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Adapting children's literature into movies


skimpole
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Roald Dahl's children's work has been successfully adapted for film, particularly James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Witches. Dahl's Matilda has just been adapted by the Royal Shakespeare Company as a stage musical and is now one of the hottest tickets in London. A friend told me it was one of the best shows she's ever seen.

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Interesting thread topic, skimpole. I love and respect children's literature, always have. I say "respect" as well as love because many people foolishly believe that children's books are only for children, wheras in fact, great literature is worth reading regardless of labels and categories. ( Same with movies.)

 

As with adult fiction, the transition from book to film does not always work. They're two different art forms, and their way of conveying story and character are very different. Literature doesn't always translate well to cinema. Sometimes the greater the literature, the less successfully it is rendered to film. Hitchcock, as you probably know,famously stated that he preferred using a trashy work of fiction as the base for his story ideas over "great" novels - more flexibility, perhaps.

 

Anyway, blah blah. My feeling about children's literature being made into film is this: if it's a work that does not involve magic, it can turn out very well. The novels of Frances Hodgson Burnett, which are completely grounded in reality( despite the theme of The Secret Garden ), have been made into wonderful movies. There are one or two versions of Huckleberry Finn that are reasonably good films.

 

 

But rarely does a children's book with fantasy elements make a good transition to the screen. I consistently refuse to see the (relatively) recent film versions of C.S. Lewis' Narnia books because the elements of magic in those novels are perfect as they are, on the page for the reader to imagine as he or she will. Some of the wonder is inevitably lost when such imaginings, delicate as they are, become actualized on film for all to see exactly the same way.

 

 

Many will cite the Harry Potter books as an example of how children's fiction can be successfully made into film. I can't address that because I have only read one of the series' books ( the first.) I do think that much from the books was left out, and that the inevitable CG effects were often overdone.

Of course everyone now uses CG in movies to depict magical events, but I feel that this technology fails to capture the ethereal quality of magic plus imagination that works so effectively in literature.

 

 

Sorry for such a long ( and perhaps long-winded !) post, but I have a special place in my heart for children's literature - I used to be the buyer for children's books when I worked in a book store, and I never stopped reading them. I actually would like to say more on this subject, but I'm going to make myself stop now. :|

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> {quote:title=misswonderly wrote:}{quote}

> But rarely does a children's book with fantasy elements make a good transition to the screen.

 

This is considered a truism in the science fiction/fantasy culture. It is easy to transform science fiction into a movie because few people will quibble if a control panel has one or two more buttons. Nuts and bolts are easy to show.

 

Fantasy is not easy because each reader overlays their own desires and fears onto the beasties. I detest the The Lord of the Rings movies because the orcs are all wrong and are not at all frightening. I liked the scene in one of the Harry Potter movies when they face the beast which changes into their victim's greatest fear. It was easy to believe those were the things that touched the characters' innermost fears even although none of them were inherently frightening to a casual viewer.

 

It is perhaps best to make movies of good children's fantasy books which are virtually unknown. That is the only way the director/costumer's vision can seem appropriate.

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I am shamelessly bumping this back onto page one because I think it is a subject well worth further discussion. Shirley more than four people have an interest in this topic.

 

Hmm, just to get things going again: Jean Cocteau's La Belle et La Bete (1946), a delicate magical jewel of a film, stands as a perfect example of how a fairy tale can be rendered into film and retain all the wonder and mystery of the original story, if it is treated with care and attention to the tale's essence. La Belle et La Bete is actually one of my favourite movies of any genre.

 

Disney's version, the animated Beauty and the Beast, (1991), works as a sweet little cartoon, and some would argue that it connects with children more readily than the Cocteau film. It also adds a lot that was not in the original fairy tale - this is fair, up to a point; folk and fairy tales have always been lengthened, shortened, or otherwise altered. It is, after all, originally an oral tradition ( although I believe Beauty and the Beast is from the retellings of French folklorist Charles Perrault, who also brought us Cinderella and Puss in Boots.)

 

 

In any case, the Disney feature is quite pleasant, and makes exceptionally creative use of the new technology recently developed for animated film at that time ( late '80s?) Its visuals are delightfully imaginative, and the songs sweet and hummable, especially the title theme as sung by Angela Lansbury's motherly teapot character.

 

 

However, if the mystery and strangeness of fairy tales is what draws you most to this form of literature, Cocteau's rendition of Beauty and the Beast wins hands down.

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I never thought of "Huckleberry Finn" as children's literature, and "The Wizard of Oz" belongs on my list of "Movies that are better than the book".

 

MY slight peeve is there is always some movie released the studio claims is made "From the long time favorite children's book". Trouble is, I never HEARD of the bloody book! And I've read MANY in my youth!

Sepiatone

 

PS: There was a book I read when I was about 10 years old called "The Phoenix". Does anyone else know anything about it? I borrowed it from my grade school library and haven't seen or heard of it since!

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Sepiatone, I think maybe you mean The Phoenix and the Carpet, by E. Nesbit. This was the second in a trilogy about a family of children who encounter magical creatures. The first book in the series is Five Children and It, in which the kids meet a creature called a Psammead ( pronounced "Sammyad") who can grant wishes. It has apparently been made into a movie, but for the reasons I cited earlier, I am not interested in seeing it.

