Fuse #8

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

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?


At 9:14 PM , Anonymous Eric Berlin said...

Return to Oz?!?

At 12:19 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Number of People Shocked By the Inclusion of Return To Oz Thus Far: 1

Do I hear 2?

At 1:03 AM , Blogger bookstore girl said...

I'll be your number two. That movie scared the crap out of everyone I know as a child. Seriously, bring it up to anyone and they will shudder and ask you to please change the subject. The wheelies! Oh god, I'm going to have nightmares tonight.

At 10:12 AM , Blogger MotherReader said...

You are so amazing so even put this list together with not just the version of the movie, but the annotations for each one. And you have seen these movies with enough memory of them to write about them. I am in awe.

I will also lend my vote to Winn-Dixie the movie. Just excellent.

Whale Rider was a great movie and a great book, but the movie just couldn't capture the mystical element in the book. The whales and the people are connected and the whales are in some way called by the girl. It's not just that she has the skills to lead the tribe, she is meant to do so. But it still was a great movie.

At 11:26 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I support Return to Oz, even though I haven't seen it since I was wee. Those Wheelers didn't scare me though...because I read the books first!

How do you feel about The Neverending Story?

Also, I nominate the Disney Alice in Wonderland for worst film adaptation.

At 11:45 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

See, I almost included the Disney Alice. It doesn't have the same feel of the books but it's true to damn odd little old self. Plus Dali had a hand in its creation. Salvatore Dali, for God's sake!

I wasn't afraid of the Wheelies either. The claymation Troll King who almost eats Jack in the end? Craaaaazy!

At 12:38 PM , Blogger Dan McCoy said...

I have to say that while I was entertained by the recent Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and can understand you crediting it for being book-faithful, I kinda feel meh about it-- more so, the more time passes. I just think it lacked magic, however that might be defined. There was no twinkle in its eye (except for the one supplied by Jim Broadbent).

However, I love Emmet Otter (someone should make Riverbottom Nightmare Band t-shirts). And I appreciate your inclusion of the recent Peter Pan. There was so much brouhaha about the undercurrents of budding sexuality, that people seemed to forget that Peter Pan is all ABOUT budding (and arrested) sexuality.

I see your Secret Garden and raise you A Little Princess.

I'm fond of the Mr. Toad segment of the Wind in the Willows/ Sleepy Hollow Disney cartoon (I love Sleepy Hollow too, but that's not really a children's story). It's not at all faithful to WITW, but it's fun in its own right, especially the Scots Mr. Badger.

At 3:50 PM , Blogger Michele said...

Oh you are SO wrong about the HP movies !! Prisoner of Azkaban is definitely the best film qua film, and at least it's not as choppy as the fourth one ! Grr !

I love Whale Rider and have to confess I saw the movie three times before I read the book, so it gets my vote over the book (though I enjoyed the book too !).

I saw Howl's Moving Castle yesterday. That's a brilliant movie, but bears so little resemblance to the book, I spent two very confused hours in watching it ! (I confess I've read the book three times so far).

I'm hoping to see Holes and Because of Winn-Dixie soon (but not this weekend because that's going to be a Firefly/Serenity Marathon !) - I've read both books and enjoyed them hugely, so seeing the movies will be interesting.

Just my 2 cents worth !

At 3:51 PM , Blogger mapletree7 said...

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?

*cough* - believe you mean Dickon?

At 8:48 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Dickon, yes.
Everybody should have caught that. I'll have to dock a point to everyone except for Dan #2.

As for Dan #1, the fact that you were able to pull out Riverbottom Nightmare Band impresses me far more than it should. My God, man. Is there anything you do not know? "A Little Princess" has been taken under advisement. I can't figure out if it was actually any good. I liked it at the time, but as you may recall, I also liked "Willow". I'm not the best authority on these things.

I'll stand by my HP choices, by the by. #3 was my favorite of the books. Perhaps that's why I felt the film was so soul crushing.

Oh! And I like the Toad sequence of the Disney "Wind and the Willows" too! But it's not the full book. I loved Badger but what was the deal with making Ratty into an upper class twit?

Haven't seen "Howl's Moving Castle". Is it actually any good?

At 11:30 PM , Blogger Dan McCoy said...

A Little Princess is good, yes. Despite being done by the director of Azkaban, which you did not like. (As well as the director of Y Tu Mama Tambien, which is, of course, a GREAT movie for kids!)

I agree that the Ratty characterization was a shame (although fun, animation-wise). Mole, however, was just perfect.

And, no, there is nothing I don't know. Silly Fuse#8. Must you ask?

At 12:25 AM , Blogger Michele said...

Howl is a good film - but not much like the book (my review is on my blog at http://scholar-blog.blogspot.com/2006/05/howls-moving-castle-movie-spoliers.html ) Interesting that you love the book of HP3 but disliked the film. I also love the book (it remains my favourite), yet I liked the film too, in spite of what was omitted.

At 9:15 AM , Anonymous Jay R. said...

Several years ago around the holidays (before everything was re-released on DVD), I was walking through some sort of Target-esque store with my mother. As we perused the video section, I was frightened when she let out a loud scream and almost began to cry. Other patrons of the store began to stare.

