Sony Pictures Animation: Alf is back, in movie form

The last twenty years have been pretty rough for Alf. At the tail-end of the 1980s he was one of the biggest stars in America, alongside Arsenio Hall, Roseanne Barr and Dana Carvey’s impression of George Bush (though not Carvey himself). The character, an alien from the planet Melmac whose sarcasm was only matched by his insatiable hunger for domesticated cats, had the world on a string, even if he was just a puppet, but that all changed when his titular NBC sitcom ended its run in March of 1990.

Since then he’s found scant work. His last notable appearance was being namechecked in a 1995 episode of The Simpsons in which Bart sells his soul to Milhouse (who then trades the soul for Alf pogs). Normally the article would end here and we’d all chuckle over a shared rememberance of the days when The Simpsons was regularly hilarious, but thanks to Sony Pictures Animation there is so much more to discuss! Specifically, that the studio has signed a deal to revive Alf’s career by putting him in an upcoming feature film.

True to its name, the Hollywood Reporter reports:

Sony Pictures Animation has closed a deal to acquire rights to the classic 1980s sitcom ALF and will develop the property into a hybrid CG/live action feature.

Jordan Kerner, who produced SPA’s adaptation of 1980s Saturday morning cartoon staple The Smurfs and helped turn it into a hybrid blockbuster franchise, will produce the project with show creators Tom Patchett, a veteran of 1970s comedies, and puppeteer Paul Fusco.
Though this project is still in the very early stages the Hollywood Reporter believes that Fusco, who voiced Alf throughout the original NBC sitcom, will return to his most famous vocal role.
While we certainly hope that Fusco returns, the rest of this news is confusing us a bit. We’re not at all surprised to see a Hollywood studio attempting to cash in on a property from the 1980s — that’s pretty much what they do now — but what is “hybrid CG/live action feature” supposed to mean? We know what it would normally mean: Something akin to the recent Smurfs films in which Neil Patrick Harris stars alongside computer-generated, miniscule blue people, but how is that supposed to work with Alf? He’s a puppet, so either Sony Pictures Animation is planning to use CGI to create a new iteration of Alf, or the aforementioned puppet is the only part of this film that’s going to be in live-action, while the rest of the cast is created by computers. We don’t need to explain why that second option is baffling, but if SPA opts for the first route, doesn’t that detract from Alf’s inherent appeal? We loved him because he was a cynical jerk who just so happened to be as cuddly looking as one of Jim Henson’s famous creations. A CGI version of Alf would be shiny and easier to animate, but it loses a certain hypothetical tactile appeal intrinsic to the character’s success back in the 80s.
Plus, Alf spent a major part of his time in the original series attempting to stuff cats down his gullet. How is that supposed to work if he’s been generated by computers? Cats are hard enough to act with for flesh-and-blood humans, so we have to assume that a finicky feline must be a total nightmare for people tasked with animating a believable, fuzzy alien around their flailing, kitty rage.
Then again, it’s also possible that SPA plans to completely rework Alf canon to make the character more palatable to modern audiences. Maybe he’ll be given a hip new attitude and contemporary interests like “surfing” and “being radical to the extreme.” Kids are still into neon skateboards, right?

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