exploding toilet mishap and a far more accurate introduction to Riptide in the early showdown with Mrs Dodds, the second episode dedicates significant time to the key capture the flag sequence at Camp Half-Blood.
This impressively choreographed showdown leads to the significant reveal of Percy's true heritage as his father, Poseidon, finally claims him in front of the whole camp. This fully realised reveal is hugely satisfying in comparison to the underwhelming realisation when film Percy merely picks up a trident in front of the nodding centaur Chiron.
The gravitas of the situation and ensuing concern over Percy's safety, due to the implications of one of the big three Gods (Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades) having a forbidden child, is also finally given its due. This lends itself all the more to the significance of Percy, Grover and Annabeth's integral quest to find Zeus's master lightning bolt.
Another integral element which is also finally incorporated is the more mythological aspects concerning dreams, destinies and prophecies. The latter is a significant focus throughout the books, with prophecies tying together the fates of many characters and teasing major events. The showrunners quickly introduce Percy's ominous nightmares too, laying the groundwork for – and teasing the frightening voice of – a major antagonist introduced later in the books.
While there are some slight changes and omissions to the source material i.e. the addition of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hermes in the Lotus Casino sequence, and a lightning pace to boot, the series certainly respects and does justice to the beloved novels so far.
Riding on a wave of nostalgia and fun fantastical elements, Percy Jackson and the Olympians has the potential to be a truly successful YA series for Disney Plus, with plenty of source material to pull from for a long-term series. Thankfully the showrunners have seemingly course corrected the franchise following the films' missteps, and it's set to please old fans and welcome new ones to Rick Riordan's magical and mythical world.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians premieres on Disney Plus on Wednesday 20th December 2023. Sign up to Disney Plus for £4.99 a month or £79.90 for a year.