Monday, October 20, 2008

Book to Movie - The Early Years

It will come as no shock to any of you to hear someone suggest that Hollywood is looking just about anywhere for ideas these days. I know! Heck, for teens, they have in the past few years, even come out with movies based on great teen novels! Written for teens! And for the younger kids? Well, often enough we are seeing rehashes of things already done - Disney, I'm looking at you here, with your Cinderella II and you Lion King III. But we've also been getting a handful of movies based on perfectly good picture books.

Basing a movie for kids on a picture books for kids seems like a good idea, right? I mean, great literature, brought to life? What's not to like?

It's problematic, though. You've all read picture books to your kids. How long does it take, even if you add in silly voices and take time to look at the pictures and maybe even embellish a little or give them some chance to predict what's coming? Fifteen minutes, tops, maybe twenty for a heftier story or a fairy tale, is pretty much what we are talking about. If you pad it out with a musical number, you could stretch it to half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes if you really bring in the dancing clowns. But even the shortest, chintziest movie comes in at about 80 minutes plus. So if you have material that will fill at most half your movie... Yeah.

Now, some stories have enough embedded in them to make them expand fairly easily. Chris van Allsburg's books are like that, entire worlds of imagination available, lots left unsaid that can be unfolded and embroidered cinematically. They work. Others may have to rely on padding, improvising, or downright inventing new stuff to stuff it full with, which often doesn't work so well (*cough*Cat in the Hat*cough*), though in the hands of some seriously funny and talented people, a story can be warped beyond recognition, but come out pretty great anyhow, though I always feel like they may as well go all the way and retitle it and rename the characters. Shrek is a fine example of this - not that much left to do with the original work, but a fun movie that works.

If you've got a kid who loves movies, it can be a great way to tie a book back to what they've seen, or to inject something a little more literary into their viewing. It's also an interesting way to start talking about books and movies and what the differences are. Watching something you've read and seeing how Hollywood changed it is a great way to begin important discussions about things like media awareness and narrative structure with your older chid, too, making them more aware of the stories they are comsuming, both onscreen and on the page. That may sound a bit complicated to parents of younger kids, but it is something we have to start thinking of, as media is much a part of their lives. Not quite yet, though - I think these longer movies are, overall, more suited to kids of 6 or more so that they really get them, anyhow.

For younger kids, I love the Weston Woods adaptations of picture books available at your library and now also on Scholastic home dvds - they still make a great way to start talking about things like the voices used in turning the book into a movie, and are a fun way to watch favourite stories come alive. They are absolutely faithful to the originals, too, so while you won't be talking editorial choices, you also don't have to live with any bad ones! This means that their length comes in typically between six and twelve minutes, but they are often bundled onto a VHS or DVD in groups of four or more.

For those older kids, here are a handful of picture books that have been stretched into full-length features you might want to check out:

By prolific and wildly imaginative author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg (who is also notable for the sheer beauty of his books, almost all what we consider "advanced pciture books"):

  • Jumanji
  • Zathura
  • Polar Express - a newer Christmas classic, even for younger kids who are nearly certain to find the other two both scary and not so accessible

Ant Bully, original story by John Nickle - a strange story I was surprised to see translated to the screen, quite frankly, and a prime example of one that made me curious to see how they stretched it out into a feature.

Shrek, based VERY loosely on the original and little-known picture book by the fabulous William Steig, who I love.

The much-loved and newly plundered works of Dr. Seuss, apparently fertile ground for comedians to work their frenetic magic on kids:

  • Cat in the Hat - Mike Myers dons the iconic tall hat this one
  • Horton Hears a Who - so new I haven't seen it or even heard much about it, so while the voices of every working comic from Jim carrey and Steve Carrell to newcomers like Seth Rogan are employed, I think the fact that it is animated instead of "live" (but much made-up with prosthetics) action is wildly promising already, so i'm giving it a chance.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Jim Carrey on grumpy green guy
  • add Seussical to this some day when they move it from stage to screen. It's got to be coming, doesn't it?

