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The Best & Worst Children's Books Made Into Films

Kate Kostal Kate Kostal
October 16th, 2009 11:59am EDT
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Where The Wild ThingsWhere The Wild Things Are based on the beloved children's book opens in theaters today. Although some critics say the visuals are spectacular while the script is a little thin, it should draw in massive crowds due to its iconic standing in the children's publishing world.

Children's books made into movies go over much better when viewed in two age brackets: when the audience is comprised of children who have recently read the book, or when the audience is comprised of adults so far removed from childhood that anything resembling their favorite book is romanticized and judged in a less severe manner. Though not all children's books focus on fantasy, those that are adapted to film usually win or lose big when they are.

Take some consideration for the age at which you read the book and saw the film and how much you liked it. If there's not a tiny break of time between the two or a long span of years, you may disagree with the way things shook out.

THE BEST


Harry PotterThe Harry Potter series: J.K. Rowling's detailed and complicated story combines complex fantasy rules, scenarios and settings. She hits a home run by melding a coming-of-age backstory into multifaceted magic. She's even said the books are about a mother's love, and usually whatever you add on top of that can be a strong book as long as the writer has talent. The first movie was anticipated, albeit with some apprehension, by hardcore Potter fans. The movies began as pure adaptations of the books, paying homage to the details and growing into focused narratives that intelligently matured as did the readers and viewers. The books became so large that entire backstories (i.e., Dobby the house elf) were cut to focus on character development and art direction. The films chose which scenes to keep and cut carefully and has made rabid Potter book fans into rabid Potter movie fans.(To those who are still sitting out on the sidelines, read the first book in secret, THEN watch the movie, and know you're always welcome to the nerd table with the rest of the world)

How the Grinch Stole ChristmasHow the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966): Dr. Seuss was fantastic in his simplicity and imagination but also in creating books that pleased both the child and the parent. His works were silly and easy to grasp for the youngsters, easing them into the early concepts of rhyme. Adults were delighted by his absurdity and clever storytelling. The mid '60s cartoon that brought his ill tempered hermit to life was and is old-school awesome. It transcends time and fancy animation to remain a classic Christmas tale, either on the page or on the screen. Those of you who demanded roast beast instead of roast beef sandwiches, raise your hands.

The Lion, The Witch and the WardrobeThe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005): C. S. Lewis' books are short, semi-Biblical in nature, and British. They afford the reader, be it a babysitting aunt or a barely-literate 7 year old, a lot to work with. The entire series of "The Chronicles of Narnia" will leave you scratching your head, but in book one there is a clear story of good versus evil, nature versus more evil, and youth prevailing without the aid of parents. What young adventurous child doesn't love the idea of championing an entire race of talking animals? This book has been adapted to the screen before in low budget editions (local library version, anybody?) but was done well with the help of Disney in the new millennium. The CGI animals and special effects couldn't capture the magic of "The Lord of the Rings" but was good enough to do justice to the Chronicles. The re-imagination of the White Witch can either make or break one's opinion of the movie as it comes out of left field based on the description from the book. Oh, and having cheetahs. That's always a plus in an all-out animal brawl.

The Lord of the RingsThe Lord of the Rings series: If these long, in-depth novels can be categorized as children's books, they belong on this list. Some believe the films really were able to improve upon an already impressive story. Gone was the excess from the story about who begat who and the intricacies of languages. The movie managed to create magical fantasy worlds that allowed for emotional connections with the viewers, even if fantasy wasn't exactly their thing. It spawned successful follow-ups that earned Oscars and millions of dollars. The genre will never be the same, nor will Elijah Wood's (resurrected) career. (If wizards, epic battles, and fantasy bore you, this is the antithesis of your favorite movies)

Willy WonkaWilly Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), James and the Giant Peach (1996), Matilda (1996), The Witches (1990): Roald Dahl books are read in middle schools and grade schools by teachers who are engaged as much as the students. The kids love it - the smart kid, the fat kid, the smelly kid, the troublemaker - all are attentive when Roald Dahl stories are on the schedule. Each adaptation is unique (cheeky humor in "Wonka," eye-catching stop-motion Claymation in "Peach," creepy imagery in "Witches," and child empowerment in "Matilda"), but not overdone. These books, along with the rest of Dahl's repertoire, deserve a read before a watch. (Next up: "Fantastic Mr. Fox!")

JumanjJumanj: Ok, so the computer animation is pretty bad and Kirsten Dunst was in her awkward phase, but to take a beloved book that had maybe 30 pages that were mostly illustrations and make it a feature-length film with bonafide movie stars (Robin Williams) deserves a nod. Don't tell me you won't sit and watch the giant mosquito scenes when it's played on TBS. Also, did it piss anyone else off that the book was in black and white, and the movie was in color? Liking this movie is akin to liking the underdog of the children's books.



BabeBabe: Recipe for an unassumingly successful children's book, then movie: take talking animals that overcome diversity between sheep, dogs, and pigs. Add soft spoken human characters and a plucky swine trying to save himself from becoming dinner. Finish with a spectacular "fish-out-of-water" success story as he unites a farm and wins a championship. Morals of the story aren't pushy, but obvious. Turn those things into a live-action narrative, then add singing mice and beautifully art directed scenes. Bake for the duration of the shooting schedule. The story in the book was vibrant, but the story in the film went a hundred miles in the opposite direction as it gave personality to other characters and used the farm inhabitants as best as they could. It resulted in a wonderful vision. They had us at "Blue Moon."

CLICK TO PAGE 2 TO SEE THE WORST!

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