American Dragon: Jake Long was initially intended to be a live-action series, inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer

American Dragon: Jake Long

If you were a teenager in the early 2000s, chances are you spent your afternoons immersed in a specific lineup of cartoons that have yet to receive their well-deserved nostalgia spotlight alongside the “remember the ’90s” wave. Nestled between the “Kim Possible” era and the “Phineas and Ferb” generation, shows like “Dave the Barbarian” and “American Dragon: Jake Long” briefly reigned supreme on the Disney Channel, captivating audiences with their high-concept adventures and lovable characters.

Among these shows, “American Dragon: Jake Long” held a special place in the hearts of many, despite its relatively short two-season run. With the talented voice and screen actor Dante Basco (known for his roles in “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Hook”) leading the cast, a theme song covered by The Jonas Brothers, and a Chinese-American protagonist navigating the challenges of everyday life while wielding extraordinary superpowers, “American Dragon: Jake Long” was simply unforgettable. Now, over 15 years since the series came to an end, fans and enthusiasts can rejoice as series creator Jeff Goode discusses the potential revival of this beloved story. Along the way, Goode reveals an intriguing revelation: “American Dragon: Jake Long” was originally envisioned as a live-action series, drawing inspiration from one of the decade’s cult hit shows.

In an interview with /Film, Goode sheds light on the show’s early development, stating, “The original version, because I was creating it for Fox, was live-action and was older. Jake would’ve been 18.” This starkly contrasts with the animated series where Jake, an avid skateboarder, is depicted as a 13-year-old grappling with a secret magical ability—he can transform into a big, red dragon. In the animated version, Jake resides with his parents and his wise grandpa Lao Shi (voiced by Keone Young). However, Goode’s initial live-action vision for the series took a darker turn, with a grittier origin story for the hero that resonates with the likes of Batman. “In the pilot, his parents are murdered by dragon hunters,” Goode reveals, “and so the story was him adventuring across the country trying to find another dragon, and trying to meet magical creatures that lived in different parts of the U.S.”

American Dragon: Jake Long

The discarded plot involving Jake’s parents would have undoubtedly altered the core dynamics of the show, particularly since his love interest in the animated series is secretly a member of the dragon-slaying Huntsclan. This star-crossed romantic subplot brings to mind the conflicted relationships found in popular teen fantasy series of the time, a connection that Goode himself acknowledges. “It was darker,” he remarks when describing the scrapped Fox version of the show, “It probably would’ve been, in tone, more similar to ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.'” Nonetheless, traces of this “Buffy”-esque influence can still be seen in the aired version of the show, as Jake pines for the dragon-slayer Rose (voiced by Mae Whitman), conceals his true dragon identity, and relies on the unwavering support of his loyal friends.

Another fascinating aspect that Goode discloses is the original focus on exploring a world teeming with magical creatures and cryptids. He explains, “Going up to Idaho to find the Sasquatch that lives up in the woods, or going to the Brooklyn Bridge and meet the trolls that live under the Brooklyn Bridge, and so on.” The show’s initial concept revolved around a captivating travelogue across America, encountering fantastical beings along the way. Visualizing a live-action rendition of “American Dragon: Jake Long” proves to be quite a challenge. In this hypothetical scenario, Basco, a Filipino-American actor who was already in his early 30s when the show began, likely would not have portrayed the youthful Jake. However, envisioning a prime-time, live-action teenage superhero series with a Chinese-American lead holds considerable significance, especially considering the era in which it would have aired—2005.

Ultimately, “American Dragon: Jake Long” found its home on the Disney Channel as an animated series, deviating from the original live-action format and forgoing the grim, Batman-inspired origins and the extensive exploration of American mythical creatures. It ran for a respectable 52 episodes, leaving a lasting impression on fans. To this day, you can still relive the magic of “American Dragon: Jake Long” on Disney+. As discussions surrounding potential revivals continue, fans eagerly await the opportunity to revisit the enchanting world of dragons, heroes, and a teenage boy navigating the trials of adolescence while balancing his extraordinary destiny.

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