Weekend Roundtable: Children’s Books to Movies

As Dr. Seuss’ dastardly Grinch gets adapted for the third time (once in television and twice in feature films), our Roundtable this week will look at other beloved children’s books that have successfully transitioned from page to screen.

Deirdre Crimmins

One of my favorite recent adaptations of a children’s book is 2009’s Coraline. The Neil Gaiman story was a rare example of a kid’s book that gave me the heebie jeebies. This might be due in part to the fact that I’ve always been deeply unsettled by doppelgangers thanks to a recurring childhood nightmare, but it’s certainly also because the Other Mother tries to sew freaking buttons onto Coraline’s eyes. Buttons!

The film is an example of a good adaptation in that it takes certain liberties to make the story and characters better suited for the different medium. A lonely child’s internal workings make for a good book, but when translating that to screen, director Henry Selick knew enough to add a friend for Coraline to give her a reason to speak up a bit more, thus avoiding a painful voiceover. The movie not only maintains the creepy atmosphere of the book and doesn’t shy away from some terrifying imagery, but also brings to life the curious characters in Coraline’s two worlds. The songs on the soundtrack by They Might Be Giants are wonderful too.

M. Enois Duarte

A mix of original artwork and creative storytelling, Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a wonderful piece of children’s literature and a personal favorite I’ve read with my daughter since its publication. Inspired by the life of French inventor, stage magician, influential pioneer filmmaker, and the man who essentially laid the groundwork for the future of cinema, Georges Méliès, the story follows young orphan Hugo Cabret through 1930s Paris and the train station where he eventually discovers Méliès working as a toymaker. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, his first and still only venture into family-friendly fare, is a terrific interpretation of Selznick’s historical novel. The film splendidly captures the spirit and passionate imagination of the story, giving both Scorsese’s loyal followers and fans of the book something to enjoy. A devoted cinephile himself, Scorsese was the perfect choice to bring this novel to life. He whisks audiences away to a fantasy world that feels grounded in reality while also celebrating the love of cinema and one of its founding fathers.

Josh Zyber

The process of stretching a short picture book out to a 90- or 100-minute movie has been the downfall of a number of kids’ films. Think of how padded with pointless filler movies like The Polar Express, The Cat in the Hat, or even the Jim Carrey live-action Grinch were. In adapting the 32-page Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to feature length, up-and-coming animators Phil Lord and Chris Miller made the difficult but ultimately necessary decision to jettison all but the basic concept of the story and start over from scratch with brand new characters and a plot of their own creation. Fortunately, Lord and Miller are very clever and creative writers. What they came up with is a pure delight, packed from start to finish with rapid-fire jokes and visual inventiveness, bound together by a strong story.

After this, Lord and Miller went on to even bigger and more successful projects such as The Lego Movie and the 21 Jump Street franchise. It’s a shame they were denied the chance to work their magic on Han Solo prequel movie.

Your Turn

What are your favorite examples of movies based on kids’ books? Tell us in the Comments.


  1. Bolo

    ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ – I thought this movie was absolutely brilliant. It follows the old formula of a kid going to a fantasy world that may or may not be a dream and then coming back having learned something and matured a bit. Usually these stories follow a female protagonist (‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Spirited Away’, ‘Labyrinth’, ‘Wizard of Oz’ etc) but this one follows a boy.

    I love how Spike Jonze and his cast really commit to realizing the characters in non-cartoonish dimension. James Gandolfini in particular gives a great performance. Nothing is softened or dumbed down. I have no idea if any kids actually liked this movie. I don’t anybody whose children watched it. But as adult, I loved it.

    • Chaz Dumbaugh

      The problem with that one AND the book IMO, is that nothing really happens to the boy for what he’s done, his actions never really have any consequences outside of getting sent to his room. The movie was even less at showing that something should be learned from his actions. I enjoyed how each character was really part of his own personality for the film but overall, but I’ve never really liked the book personally and the movie, while I thought was better overall, still didnt have much meaning behind it all

      • Bolo

        I’ll agree with you that the book is pretty thin. Mostly just pictures of monsters dancing.

        I think the story of the movie isn’t about him being punished, but more coming to appreciate how much his mum has on her plate. I think his struggles with being a good king to the monsters makes him appreciate the responsibility his mum had as head of their house.

    • Charles M

      That movie seemed to be nothing more than the kid running around screaming. Might as well just watch real kids playing in the backyard.

  2. Robert

    Having grown in the 80’s to me the Neverending Story was the very first adaptation I saw and absolutely loved it. The special effects still echoes on me and of course the music. Despite Michael Ende despised the movie, it made me grew up loving to read books.

  3. Judas Cradle

    Coraline was incredible in 3D! One of the go-to films to show off GOOD 3D at home.
    Laika (in my opinion) has never recovered from losing Henry Selick.
    (What kind of stop-motion company fires the greatest living stop-motion director?! )
    They have been going down hill ever since. (Mr. Link looks like absolute garbage).

  4. William Henley

    This may come as a surprise to many of you who know me, but I really liked The Golden Compass. The movie was enjoyable enough that it made me want to read the series, and MAN was it good! I read the entire trilogy, and am reading The Book of Dust now.

    Along those lines, Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe made a brilliant transition to the big screen. Huge fan of it.

    While I haven’t read the book since I was a child, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (yes the Tim Burton one) was fantastic! I never really liked the original movie, but the remake was certainly done right! Absolutely loved loved loved the remake, and I felt it remained truer to the book.

    Little House on the Prairie had an excellent made-for-television movie before the show started off that was very faithful to the book. I am kind of surprised no one ever bothered to adapt any of the other books to movies – especially now that we have the expanded book universe with Rose, Caroline, Charlotte and Martha.

    But I think my all time favorite movie based on a children’s book has got to be Harry Potter. I had never even heard of the books when the first movie came out, and it was my introduction to the series. I will still eat up anything that comes out that exists in this world. All the books were fantastic, the movies – eh, 4 and 5 were not good. But that first movie – what a world it created! I don’t ever recall seeing anything like that on the screen before.

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