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.

No comments:

Post a Comment