The Top 21 Children's Books Made Into Films
If The Guardian thinks it can go about declaring the best versions of children's books turned to film and not even specify which versions it means.... well then that list ain't worth a plastic whisker on my white mouse puppet's head. With that in mind, I shall make MY OWN list. These selections are based on how well I felt the films adapted to the problems of the novel, how accurate they were, and how bloody fabulous they are in the end. Sometimes the books are better than the movies. Please feel free to berate me for the films I have failed to include as well as the films I've included that you've always despised. I love a good jaunty fight over kiddie lit, I do!
- Anne of Green Gables - Give it up, my peeps. Don't deny the glory of Anne. Cults have been founded on less worship than the love this movie has garnered over the years.
- Anne of Avonlea - Okay, here's where it gets dangerous for me. I'm including it because Avonlea took the most interesting parts of the subsequent novels and made 'em watchable. Cause face it folks, Green Gables was as good as Montgomery ever got. Now I'm going to go stand in a corner and allow the Anne lovers to throw tomatoes at me.
- Because of Winn-Dixie - Admittedly I've not seen this film myself. Just the same, three out of five librarians at the New York Public Library Central Children's Room agree that it's fabulous. The remaining two didn't see it.
- Danny Champion of the World - Two words: Jeremy Irons. The only filmed Dahl book that's worth seeing. That is, until Wes Anderson's, Fantastic Mr. Fox comes out.
- Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas - One of the finest Christmas specials you'll ever view. I was an adult before I even realized that it had been a Russell Hoban book first. Hoban + Jim Henson = Little Appreciated But Amazing Christmas Story. No one remembers this tv special anymore (and the DVD cut out crucial scenes) but I'll always treasure my disintegrating VHS tape of the original production from when I was 7.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Hm? What's that? You want to know what happened to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone? Uh, well, I have some bad news. It wasn't any good. No, honest, it wasn't! Remember the simply AWful CGI? Remember the weird physical comedy with Neville on the broom? Nuh-uh. If we're going to make this list we're going to make it right. Chamber of Secrets was a far classier outing. Better CGI, a droolingly good looking Jason Isaacs, and Dobby was cut down as far he could be cut down.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - Hm? Prisoner of Azkaban isn't listed either, is it? Know why? Cause it weren't no good neither, consarn it. How could they cut out the whole explanation of how Harry's dad and friends were Animagus? What was with the obviously fake (and bizarro) werewolf? No, we're moving on to Goblet of Fire which did a wonderful job. I had a rather odd conversation with someone the other day who was actually upset that S.P.E.W. had been cut out of the film. I, for one, felt it should have been cut out of the book itself, so well done there. It lingered on the kids becoming teens in just the right ways, had enough Alan Rickman to keep me happy, and actually made Barty Crouch Jr. make a lot more sense than he had in the novel.
- Holes - The first inkling I ever had that Walden Media was more than just a product of a Christian conservative billionaire. Somehow that hasn't prevented them from some damn fine films. And who doesn't like Eartha Kitt and Sigourney Weaver acting their hearts out? I'll admit that Zero was too cute and that Stanley should have been fat, but those are the sole flaws. Now if I could only get my mother to watch it...
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas - There has never been a successful adaptation of a picture book into a full-length film. And as you can see, I'm putting the Chuck Jones 1966 version on this list and not the apocryphal Jim Carrey monstrosity. You will note the Mike Myers Cat In the Hat is also conspicuously absent. This film, however? Movie magic.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - No, I'm afraid I'm not referring to that perfectly nice BBC Production that so many of us remember fondly. It really couldn't hold a candle to the new production that hit theaters recently. I mean, come on. How can you fault it? It stuck frighteningly close to the book and what it added made perfect sense. The bombing, the music, it all fit.
