It’s time to hop aboard the fast train to Christmas once again. The clue to this year’s KBR team’s ‘special delivery post’ is in the title image: Our Favourite Book to Movie Adaptations.
This proved a far trickier enterprise than it first appeared. Just as there are sooooo many wonderful children’s stories, there are an equally bedazzling number of motion picture versions. Or stage productions. Or TV film series. And a smattering of not so brilliant ones as some of our team reveal.
Some choices are delightfully and profoundly obvious, others not, so sit back with your cup of festive cheer, ponder with us and enjoy a very Merry KBR Christmas!
Did I say ‘favourite’? How can there be just one? For what it’s worth, my 17-year-old recalled some of my all time favs: The Fantastic Mr Fox, Jasper Jones, Harry Potter and Peter Rabbit. We are all particularly fond of an animated adaption in this house but for the record, mine is, Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, (1972). The 2014 film version starring Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner and Ed Oxenbould as Alexander is brimming with hilarity, relatable disasters and overwhelming love that stands as many repeated viewings as the book does repeat readings. And it’s not a cartoon. Both versions portray the art of making the best of a situation that is as far from being the best it can possibly be. A notion that both resonates and buoys.
The first is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, published in the United States in May 1900. There were several adaptations of this astonishing book—including a successful Broadway Play (1902) and three silent films. But the magical 1939 film adaptation—The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland—is quite possibly my most repeat-watched film ever. The music, the colour, the divine characters, the sparkle, the narrative genius. When I was a child, I can still recall the very moment Dorothy’s black-and-white world morphed into astonishing Technicolor. It still gives me goosebumps.
The second film is The Sound of Music. Not strictly a children’s book, I’m including it because the 1965 film adaptation has enchanted countless kids (and big kids) around the world—and is in my top five films of all time. Written by Maria Von Trapp, The Story of the Von Trapp Family was published in 1949 and went through quite a journey before conquering Hollywood and taking the world by storm. The book had originally been adapted by German producers, then went on to become a Broadway musical, scored by the indomitable Rodgers and Hammerstein, before landing in Hollywood as the breathtaking film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. It continues to be one of my favourite things.
It has to be Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009), based on the picture book of the same name by Judi and Ron Barrett (Atheneum Books, 1978).
The book is about a tiny town called Chewandswallow, where food falls from the sky three times a day to feed the residents. The townspeople love their weird (and delicious) weather, until it becomes problematic and they’re forced to flee.
The movie is… different. It centres on inventor-in-training Flint Lockwood, who invents a machine that turns water into food. The machine goes rogue, and soon the world is in danger from giant food storms.
It’s a loose adaptation but still captures the essence of the story. It’s the kind of book to movie transformation I love best — sufficient nostalgia and links to the original, but a fresh focus that can’t make you angry when the details aren’t the same.
Oh, and the movie is hilarious for kids and adults alike. A perfect family movie for the holidays.
Lily – Junior Reviewer
I have so many favourites, so it is extremely difficult to choose just one, but recently my favourite book movie adaptation would be the Hobbit. I love both the book and the movies equally but the stunning visuals on screen just add so much more to the story. It’s incredible that someone was able to successfully create Middle Earth without ruining it and made it better instead.
My least favourite adaptation might be The School of Good and Evil. I didn’t really enjoy the series and never made it past the first book, and the movie didn’t convince me otherwise. The plot felt too stereotypical and fast paced and didn’t keep much of my attention for long.Sue Warren
Not only a favourite book-to-movie adaptation but in my top 3 favourite movies of all time is The Princess Bride. I have literally lost count of just how many times I’ve seen it and shared it with my own children as well as those in school.
I describe it as a fractured fairytale when trying to explain to the poor unfortunate, untutored souls who have never seen it.
A story within a story, The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, The “Good Parts” Version by Wiliam Goldman was first published in 1973, uses the literary device of being purported to be narrated by Goldman himself. He asserts in his footnotes that he was read or told the story many times by his own father.
In an imaginary Renaissance-type world, a romance between Buttercup, who lives on a farm, and Wesley, the farm boy, becomes an epic adventure that sprawls across a trio of outlaws, a nasty Prince Humperdinck, and a most heinous villain, Count Rugen, all set in the country of Florin.
Wesley sets off to make his fortune in order to win Buttercup’s hand but is captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts. When he does not return, Buttercup reluctantly submits to Humperdinck’s suit and agrees to marry him. Wesley returns but incognito, as the man in black the Dread Pirate Roberts himself. Buttercup is kidnapped by three rogues- Vizzini, Fezzik and Inigo Montoya – in a plot conceived by Humperdinck himself, for political gain. Wesley rescues Buttercup but the pair is, in turn, captured and separated by Humperdinck and his guards, following some high adventures including a battle of wits which results in the death of Vizzini, a famous clifftop duel and the Rodents of Unusual Size in a fire swamp.
