Fuse #8

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Newbery Books Turned Into Films

In case you were wondering, I think that Holes is the best adapted Newbery award winner, though it was fun to try to think up the others. Here, in order from best to worst, are the Newbery-to-film adaptations and how well I feel they did their job. If I've left anything out (and feel free to add some more if you think of them) lemme know.

The Ones I've Seen

1999 Award Winner: Holes: Loving me my Holes. Holes is so good. The great American children's novel is Holes. And with the exception of a thin Stanley (who we will forgive because he could act) the movie was pitch-perfect and faithful as can be. I'm not saying I'd object to seeing another version of it done (wouldn't it be great if the BBC did one?) but this is as good as it gets for now. Now about that television show version...

1978 Award Winner: Bridge to Terabithia - See review. For the purposes of simplicity we'll ignore the 1985 TV version (though I am amused by the recent rerelease you can find these days).

1986 Award Winner: Sarah, Plain and Tall - First off, you can forgive it some of its ills if only because the book itself is so very slight. Still, Christopher Walken does his nice-not-creepy-dad thing, and almost pulls it off. And are you going to look Glen Close in the face and tell her she didn't do a good job? Are you?

1936 Award Winner: Caddie Woodlawn - Yeah well. I've seen worse. Sure, the wig on that Carrie's head looked like it'd been sculpted with a Wendys in mind, but the acting wasn't bad. I'm lukewarm on this one.

1992 Award Winner: Shiloh - Again, not bad. Plus, how can you resist an adorable beagle pup? Huh? Huh?

1944 Award Winner: Johnny Tremain - And here we take a turn for the worse. Anyone remember that song about the Sons of Liberty they sing at the end? I'm trying to conjure it up but nothing's coming. Plus I was convinced until about 5 minutes ago that this was a Disney film starring Tommy Kirk. I cannot fully express the depth of my shock right now.

1972 Award Winner: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - Yeah. Well. Which is to say The Secret of NIMH. I sure hope the filmmakers of this one had the decency to wait until author Robert O'Brien was good and dead before they churned out this monstrosity. You know what a cool sci-fi Newbery winner like this one really needs? A magic stone! Oh! Oh! And let's kill off Nicodemus in a kind of Obi Wan Kenobi fashion so that Mrs. Brisby (why the name change?) can use the rodentia equivalent of "the force" for no particular reason.

1963 Award Winner: A Wrinkle in Time - Why, Alfre Woodard? Why? Your excuse must be somewhere along the lines of, "They backed a dumptruck full of money to my front door. I'm not made of stone!"

And just for giggles, here are the other Newbery adaptations that exist but that I have never seen.

1981 Award Winner: Jacob Have I Loved - Bridget Fonda? Well, I'll be damned.

1977 Award Winner: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - A TV movie from 1978, as it happens. I suspect that with Roots getting as much attention as it did in 1977, the time had never been better for this film to get made. We have an ancient creaky VHS tape circulating in our collection. You'd think it'd just collect dust, but watch that puppy fly off the shelf whenever the kids are assigned this one to read for school.

1970 Award Winner: Sounder - Two versions here! A 1972 and a 2003. The 1972 version had bigger names.

1968 Award Winner: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Again with the two versions. One in 1973 and one in 1995. Now what I love about these two films is that in each of them, the part of Mrs. Frankweiler was taken by an old-time movie goddess of one sort or another. Do you prefer to watch Lauren Bacall? Or are you more an Ingrid Bergman type? I, personally, was unaware that the film The Hideaways was based on From the Mixed Up Files. That explains why my library's circ copies (and we have about 7) keep going out. Huh!

2000 Award Winner: Bud, Not Buddy - Actually it doesn't exist. To which the masses should all yell together in chorus: WHY THE HELL NOT?

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At 12:32 AM , Blogger Lindsey said...

I totally agree that Holes is the best Newbery adapted film. I was so nervous they were going to botch it up. I still don't like it as much as the book but I liked the casting and the rain dance at the end. By the way, have you seen the Wrinkle in Time movie that came out recently? It's in my queue. . .

