The Transplanted Champion is a common character in Western culture. A protagonist suddenly finds himself or herself in an unfamiliar time or place. They start as shunned outsiders but eventually win acceptance through superior ability or intellect. The Transplanted Champion then fights for his or her adoptive people, eventually winning the day. American science-fiction literature is freckled with heroes ripped from their time or locale, from Washington Irving's Rip van Winkle to Superman. In turn, these written (and drawn) works find their way into the Great Creative Gyre and are folded into filmmaking through adaptation and interpretation.
Of particular note is Mark Twain's 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Apart from Jonathan Swift's Lemuel Gulliver, the Yankee named Hank Morgan acts as the ancestral American basis for many Transplanted Champions on film. Hank the Yank in Medieval England (as opposed to John the Virginian captain on Mars) echoes in science-fiction stories through adaptation or inspiration.
The pattern of A Connecticut Yankee's plot embeds itself in a wide variety of films. They almost all include a subtext generated by Twain. Connecticut Yankee satirizes the desire by some to Romanticize exotic or historical cultures to the point of spawning illusory preconceived notions and prejudices. The illusion becomes reality. Twain states in a 1905 speech that the truth of illusion is treasured higher than all the facts in reality. In other words, works following in the footsteps of Connecticut Yankee are cautionary tales about projecting fantasies onto other people or into the past. Mark Twain manages to tag films across time with a hidden aside about coercive nostalgia.
Several more-or-less direct film adaptations of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court exist while correlated interpretations of the novel are much more prevalent. Direct adaptations such as a 1931 Will Rogers-starring film and a 1949 Bing Crosby-starring version follow Hank Morgan's (or Hank Martin's as to not be confused with actor Frank Morgan) adventures around Camelot in an abridged (and family friendly) fashion. Key events, climactic battles, and the deadly ending from the book are cut because of time, violence, or disturbing imagery.
Nevertheless, the basic plot of these book-based films follows Hank Morgan/Martin as he receives serious head trauma and wakes in Medieval England. He is captured as a criminal but uses his knowledge and technology from the future to outwit the superstitious people of the age. Depending on which version, he almost remembers the date of a solar eclipse and convinces everyone that he has the power to extinguish the sun. Hank is taken to the court of King Arthur at Camelot and becomes a trusted advisor. In a nod to post-American Civil War Northerners taking advantage of a weakened South, also known as being a Carpetbagger, Hank elevates his position by defeating rivals and thwarting Merlin's magic with science. Also in a nod to the post-Civil War American South, Hank tries to build infrastructure such as power lines, factories, and schools. He also falls in love with a court lady. The films avoid much of the darker aspects of the novel (also known as most of the novel) in order to have a slightly happier ending.
Once removed from direct adaptation are an assortment of films borrowing plot elements and allusions. These films typically cut out the last third of the novel's story (which involves society collapsing and slaughtering an army of Nobility with land mines, barbed wire, and Gatling guns). Simply, the hero travels back in time, defeats evil, and finds their way back home. The 1921 silent film version of A Connecticut Yankee adds an extra layer by having the protagonist falling asleep while reading the novel and dreaming about being the protagonist (an idea somewhat used in the 1931 version).
Disney's A Kid in King Arthur's Court has the basic premise to start but substitutes a Little League player for Hank Morgan. The television special A Connecticut Rabbit in King Arthur's Court is filled with jokes and gags but follows the outline of the original story's beginning to the Yankee's rise to kingship. Also Bugs Bunny is Hank Morgan, Daffy Duck is King Arthur, Elmer Fudd is Lancelot, and Yosemite Sam is Merlin. Whoopi Goldberg appears as a time traveling scientist in King Arthur's court in the Disney television film A Knight in Camelot. She successfully predicts an eclipse, like Hank, and uses a laptop to design a technologically advanced society. Martin Lawrence also appears in Camelot in Black Knight as a Mini-Golf employee that grabs an enchanted talisman and travels through time. Hilarity ensues. Rumors hold that Universal Studios briefly flirted with the idea of having a dog version of the story, possible with Beethoven the St. Bernard visiting Camelot (A Mutt in King Arthur's Court, or a similar title). Hilarity does not ensue due to it not existing.
Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell's cult hit Army of Darkness builds on A Connecticut Yankee and manages to keep intact the slaughtering of a crusading army with advanced technology from the novel. In the film, S-Mart employee Ashley "Ash" Williams is pulled through a temporal rift with his Oldsmobile and chainsaw arm to Medieval times. He is captured by Lord Arthur's troops for being a scout for a rival lord. Ash is sentenced to death by single-combat with a Deadite. He survives and uses his "boomstick," a 12-gauge double barreled Remington shotgun to convince the locals of his greatness.