Fezzik and Inigo realise that they should be helping Wesley so rescue him, almost-dead, from the Prince’s torture chamber. Inigo is in pursuit of Count Rugen, whom, it transpires was the murderer for Inigo’s father – an act for which the Spaniard has sworn revenge. After a dramatic action-packed series of events in the castle the Count is dead, Buttercup is sadly married to the Prince (but as Wesley points out, it doesn’t count because she didn’t mean it when she said yes) and Fezzik has proven himself not stupid and found them horses on which to make their escape. Of course, they all live happily ever after.
That summary really only touches the side of the depth and breadth of the narrative!
The book was adapted for film in 1987 with a screenplay written by Goldman himself (hence it is so well done) and directed by the legendary Rob Reiner.
In the movie version this becomes a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading the story to his reluctant grandson (Fred Savage) who is unwell (and therefore a captive audience). It has a glittering cast including Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Chris Sarandon, Christoper Guest Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, and the divine Mandy Patinkin (yes I have met him and yes, he said the famous line for me ) as well as cameos from such luminaries as Billy Crystal, Peter Cook, Carole Kane and Mel Smith.
As a contrast but not to write about to such an extent, I think the worst and most disappointing adaptation (and there are many) would have to be Eragon – it was a shocker and I’m hopeful that the new one in current production will be successful.
So many books have been adapted for stage and screen. My absolute favourite has to be the 1985 miniseries of Anne of Green Gables, and its 1987 sequel miniseries, featuring brilliant casting and performances. They take several of LM Montgomery’s books about the orphaned Anne Shirley, and weave them into memorable and much-loved screen versions which I’ve watched many times! I’ve even visited Prince Edward Island, which is the setting for the stories (although not used for filming).
For a stage adaptation, I would recommend Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, with music by Tim Minchin. I was lucky to see it live in London, and found it to be a beautiful and moving version of Dahl’s classic, with the songs providing some really insightful interpretation (‘When I Grow Up’ is just one example). And for something that hasn’t yet been released, I am keen to see how Scott Westerfeld’s YA novel Uglies has translated to screen. It’s been in production and has a 2023 release TBC on one of the major streaming platforms.
My favourite kids book-to-film adaptation to be Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr adapted into the 2008 movie. I always loved that book as a kid and was still a kid when the film came out. There’s so many options to choose but ‘Nim’ comes to mind immediately.
My favourite book to movie adaptation is Paddington, to keep it brief, it’s one of the first times I felt a movie improved and modernised an original story in a really great way.
My favourite book-to-movie is Matilda by Roald Dahl. It is an inspiring, uplifting example of the endless possibilities in life, the magic to be found between the covers of books, and the life-changing power of words.
The bright and optimistic Matilda endures her deprived childhood until a trip to the library reveals an escape route from her loveless home life, and where a new world opens up to her. Love and warmth waits for her at the end of a journey filled with challenges.
The book that springs to mind for me is Roald Dahl’s 1964 classic, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory which I vividly recall as part of primary school story time (along with James And The Giant Peach).
The 1971 film with Gene Wilder (not to be confused with the 2005 remake) which was called Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, enthralled and captivated me as a child. The hope, the colour, the breaking out into song, the audacity! And yet by today’s standards there are so many PC red flags with four grandparents all in one bed, Oompa Loompas (were they really decapitating chickens in the background?) and blatant gender stereotypes. Nevertheless, I was completely and utterly in love with both the book and the first incarnation of the film, which Roald Dahl actually co-wrote.
A favourite moment? Glad you asked! My standout moment is when the reclusive and mysterious Willy Wonka (the fabulous Gene Wilder), hobbles along the red carpet with a walking stick, in complete silence, then ‘falls’ to the magnified gasp of the watching crowd, before doing an embellished somersault to rapturous applause.
For me, it’s not a movie but a television series:
The Worst Witch series, by Jill Murphy, was an absolute favourite of mine while growing up. I had the whole set and I read and re-read them many times. I love that Murphy (who died last year) wrote them when she was just 18 and refused to sell the rights to Disney because they wanted full creative control. There were a couple of television adaptations, a film and a stage show, but I’ve never dared watch any of them – until the most recent series (starring Bella Ramsey and later Lydia Paige as Mildred Hubble).
The Netflix series does not disappoint and is the perfect brew of warmth and humour and magic. Netflix takes plenty of liberties in its fairly loose adaptation, but it truly captures the essence of Murphy’s books and weaves its spell of friendship, loyalty, resilience and empowerment for tweens, without being too heavy-hitting or frightening. Raquel Cassidy as Miss Hardbroom is brilliant and exactly how I imagined her all those years ago!