She was *that* excited to have found a videotape of "Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas".

At 11:48 PM , Blogger Little Willow said...

Anne rules. Love the original books, love the first two movies by Kevin Sullivan with the fantastic Megan Follows, shuddered throughout the third one because it was all wrong.

Love otters, so I have always loved that film.

Love Secret Garden, so much more than ALP.

Rikki-Tiki-Tavi also is fantastic.

At 6:42 AM , Blogger Jacks said...

Where, oh where is the Black Stallion? With Alec Reno, Micky Rooney and Cass Ole? Probably the greatest children's movie of all time!

At 1:44 PM , Blogger Little Willow said...

I am a huge fan of the original Alice books. I am NOT a fan of the Disney adaptation. My favorite film adaptation of Alice is the 1972 live-action full-length musical!

At 12:53 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Black Stallion, eh? I'm one of those putzes who always gets it mixed up with Black Beauty. I know, I know. That's a pretty big confusion. But all right. We'll make Black Stallion an unofficial addition as well.

At 8:43 PM , Blogger Librarina said...

What was missing from the Jugband Christmas DVD? It was so long between the last time I saw the HBO special and when I bought the DVD... I don't know what is missing!

At 8:51 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

My mother would be better equipped to answer that. Small scenes, I believe. Little touches that made the original so very nice. Does the DVD have the moment when Ma asks where her glasses are and they're sitting on the top of her head? That may have been one of them.

At 5:37 PM , Blogger Shirley in Chattanooga said...

Great list! Emmet Otter has been a favorite in this household since my son was small. I also ask what's missing from the DVD?

I recently watched The Thief Lord--particularly interesting since I had just returned from Venice. I actually prefer the film to the book. The magical elements were much clearer. While reading I kept wondering why the book was fantasy until I reached the carousel on the island.

Shirley in Chattanooga

At 9:43 AM , Blogger Kim said...

I love Millions, as does my 9 year-old son! He had listened to the book on CD before watching the movie. Love your list. I would add Matilda, as a good Dahl adaptation. (Can we make a list of the worst adaptations and put James & the Giant Peach there???)

At 9:44 PM , Anonymous Emily Jenkins said...

Well, you will probably shoot me down but

At 6:18 PM , Anonymous Michael S. said...

I'd missed this post when it was originally posted.

You're wrong wrong wrong about Chamber of Secrets; it was as bad as the first HP film. The latter two have actually been GOOD, which is more than I can say for anything Chris Columbus touches.

And yes to A Little Princess.

And a big YES to Return to Oz, even though there were some silly little bobbles here and there.

Good selection, Ms. Blogging Librarian.

At 3:24 PM , Anonymous Will said...

Beg pardon, did you say "putzes"...? Shall you define this term and employ it in a contextual sentence?
And may I humbly put forward: "To Kill a Mockingbird"; "National Velvet"; and, "The Red Baloon"; oh yes, lets throw in, "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T". Cheez Terwilliker.


At 7:33 PM , Blogger betsytacy said...

Meant to post this months ago...The 1987 Secret Garden doesn't have Mary marry her cousin--it conveniently makes Colin's father and Mary's father friends to do away with pesky incest issues. (Quite a shock to read the book when this is your first SG experience.)

At 8:15 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

An interesting point. Still, that move alone is enough to make you go, "Hunhuna?".

Oh. And I shall go with the cleaner definition of "Putz" as in the Yiddish slang for a fool. It also means "penis" but there's no need to go there.

At 1:41 PM , Anonymous amy said...

What did you miss? I think you missed the way these movies leave kids convinced there's no point in reading, and deprive them of the sense of language in the books as well as the imagination. I came home last night to see my daughter glazed in front of some abomination billing itself as _James and the Giant Peach_, which the babysitter had brought. Another wonderful book spoiled, and replaced with the imagination of some fantastically shallow film-school videobot who seems to have conflated The Honeymooners with Survivor for the purposes of the movie. That's the last straw, we're done with the television. If it's not movies ruining books for the child, it's hideous game shows modeled on _Lord of the Flies_. Enough. I'll take the advice offered in _Charlie and the Chocolate Factory_.

Do you recall? Oh, here we go, page 144 (pages, yes?):

But did you _ever_ stop to think
To wonder just exactly what
It does to your beloved tot?
"All right!" you'll cry. "All right!" you'll say,
"But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!"
We'll answer this by asking you,
"What _used_ the darling ones to do?
"How _used_ they keep themselves contented
"Before this monster was invented?"
Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
I'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY...USED...TO...READ! They'd READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!

And so on in that fashion, only with stories. I think he quite enjoyed stuffing Mike Teavee into that box, Roald Dahl did.


At 9:31 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

And I'd be inclined to agree with you if I didn't work in a library. However, with the release of every filmed version of a book I suddenly find myself facing kids desperate DESPERATE to read what they've just seen. Try looking into the cherubic face of a 10-year-old who really wants to read The Golden Compass after having seen the movie, only to learn that there isn't a single copy available in the entire New York Public Library system. Any bookseller will tell you the same. When a book becomes a film the film makes them want to read the book. Not all kids, of course. Just huge numbers. Check out how Spiderwick is doing on the New York Times bestseller list right now if you don't believe me.


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