The Dallas Morning News

--Nancy Churnin


Your children are changing before your eyes. Their voices are deepening, their complexions are coarsening, hair seems to be taking over their bodies. And if you think puberty is bad, you should consider what happens to the teens in Animorphs, the television series that makes its video debut with The Invasion Begins this month.

Animorphs, a tale of teens metamorphosing into animals (so they can save the world from the evil, invading Yeerks), has done its own metamorphosing from K.A. Applegate's hit book series (launched less than three years ago) to the year-old Nickelodeon television show and now the video.

But what's most remarkable about this seemingly bizarre concept is how well it mirrors the turbulence of the teen years: the out-of- control changing, the intense peer bonding, a simultaneous fear of the adult world and sense of youthful invulnerability.

Deborah Forte, head of Scholastic Entertainment, finds having two boys of her own, ages 10 and 14, helps her connect with the series she produces.

"Everyone brings some personal experience to what you do, and certainly having two boys in this age group is helpful," she says from her New York office. "That change - becoming a teen - is a big change in a child's life. I think there's a somewhat analogous situation where these kids [in Animorphs] are waking up every day trying to figure out where they fit in."

But she also thinks an added appeal of the series is the likability of the characters: Jake, Rachel, Marco, Cassie and Tobias.

"They're great role models. They're so loyal to each other and good to their families and terrific kids. And we find with the actors that the personalities mirror the character of the personalities they play."

Brooke Nevin, who plays Rachel, certainly seems to enjoy her character.

"I like that Rachel is totally sure of herself, that she doesn't have any inhibitions about what people think about her, that's she' s very impulsive and will jump full ahead. She embodies the whole idea of girl power," says the 16-year-old Toronto native who leaped impulsively into her acting career less than three years ago.

It's been exciting when friends of her younger sister, Kaleigh, marvel at how she turns into a lion and ask her for her autograph. But as an actress, she tries to go beyond the thrill of the special effects of the morphing to the meaning behind it.

"The show mirrors real life in showing all the trials and tribulations you go through growing up and developing your own character. You're not one person from childhood to adulthood; your personality can change from a lion to a rat to a mosquito."

For those late to the Animorphs game, the video brings you back to the beginning with three uncut episodes (including some footage not previously seen on television). Like an X Files Jr. episode, it lays out the story of the unsuspecting teens who come across a crashed alien spaceship. The dying occupant, an "Andalite" named Elfangor, warns them of the Yeerks and their Invasion of the Body Snatchers brand of mind control. To defend themselves - and their planet - the Andalite gives them the power to morph into any animal they touch.

Mulder and Scully would have a field day with these interviews. Assuming of course the Yeerks don't get them first.

The Dallas Morning News