At 7:09 AM , Blogger Gail Gauthier said...

I remember the Sons of Liberty song.

I actually thought the movie Holes was better than the book. (Though I did like the book, too.) But I believe Sachar wrote the screenplay so I don't feel badly about liking the movie better.

At 9:09 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually like The Secret of NIMH. It is completely divorced from the book in my mind, which is why I think I can like it. Because I love the book too. I'm all "We'll they both involve NIMH, and rodents, but that's pretty much all they have in common." It makes life much happier.

My hypothesis regarding the name change is that those folks who make flying discs seem to be rather litigious, and Don Bluth's people were probably afraid of getting sued even though it's spelled differently.

You could probably blame all the film's flaws on the fact that Don Bluth helmed it, now that I think about it.

At 9:18 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

I agree with you on Holes. Like zeelibrarian, I was afraid to see it, because I didn't see how a movie could possibly do justice to the book. But I think they did a great job.

At 12:01 PM , Blogger Dan McCoy said...

I think I posted this in my last defense of The Secret of NIMH, but those pesky Frisbee people are indeed (as theorized above) the reason that Frisby became Brisby. So dislike the stone if you like (I can kind of give it a pass as a cinematic representation of a mother's love, silly as it may play), but the change of names was hardly capricious.

At 12:08 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Oh, Dan. When are you going to have a bad movie night of The Secret of NIMH? Then we could debate its relative merits. I'll confess that it definitely had an impact on me as a kid with the house sinking and the mud creeping up and the kids trapped inside...


You will note that Wrinkle in Time is on my list. If you have a chance to cancel it from your queue I suggest you do so before (as my mother would put it) you find you have to go boil your eyeballs.

At 2:04 PM , Blogger Monica Edinger said...

My only problem with the film "Holes" was the slimming-down of Stanley. The actor was terrific, but his character Stanley's girth at the start of the book matters.

At 9:49 PM , Blogger Brooke said...

Holes rocked. Any film that makes such good use of Eartha Kitt should be enshrined on a glittering pillar constructed of bronzed popcorn buckets. Enshrined, I say!

And Johnny Tremain was indeed a Disney film, although it did not star Tommy K. (according to imdb.com, that is). However, whenever I see this film (or book) on my library shelves, I cannot stop myself from quoting The Simpsons version of the Johnny Tremain booktalk:

"Deformed? Did you say 'deformed'?" They should call this book Johnny Deformed!"

At 2:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so with you on the dreadful adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, and on wondering how my beloved Alfre Woodard was convinced to appear in it.

Could there be a worse Charles Wallace? Could Meg be less like Meg? Could the Man with Red Eyes be more ridiculous?

At 4:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about Newbery Honor books made into movies? Because of Winn-Dixie, anyone? And for future page to screen, I saw something on IMDB about The Tale of Despereaux. Jeremy Irons anyone?

At 10:28 PM , Blogger klonghall said...

Oh, yeah, we definitely need Bud to be a film! I heard Christopher Paul Curtis talk about 10 years ago, and he said a Watson's Go To Birmingham movie was in the works. Anyone know what happened there? I think both of those could be wonderful films.

At 10:40 PM , Blogger Sarah Stevenson said...

I have to totally agree with lectitans when it comes to the Secret of NIMH movie--book and movie are two different entities in my mind and therefore I bear no ill will (and in fact some nostalgia) to the movie. I feel that way about a couple of childhood book-to-movie transfers--Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Phantom Tollbooth will always have special sentimental value for me (if only because I drove my parents nuts by demanding that they rent these movies repeatedly).

On the other hand, I'm SO glad I haven't seen the Wrinkle in Time adaptation. Seriously...

At 12:21 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

"Portabello Road, Portabello Road / Street where the treasures of ages are sold / Anything and everything a chap can unload / is sold off the barrel in Portabello Road."

Misspelled and misquoted but still a fine song from a fine movie.


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