The Phoenix and the Carpet tells of the adventures the children have when they purchase an old carpet at a church bazaar, which contains a phoenix egg, and which possesses the property of flight !

The third in the series, The Story of the Amulet, has an almost mystical feel to it, especially near the end.

The works of Edith Nesbit, whose books were written and set in Edwardian times, are beautifully magical and full of wonder and excitement. They expand a child's imagination - actually, anyone's imagination - and they have never been out of print. They were around, telling delightful and amazing tales of children's adventures with magic and fantasy, long before the Harry Potter books. (I'm not putting J.K. Rowling's fabulous books down, I'm just saying there were children's books of at least equal power and imagination long before the H.P. series was written.)

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Both the Lewis Carrol Alice works are among the very best books of their kind, but I slightly prefer Through the Looking Glass. It is even more strange and dream-like than its earlier sister novel.

 

I did not even consider seeing the Tim Burton production of Alice when it came out, because although I often like Burton's work, I have a very personal and specific vision of both the Alice books, and did not care to see Burton's take on them. True, I understand that the film did not even pretend to reproduce the original Alice stories, but was rather a "sequel", with Alice now being nearly grown up. Perhaps an intriguing idea, but no thanks, not for me.

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Lewis Carrol in his time is trying to convey the modern conception of a parallel universe. If you haven't seen it yet, I suggest "The Golden Compass" (2007). Its sort of "Through the Looking Glass" in reverse in which the story starts out in *their* universe by which one of their scientist has discovered evidence of *our* universe.

 

Matter from our universe is leaking into theirs, what they call dust. "The Golden Compass" is very well written and is scripted not be be silly. Animals there who are called d?mons has a psychic bond with their human companion. (one d?mon per person actually).

 

It is designed for a sequel and I hope the producers if planning to make one, stick with some scientific facts in which if one of them do *go though the looking glass* that is cross over into our universe, unforseen consequences could occur like animals here don't communicate and their d?mons may lose the psychic bond and behave like animals in ours. I hope they think of this.

 

GoldenCompassMoviePoster1.jpg

 

Edited by: hamradio on Jan 1, 2012 8:18 PM

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hamradio, I have read Philip Pullman's entire "His Dark Materials" series. I love this trilogy, it's the kind of fiction I was thinking of when I wrote about children's literature and magic and imagination in my earlier posts. In fact, I meant to mention them but didn't because I thought my posts on this subject were already too long.

All three novels are great, but my favourite is the first, The Golden Compass. For the same reasons I have already written here, earlier in the thread, I chose not to see the film ( much as I like Daniel Craig.)

The other two in the series are The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Amazing books, beautifully written and conceived, I could not put them down, nor could I stop thinking about them even when I wasn't reading them.

 

I've heard many theories about Carroll's Alice books, but not that one. I do know he was a mathematician, and that he enjoyed integrating some of his mathematical ideas into the novels ( if you can call the Alice books novels.) And- of course this is obvious - Alice in Wonderland is a card game, Alice Through the Looking-Glass is a chess game.

The "parallel universe" idea is interesting, but does not affect my enjoyment and love of these books one way or the other. I suppose it would especially fit with Through the Looking Glass. I love the mysterious magical way Lewis describes her transitioning through the mirror into the garden, and the looking-glass world.

 

ps- this is getting a little off-topic, but if you like that kind of fiction, (Philip Pullman's), and are intrigued by the "parallel universe" concept, you probably like "Star Trek", at least the "Next Generation" show. I love it, it's full of amazing ideas to ponder. (But I only follow the "Next Generation" one - the original, and the shows that followed TNG, I never explored ( pun intended.)

 

 

ps- not that it matters, I suppose, but I feel the need to iterate that Lewis Carroll's real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Plus, I get to use the word "iterate".

 

 

Edited by: misswonderly on Jan 1, 2012 11:10 PM

 

Edited by: misswonderly on Jan 2, 2012 11:02 AM

shameless bump

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> {quote:title=misswonderly wrote:}{quote}

> ps- this is getting a little off-topic, but if you like that kind of fiction, (Philip Pullman's), and are intrigued by the "parallel universe" concept, you probably like "Star Trek", at least the "Next Generation" show. I love it, it's full of amazing ideas to ponder. (But I only follow the "Next Generation" one - the original, and the shows that followed TNG, I never explored ( pun intended.)

 

Harry Turtledove has written several "alternate history" novels which are similar to parallel universes. The one I like best is called The Guns of the South It is set in American in the Lincoln/Davis/Lee era. It is an "alternate" because the South has benefactors who can supply AK-47s. Harry Turtledove is an accomplished historian so his settings and characterizations are convincing.

 

I have fallen in love with the Doctor Who series. The ideas can be very twisty. My favorite continuing storyline is his relationship with River Song. They have not followed a linear timeline. The first time he met her was the last time she saw him. She carries a diary which records all of their adventures together. He dearly wishes to read it but he does not dare because the events have not yet happened for him and there is danger in spoilers.

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