Books-to-Film #1: Children’s

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Books-to-Film #1: Children’s

Anticipation is wildthingshigh among publishing folks for Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak‘s classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Jonze and have enjoyed his work dating back to his music video days. What’s getting me even more excited for the film are the early reports of it being incredibly dark and strange.

There will  be contrasting opinions about the film adaptation of WTWTA, and I simply can’t wait. Some will say, “It’s too scary for kids!” Others, “Where’s all the good stuff I remember?” Folks like me, “Holy crap that was crazy awesome!”

The film got me thinking about adaptations in general. With the recent success of the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Coraline films, we’re seeing more film studios that want to capitalize on children’s books as films because they see them as events the whole family will attend together. In one way, that’s good: Percy Jackson, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Alice in Wonderland will all be gracing on the big screen before too long. In another, it’s bad: I’d hate to see the film version of I Love You Forever or The Giving Tree.

So it’s time to play movie critic! What are the best and worst film adaptations of children’s books? Please leave your picks (one of each, please!) in the comments like so: “Best: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Worst: Harry Potter and the Secrets of the Chamber.”

On Friday, we’ll switch things over to adult titles who got the film treatment and then on Monday I’ll post the results both from the blog replies and replies on Twitter.

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Richman, Upstart Crow. Upstart Crow said: Now on the Upstart Crow blog: Books-to-Film #1: Children’s (http://tinyurl.com/ygvqqpb) [...]

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  2. Best: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). (I admit, choice steeped in nostalgia.) Worst: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009).

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  3. Best: Because of Winn Dixie.
    Though perhaps not my favorite kid’s movie (and not sure it got terrific reviews) I did feel they stayed very true to the book. It was just as I pictured it.

    WORST: The Grinch that Stole Christmas (w/ Jim Carey)
    Blech.

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  4. Best: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original)
    Best: Anne of Green Gables
    Best: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

    Worst: Twilight

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  5. I”ve always loved the tv version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, made in the sixties. I never read The Princess Bride, and don’t know if it would be classified as a children’s book, but I love the film. I also think Mary Poppins is wonderful.

    Most of the time I feel picture books do not translate well into full length films. They tend to get overblown with unnecessary filler just to make the movie long enough, and they lose most of what made them so wonderful as picture books. Examples of this are The Polar Express, the Jim Carrey Grinch, and The Cat in the Hat, probably the worst of the three.

    Diane

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  6. Awesome topic.

    Best: Any of the Harry Potter movies (though Azkaban was my fave)

    Worst: The Dark is Rising. Man, they really ruined one of my absolute favorite books of all time.

    Notable runner up worsts: Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass.

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  7. “I Capture the Castle” is a good movie. I haven’t actually finished the book, but my wife says it’s reasonably faithful.

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  8. Worst: Cat in the Hat, Jim C. version of the Grinch, Polar Express

    Best: Jumanji, Harriet the Spy, James and Giant Peach, the British cartoon of the BFG, Matilda, Grinch original, Madeline live-action

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  9. Best: The Witches by Roald Dahl (made in the 1990s with Anjelica Huston)

    Worst: The Golden Compass and Speak (I think it was a made for TV movie, but the cheese factor was huge)

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  10. Best: The Secret Garden

    Worst: (No comment . . . based on hearsay, chose not to waste $ on adaptation in question.)

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  11. Anne of Green Gables, the Megan Fallows version, is the best adaptation, imo. I also like the third HP and think it’s pretty true to the book (even though it, by necessity, leaves out many of the details).

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  12. What a great question, Chris!

    Watership Down, one of my all-time favorite books, didn’t get the great adaptation it deserves. I’d love to see a do-over.

    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH fared far, far worse, though. Where the book pondered the ethics of science, the movie resorted to magic crystals and spooky rats with evil fingers and wizard clothes. Awful.

    If you thought the Dark is Rising adaptation was bad, you will barf in your mouth at NIMH.

    I don’t think anyone’s yet mentioned Eragon, which looked in parts like a homoerotic Abercrombie and Fitch ad– and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m quite sure it’s not what the makers intended. When I reviewed it, the audience guffawed.

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    • @Martha “spooky rats with evil fingers and wizard clothes” is how I’m pitching every book from now on.

      Me: I’ve got a charming, heart-breaking coming-of-age story about one boy’s quest to find his father and become a man…also, there are spooky rats with evil fingers and wizard clothes.
      Editor: Evil fingers, you say? I MUST have it!