- Mary Poppins - I've kept the Disney films to a minimum. So no animated flicks, and only a few live action puppies. P.L. Travers hated this film with a passion undiminished even unto her grave. That said, it's a classic. One of the few films that I am including in spite of the fact that its resemblance to the book is slim to none. You want the book? Go see the new kick-ass musical.
- Millions - One of those pure unadulterated pleasures. And who's that directing it? Danny Boyle? That guy's got guts. Read the book. See the film.
- Old Yeller - Quick rant: Go to this link. Who's bright idea was it to put Kevin Corcoran and not Tommy Kirk on the poster? Kevin Corcoran was the bane of Disney films. He's the only reason Swiss Family Robinson isn't on the list (having single-handedly ruined it for me with that baby elephant sequence). He could easily have ruined Old Yeller too, had it not been for the solid and staid presence of Tommy K. There's too little Tommy in SFR, so no inclusion. But you gotta love the Yeller. The ultimate in dead dogs.
- Peter Pan - Not the Disney film. Not the Mary Martin made-for-tv version (which was cool, but more a filmed musical than a movie). I'm talking the 2003 puppy with all its glorious puberty issues and shirtless Captain Hook moments. Richard Briers got work (thank God), Jason Isaacs was delicious, and Ludivine Sagnier made you forget all about Julia Roberts's ill-fated role in the same part. I'll bloody well defend that movie to the death. Bring it on!
- Railway Children - As far as I can determine there are 5 different versions of the film out there. Most people, I wager, are most familiar with the 1970 production. However, if you feel in your heart of hearts that nothing quite compares to Richard Attenborough's performance in the 2000 television movie, I'm open to suggestions.
- Return To Oz - I have a couple controversial titles on the list, but probably none so controversial as this. A combination of several Oz titles, this film went for the "it was all an electroshock therapy inspired dream" route. Truly frightening, using claymation in ways claymation was never intended to be used, and featuring Jim Henson's son Brian as the voice of Jack (not to mention a younger more innocent Fairuza Balk) this film shall always have a special place in my heart. Plus the Oz books needed to be combined. They DID!
- Rikki-Tikki-Tavi - Consider the cast. June Foray (Rocky the Flying Squirrel, every single female voice in the old Warner Brothers Cartoons, etc.) works alongside the narration of Orson Welles. The music is damn catchy and you have Chuck Jones doing the animation. Granted it was later big-eyed-Precious-Moments Chuck Jones, but a great film all the same.
- Secret Garden - There are plenty of versions to choose from. Remember that crazy Hallmark production back in 1987 where they flash forward in time? The one where Dickens dies in the war and Mary ends up marrying *shudder* her cousin Colin? Oh! And that awful grotesque sequence of Mary's parents dying of cholera? No, sir. Give me the classic 1975 BBC production any day of the week. Mary looks PERFECT in this one. She's sickly and tiny with thin ugly blond hair. The whole thing just exuded England with every frame. THAT is the version for me, ladies and gents. Love it!
- A Series of Unfortunate Events - No, it wasn't perfect. Where, for example, were Klaus's glasses? Why the clothes? Was there just a bit too much Jim Carrey? But in spite of all that, it was pretty damn fine. The added train sequence made sense (and made the kids fairly pro-active), the bad guys were EXACTLY as they appeared in the book, and the credit sequences at the end were worth the price of admission alone. I'm not sad that there won't be future books in the series filmed (if Klaus doesn't wear glasses then how does The Miserable Mill even work?) but I am also happy that this one exists.
- Whale Rider - While the idea that the book is a children's novel is debatable (it's in MY children's collection, at any rate) there's no denying that the movie was a thorough and overwhelming success.
- The Wizard of Oz - I yearn for a day when the book can be filmed faithfully. Until that glorious day arrives, however, I am perfectly content to sit and watch Ray Bolger do his thing and listen to Jack Haley fail to pronounce the letter "R".
Fun, huh? This is all my own opinion (obviously) and I may have forgotten something here or there. Suggest away and I'll either agree with you or shoot you down with fervor. So what did I miss?