A few missteps involving a Wiseman and the Necronomicon causes an army of the undead to rise and threaten to destroy the realm. Ash uses a series of science textbooks from his car to build somewhat advanced weaponry to defend the central castle. In the original novel, Hank Morgan's weaponry is so effective that the piles of corpses from thousands of dead knights become a problem (a somewhat similar problem occurs at Whiskey Outpost in Starship Troopers ). Luckily, Ash does not run into this problem. After vanquishing evil, Ash enters a deep sleep and awakens back in his own time (or in a post-apocalyptic future in the Director's Cut).
A critical but frequently harried mention in these films is that the protagonist finds that Camelot is different than they imagined. The characters grow up hearing the Arthurian legends of noble knights and an enlightened society. The reality is far harsher, and the Transplanted Champions are forced to exploit this dissonance. These mentions in these films, however brief, hint at the original satire of Mark Twain. In the novel, Twain mocks the Southern society of his childhood for asserting an elusive illusory allusion to a Medieval feudal structure like Camelot. The caricature of a Southern gentleman is of a dominant chivalrous knight. Twain dislikes this proposal as it justifies prejudice and inequality. In A Connecticut Yankee, Twain paints the chivalrous knight as backwards and ignorant. In less geographically discriminating terms, Mark Twain stealthily slips a casual warning into all works patterned on his original: a warning against generating nostalgia for fictitious events and places.
This point is made clearer when the film takes more distant inspiration from the Yankee's trip, such as in The Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum's 1900 book The Wizard of Oz and its popular 1939 film adaptation focus on Dorothy Gale, a farm girl from Kansas. Dorothy wishes to find a better, more vibrant place to live. She even sings a song about this place that she heard "once in a lullaby:" a location over the rainbow with melted trouble lemon drops, clouds to the rear, and "happy little bluebirds flying." To Dorothy, this mystical land is real, and she is nostalgic about this imaginary place.
Dorothy's journey follows a scrambled version of the Connecticut Yankee's first chapters. Dorothy is knocked unconscious and wakes in a strange time. The people of the land, the Munchkins, are suspicious of her at first, but Dorothy proves her extraordinary abilities by coincidentally crushing an oppressive magical dictator. Dorothy is raised as a champion and fights for the people of this strange region named Oz. She is captured, released, defeats evil magicians and charlatans, and finds her way back home by willing herself to return. The power of believing in an illusion is the solution.
Throughout her adventure, Dorothy is shocked by how different the world of Oz is from her daydreams. Instead of a carefree existence with a lack of responsibility, she has to fight for the survival of a kingdom. Instead of "happy little bluebirds," there are murderous flying monkeys. The realm is dominated by a quartet of witches that are allergic to water. The smartest person in the region (after Dorothy and Toto) is a charlatan wizard/hot air balloon enthusiast, speaking poorly of the education of everyone else in Oz. The only reason that Dorothy escapes Oz is because she can exploit everyone's ignorance, like Hank Morgan. By the end, she is thankful to get home to Kansas (despite stating she will one day return to Oz).
A simple analysis of Dorothy's Oz excursion is that she should be careful for what she wishes, but the pattern of A Connecticut Yankee suggests that Dorothy should be careful about creating and being nostalgic about imaginary locations. The effects can be detrimental.
Another example of this harmful, fictive, and casual nostalgia is in Planet of the Apes (both the 1968 French novel and the Charlton Heston-starring film). Astronaut George Taylor finds himself in a mysterious land and holds onto a past that may not be as true as he believes.
Again, the basic plot beats of A Connecticut Yankee are spliced into the plot of this film. Astronaut Taylor and his crew travel by spaceship on a multiple-millennia sub-light speed flight. They survive the centuries in a hibernation state. Their space flight ends when their ship's system fail, causing the crew to crash on the surface of a planet of unknown prevailing animal superfamily. Taylor and his crew stumble through a desert and come across gorillas on horseback. The gorillas are capturing fleeing humans to enslave them. Taylor is captured and brought to Ape City. He proves his worth and gains the trust of several Chimpanzee scientists. Taylor becomes the champion for the enslaved humans and lower classes of ape.
Like Dorothy, Taylor leaves Earth because he is looking for a planet of his fantasies, without singing about it. He tells stories about his world to anyone who will listen: human or ape. He states that his people are a self-destructive group and that he searches for a more perfect world: a land where humans and apes are neither "damned" nor "dirty." At certain points of the film, he is nostalgic for a simpler time before the advent of modern society. He even briefly thinks that this Ape Planet is that simpler time. He holds onto this nostalgic dreaming for such a long time that its revealed fallacy is almost comical. At one point, Dr. Zaius points out that Taylor may not be satisfied with the results of his dreaming. Taylor's nostalgia about his past and hope for the future is proven wrong when he enters the Forbidden Zone and finds the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. Taylor's nostalgic wishes for a peaceful paradise are shattered because humans killed themselves through war. He is surprised to find that his only shreds of hope and belief are wrong. It is funny to the gorillas.
