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