Meet the Robinsons, based on Wm Joyce's A Day With Wilbur Robinson. Joyce tends to envision fairly complete worlds, too, and has had wonderful and successful shows based on his works, which tend also to a charming and movie-friendly retro futurism that translates well into animation like this.

Do you have a favourite kids movie based on a picture book? This is only a starting point, so leave recommendations if you have them!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Making a Spectacle of Yourself

I first wore glasses when I was a mere three years old. Having had a three-year-old now, I'm not sure how my mother ever kept them on me. In fact, I would guess that a lot of children have some difficulty adjusting to glasses. They are, let's face it, a sort of weird thing to have on. You see them and feel them on your face, and for someone accustomed to being unencumbered by them, not so great. Now, of course, there are extremely cute specs for little kids, far removed from the ugly plastic things of the 19mumblemumbles, but still, hard to get used to for some.

So we parents, we emphasize the need for them, we keep after them, and all the things that parents must do. But putting a positive spin on them is something that we can turn to authors for a little help with. Need some books to help put things in perspective or help the bespectacled future look a little brighter? Here you go. You're welcome.

Baby Duck and the Bad Eyeglasses, by Amy Hest, ill. Jill Barton

Baby Duck does NOT like her new eyeglasses. she worries that they might fall off, and that they look ugly, and begins to feel sorry for herself. Grampa, who also sports specs, tests her limits and she discovers that she can do all her favourite things with them, still, AND read clearly. All good. This installment in the cute baby duck series takes the typically reassuring tone of these books, with her always-understanding Grampa making things okay. I like how he gets her. And while these books hover on the edge of too-cute, they usually come down on the right side, and certainly sit well with young kids of toddler age.

Spectacles, by Ellen Raskin

A young girl keeps seeing strange things everywhere, until her parents are sure she needs glasses. She is not convinced, but they take her to pick some anyhow, and she gets some terrific ones from the fantastic selection available. Suddenly, things look different... at least, as long as she keeps them on. This book is great fun and features Raskin's signature quirky style. It is (so sadly!) out of print, but I mention it because if you can lay hands on it, is is well worth the search. It was a favourite of this specs-sporting child, back in the day.

Glasses: Who Needs 'Em?, by Lane Smith

This frequent Jon Scieszka collaborator takes on this topic alone in a typically offbeat picture book.It treads familiar territory - coming to grips with the need for glasses and realizing they aren't so bad - but Smith adds his own brand of humour and his angular but slightly fuzzy, dark-toned illustrations. What sets this book apart from the others here is that it has, I think, much greater boy appeal than most books on the subject.

Glasses for D.W., by Marc Brown

One of the side benefits of series books is that you can use them to tackle a number of topics, and here Marc Brown uses his phenomenally successful Arthur series to talk about glasses. D.W., it seems, wants glasses just like Arthur, and is pretending she can't see. She thinks they would be cool! This is lightweight, to be sure, but the different, more positive perspective could be a nice change from all the angst that can surround them.

Robin's New Glasses, by Christine C. Jones, ill. Ji Sun Lee

When Robin goes to get her new glasses, she is nervous, and wondered if things would change. They do, in fact - for the better! She scored some cute new rims in her favourite colour, so she loves how they look. Better still, she can see everything! This is a very simple little book, but her upbeat delght with her new specs is refreshing, and the young girl herself rendered in simple line drawings that keep this cute, but not overly so.

Bumposaurus, by Penny McKinlay, ill. Britta Teckentrup

Once a dinasaur was born so near-sighted, he was named Bumposaurus for his tendency to run into things. After a series of misadventures and mistakes culminates in his nearly getting eaten by a T. Rex he mistook for his mother, his loving family decides to take action. Enter Grandma, who lets him try on her glasses and opens up a whole new world to the little reptile. Cute and sweet (but not icky sweet), this little guy shows what a difference clear sight can make.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.