This pattern of connections between Transplanted Champions and being mistakenly wistful about an exotic past or culture continues in many other films, ranging from Dances with Wolves and The Postman to non-Kevin Costner films like The Terminator, Avatar, and Jungle 2 Jungle.
Subtler still in its usage of A Connecticut Yankee's basis is Bobs Zemeckis' and Gale's 1985 film Back to the Future. The film is a light-hearted romp and advisory against nostalgia that alters the facts of the past. Unlike most other Connecticut Yankee-patterned films, Back to the Future shows the immediate consequences of fiddling with memory.
Marty McFly is a rebellious teenager who escapes in a time traveling DeLorean from upset Libyans. Marty ends up in Hill Valley 1955, the time of his parents. Prior to this point, his parents keep trying to tell him stories of their teenaged years. Marty absorbs these stories but does not listen. Like Yankee's Hank Morgan and other Transplanted Champions, Marty is considered an oddity in the past due to his peculiar style of dress and speech. However, he gains the admiration of the most important kingdom in town: the Kingdom of High School. He becomes the champion of the students against Biff Tannen and the local bullies. Marty uses his knowledge of the future and technology to impress and intimidate the locals. He frightens a young version of his superstitious father with a cassette tape labeled "Van Halen" and invents the genre of Rock and Roll. The court wizard is replaced by Doc Brown, who helps Marty return home. Also like Yankee's Hank, Marty uses knowledge of an upcoming event to his advantage: a lightning strike instead of solar eclipse.
The scenes that take place in 1955 are an explicitly idealized nostalgia (particularly for Zemeckis, Gale, and executive producer Steven Spielberg). For the teenagers and children of Hill Valley, life is carefree and purposeful. It is a fantasy version of the actual 1950s that is incredibly fragile. There are the 1950s and then there are the "1950s." Marty accidentally tampers with the nostalgic illusion and feels the effects as the unreal reality begins to unwind. Zemeckis, Gale, and Spielberg intuitively warn against retroactively altering the past, pretending it is something it was not, as well as leaning on an illusion.
While some amount of thought on the part of Zemeckis and Gale went into the story of Back to the Future, the allusions of 1993 film Super Mario Bros. take a more indirect and unintentional route.
In this infamous adaptation of the popular Nintendo video game franchise, the eponymous protagonists of the film are Transplanted Champions placed into a desperate world. Brothers Mario Mario and a suspiciously mustache-less Luigi Mario are Brooklyn plumbers that discover a dimensional rift created by a 65 million year old meteor impact. The brothers are plucked from their world and thrown into a parallel universe where dinosaurs evolved into humanoid bipeds with spiky hair styles. Mario and Luigi attempt to rescue a woman named Daisy from evil dictator President/King Koopa. Like the Connecticut Yankee, the brothers travel through a land of fantasy with kings, goons, and magic. They champion the cause of the oppressed people of this alternate reality while trying to save themselves.
The major criticism of the film by fans of the video game franchise is that the film has almost nothing in common with the games. The Mario games are cheerful, vivid, and filled with recognizable symbols. The film is gritty, dark, and haphazard. The makers of the film exploit the nostalgia of the film's audience by attempting to alter childhood memories. An audience member remembers Super Mario Bros. being one thing while the film purports that it is something else completely. This imposition of nostalgia by the filmmakers, intentionally or not, is the same kind of satire that Mark Twain includes in his Connecticut Yankee. Filmmakers attempting to influence nostalgia is roughly equated to a Southern gentleman claiming the title of Colonel to appear as a chivalrous noble (and to sell fried chicken).
There is a clue that this modification of nostalgia is an intentional effect by the filmmakers to make a point. In the plot, King Koopa attempts to merge his world with the human world. He tries to combine his version of reality with the more generally accepted one, which is what most people refer to when they accuse a film of retroactively "killing their childhood." When one group claims the past for dominant motives, it detrimentally affects others. The filmmakers may (but probably do not) show Twain's satire by making the audience experience a disagreeable fiction at odds with their own memories. Both the plot and interaction with the audience demonstrates the dangers of abusing an illusory nostalgia. It continues the struggle between filmmaker and fan over who gets to claim proprietorship over an imaginary world.
The disparate characters that fit the title Transplanted Champion have a long, branching lineage of stories having convergent plots and influences. When tracing ancestry, certain shared traits show differences and similarities marked between groups. A class of Transplanted Champion has a hidden subtext cautioning against the dangers of Romanticizing, or altering, exotic cultures or the past for benefit. As a recessive allele can mark genetic membership, this subtext relates many science-fiction and fantasy heroes from film back to Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
Mark Twain touches a specific organization of general themes in alternate history science fiction. This rippling pattern impacts all subsequent stories (by comparison if not involvement). In confluence, this pattern allows a concealed concept to slip through time and creative ideas.