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – published in 1911, it was made into a movie in 1993 with Dame Maggie Smith in the role of Mrs Medlock who stole the show.
Holes by Louis Sachar is another favourite – the 2003 adaption was done by Louis Sachar himself which maintained the suspense and humour of the book. The movie starred Shia LaBeouf, Patricia Arquette and Sigourney Weaver.
My favourite book to movie (in this case animation) adaptation of all times is The Last Unicorn by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr Originally a fantasy novel by author Peter S Beagle, published in 1968, it is the story of a unicorn who believes she is the last of her kind in the world and she undertakes the quest to discover what happened to all the other unicorns.
The movie features the voices of stars such as Jeff Bridges and Mia Farrow and is just that tiny bit too spooky and scary for little children. Which means I accidentally watched it when I was too young for it and the impact was profound – I think it’s then when I realised how powerful illustrations can be and fell in love with drawing and painting.
I absolutely agree with The Wizard of Oz. I’ve seen it about a million times and still have it on VHS. But to add a bit of variety, I’d like to offer another one:
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and adapted by Walt Disney Pictures as a movie. Ivan is a gorilla, who, through friendship, comes to understand that his home, in captivity, at Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, isn’t all life has to offer. An important story, told from Ivan’s point of view, promoting the importance of freeing circus animals from cages to allow them to experience the richness and beauty that life has to offer. Both my daughter and son were really captivated by this story when they read it at school in Year 3.
It isn’t overly original, but my favourite adaptation has to be Harry Potter. I was the exact age Harry was when the movies came out and I had devoured all the books (I think there were four at that stage) and to see it come to life on the big screen so similar to the books with the magic and the characters – it blew my little 11-year-old mind. (I also wrote this before seeing your response Dimity!)
Now, my least favourite adaption is something that still haunts me at night – Ella Enchanted. It was my favourite book as a kid and I was so excited to see it translated on screen.
It is a dark fairy-tale filled with brilliant characters such as terrifying ogres with oily teeth who could charm their dinner into their mouths with a special language, wise elves who built magical inventions, a brilliant smart protagonist who had everything against her and a prince who was charming but also kind… and the adaption destroyed everything.
The creepy ogres were turned into goofy bumbling fools, the wise elves were singing and dancing clowns, the protagonist a damsel in distress and the prince I so loved was now a spoiled brat.
It was the first time I had felt true disappointment in my young life and I have never trusted an adaption since. Its only redemption was a fun cover of Queens Somebody To Love by the fabulous Anne Hathaway. But, sadly, it was not enough to save the day.
My answer is long, but please bear with me.
As a kid I (and every other child who breathed and loved sweets) was absolutely enthralled by the wonderful world created by Roald Dahl in his masterpiece, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So, when 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory finally screened on tv (hey, this was before VCRs!), I felt outrageously betrayed! How dare the movie makers fail to stick to the main plot elements of the good-over-evil, wish-fulfillment magical ride that characterised my beloved book? I thought the Oompa Loompas looked like plodding blobs rather than the cheeky elves depicted in the book. And let’s not mention how the ending was butchered. Hearing that Dahl himself hated the movie adaptation justified my disdain.
Fast forward a few decades to 2005, and along came the second movie adaptation by Tim Burton, which was much, much more faithful to the novel. And guess what? That movie showed me just how dysfunctional Dahl’s Willy Wonka, and the entire premise was. It was quite dark and unsettling. The whimsical Mr Wonka came across as unhinged, as if he might spontaneously bite the other characters, and his bravado was skirted close to criminal-level irresponsibility.
So I rewatched the 1971 movie and realised there was warmth and humour in Gene Wilder’s portrayal, not to mention a genuine connection between Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket – that Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka utterly lacked.
Then the penny dropped! The 1971 version might have strayed from the original in terms of plot, but was utterly true to the spirit of the novel. The 2005 version lacked the chemistry of the novel, even if it was more faithful to the plot.
So now, I forgive the shortfalls of the 1971 movie, and have changed my expectations of what makes a good screen adaptation of a beloved book.
And … I hear that another version will be released in 2023. Hopefully it will merge the warmth and humour of the first movie, while remaining true to the plot elements in a manner that finally pleases this old grump!
Nia – Junior Reviewer
My favorite book to movie adaptation is BFG! It is one my favorite childhood books and I remember rushing into the theater with excitement and joy to see it in the big screen. Roald Dahl is a beautifully creative author and BFG quite literally proved the quote, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover‘. It was a great narrative about friendship and imagination.