      I’m glad the cinemama chimed in. What’s your pick for the worst, then? Eragon?

      (For those who don’t know, our very own Martha moonlights here: http://tv.msn.com/mom-pop-culture/cinemama/)

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  13. Anita Miller posted this on the wrong post:

    Best: ELLA ENCHANTED and all the HARRY POTTER films
    Worst: SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS

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  14. Fun post!

    Best: Wizard of Oz
    Worst: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (how did the Feed the World theme chow down to Destroy the Glutton Monster Machine?)

    Thanks for asking.

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  15. @Chris, Twilight and Eragon had similar unintentionally funny moments, but I think both adaptations were true to their source material. Ahem.

    This is why NIMH offended me so. If they’d wanted evil rats with spooky fingers and wizard clothes, they should have made up their own story to go with them, instead of bastardizing a fine book populated with disturbingly attractive scientist rats.

    Thanks for the Cinemama shoutout. I won’t be writing any new material for them, alas, but…
    you can read my article about the cure for wife rage in this month’s Parenting magazine. Doesn’t that sound fun?

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  16. Best: James and the Giant Peach, Jumanji, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (original)

    Worst: Eloise (never should have been made into a movie!), The Polar Express, Zathura

    Getting ready to see Tale of Desperaux and Coraline so crossing my fingers on those…

    And I have to argue on the Anne of Green Gables comments. 1. I don’t think it really can be qualified as a children’s book, older adolescent lit maybe and 2. the first one stuck pretty close to the book but the rest of the movies (great as they are on there own) veered so far off the books you can barely call them the same.

    If we are talking Adolescent Lit as some books have been mentioned: Holes was terrible! And I was greatly disappointed in the Narnia movies thus far.

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  17. LOL, Lori on the Cloudy with Meatballs comment!!

    Walter the F’ing Dog is a ‘Woof’, too.

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  18. Best: Tuck Everlasting

    Worst: The Golden Compass

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  19. Best: Holes, Matilda
    Worst: Eragon

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  20. I liked Alfonso Cuaron’s A Little Princess (much better than the Shirley Temple version), and I agree with others that The Golden Compass was a huge disappointment.

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  21. Best: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
    Worst: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Jim C. version)

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  22. best: The Hobbit (1977)
    worst: The Dark is Rising. There is a special place in hell for those filmmakers.

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  23. ae: Walter the F’ing Dog? Holy cow! What kind of kids book is that?

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  24. Best: Perhaps it’s cheating to mention a made-for-TV movie but Nick Willing’s ’99 production of ‘Alice in Wonderland’is brilliant. Rent it if only to see Martin Short play the Mad Hatter.

    Worst: The Grinch/Jim Carrey
    Will someone please sedate that man?

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  25. Best: Holes

    Worst: The Grinch

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  26. Best: The Black Stallion — a diamond from coal.

    Worst: So many to choose from, but I might go back to The Blue Bird, with Shirley Temple.

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  27. Best: Howl’s Moving Castle. I actually liked the movie better than the book.

    Worst- so hard to pick just one.
    Though Twilight was completely laughable, I wasn’t a fan of the books to begin with- daughter is, that’s why I was there. So, I’ll have to go with Eragon. How can anything with John Malkovich and Jeremy Irons turn out so bad?

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  28. @Martha Bee re: “disturbingly attractive scientist rats”– Who didn’t have a crush on Justin?? I’m still mooning over him.

    sigh

    Best: Lord of the Rings (Fellowship, if you must choose, but really the whole oeuvre)

    Worst: The Cat in the Hat, with its complete lack of script; Paris Hilton cameo; and use of Amy Hill as a prop

    I feel considerably more forgiving of Jim C’s Grinch, if you can believe it, and of Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

    Perhaps LoTR doesn’t qualify as children’s lit? Still the best.

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  29. Okay, so I can’t do just one for best. I can’t.

    For worst: The Jimmy Grinch… but even that is tough. :(

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  30. I second the Black Stallion for best. Beautiful film.

    Worst? There are so, so many. I had not read Narnia so I can only judge the movie which made me laugh out loud at all the wrong times. Santa Claus delivering a sword? (Santa? WTF?)

    Hey, Santa, if you’re going all arms dealer on us why not a machine gun? That really would have helped the kids mow down all those LOTR-lite extras.

    Or a tank. Now that I would pay to see: those tiresome little prigs driving an Mi tank around and crushing the orc-wannabes. Wouldn’t have even needed the magic Jesus lion if Santa had just turned the kids onto a tank.

    Hey, White Witch, suck on this high explosive round!

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  31. Can’t decide on the best. But the worst: Cat in the Hat with Mike Myers. Unless, of course, they decide to jazz up Goodnight Moon.

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  32. Many of the best (and worst) have been mentioned, but I wracked my brain and came up with these…

    Best: BABE

    Worst: THE STUPIDS

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  33. Oh!! Babe!! I change my “Best” vote to that!! (Only because LOTR doesn’t need it.)

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  34. Best: Anne of Green Gables (the one by Sullivan Entertainment) Anne is middle grade book, Caryn.

    Worst: Twilight (I liked the film’s plot a bit better than the book’s, but that white, sparkly vampire dude was just too much.)

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  35. I thought the Bridge to Terabithia film was very faithful to the book… but will nominate its trailer as the worst. It was completely deceptive. I can imagine many kids being disappointed about the bait and switch once they watched the film.

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  36. Best: The Borrowers. Worst: Cat in the Hat (and I even love Mike Myers).

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  37. I hold a special spot of hatred in my heart for Disney’s adaptation of The Black Cauldron. Not only did they eff up one of my favorite books from childhood, but they also purchased the entire Prydain Chronicles so that no one else could make any of the other books. So, because their movie sucked, we will never see any of the other books adapted into film.

    Picking a best adaptation, though, is a little more difficult. Probably the David Lean Great Expectations, which, yes, is hardly a children’s book, but one that I read when I was thirteen or so. When I think back on the story, I still see it in black-and-white, shot on a studio backlot.

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  38. Will someone please say “spooky rats with evil fingers and wizard clothes” again? It cracks me up every time I see it.

    I Love Anne of Green Gables, and I think the HP movies are reasonably well adapted.

    I was very disappointed with Twilight (and I liked the book).

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  39. While I can’t tell you how good it’s going to be, I’m waiting a small death for Alex Flinn’s Beastly. That Hudgens girl better not screw it up.

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  40. Best: Holes, Inkheart, Matilda, Ella Enchanted (though it was vastly different from the book), Disney’s Beauty and Beast.

    I liked Series of Unfortunate Events… but it wouldn’t make my “best” category. I also liked Disney’s Little Mermaid, but it was SO far from the story that it not’s comparable.

    Worst: James and the Giant Peach

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  41. Best: To Kill A Mockingbird (if you consider this kid’s lit–totally open for debate). Worst: Eragon.

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  42. Oh, I forgot Babe. That’ll do, pig. Best.

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  43. Best: Harry Potter #1 (first movie I ever went to based upon a book, where I left saying, “I cannot believe how well that followed the book!” And I was happy it did).

    Best also: Holes (I actually enjoyed the movie more, and I really loved reading the book with my son)

    Worst: I didn’t see it, but my kids and hubby just came back from Cloudy With a Chance and even they shrugged their shoulders and said, “ermph” when I asked them how it went. Now that’s $50 well spent on an afternoon. NOT.

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  44. [...] Wednesday, I polled readers on the best and worst film adaptations of children’s books and found some surprises, some no-brainers, and some upsets. The results will be posted on [...]

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  45. Best: Wizard of Oz & LOTR

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  46. I haven’t read the Ted Hughes book it’s based on, but the movie version of The Iron Giant is brilliant. One of my favourite movies ever.

    As for failed adaptations, it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, but the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory commits the unforgivable sin of giving Willy Wonka a soggy backstory (his dad was a dentist who never let him eat candy) and shoehorning in a moralistic lesson about the importance of family. It nearly sucks all the fun right out of the movie.

    Oh, and I’m happy to report Where the Wild Things Are is awesome.

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  47. Best: Babe, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (um…Father Christmas does indeed give Peter a sword in the book, Michael), and Anne of Green Gables. Also liked Prisoner of Azkaban.

    Worst: Jumanji, Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Ella Enchanted (although if I’d seen them, some of the others mentioned would likely be here, too)

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  48. I thought of one more wildly underrated adaptation: P.J. Hogan’s 2003 Peter Pan. Really, really good. Jason Isaacs, who plays Lucius Malfoy, is a great Captain Hook. Anyhoo, it’s definitely worth watching.

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  49. hahaha I love it!!! awsome blog!!! thanks

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