Film Adaptations: The Good, The Bad, and the Traumatizing

Babe_ver1Wild Things! includes a small handful of transcriptions of very brief discussions of one sort or another about children’s books that we three authors had. (In some cases, we had even debated a topic or two.) Many, but not all, of those sidebar discussions were cut from the book, primarily because we wrote way too much at first and had to cut about a third of our original manuscript.

Today, we share one of those cut sidebar discussions, a bittersweet thing, because we can once again hear Peter’s “voice,” though he is no longer with us.

And what had we been discussing in this sidebar? This was in a chapter about film adaptations of children’s books (the entire chapter was eventually nixed, though we posted some stories the other day), and we had discussed some of our least favorite ones.

But how about we start with some of our favorites? Please do weigh in below in the comments, if you’re so inclined, with your own favorites (as well as the ones you’d rather wipe from your memory).

The Best Book-to-Film Adaptations – Show ‘Em How It’s Done!

  • Anne of Green Gables (1985) — Made for TV? Canadian? Bah! And yet here you have a stellar cast of actors (Colleen Dewhurst, Richard Farnsworth) and a lead (Megan Follows), who manages to believably age from pre-adolescence to full-on womanhood.
  • 281fe89f74817de80e8416f06c30bb76ffee198bBabe (1995) — One of those rare cases where the padding added to a film to make it last longer than the mere words in the book actually enhances the viewing experience, rather than detracts. And there are singing mice. So . . . there you go.
  • The Brave Little Toaster (1987) — One of the few Disney animated films to play at Sundance. This came out in 1987, one year after The Great Mouse Detective, two years before The Little Mermaid. Out of this animation no man’s land comes the most surreal, haunting, fantastic little film on record.
  • Bridge to Terabithia (2007) — It helps when the author’s son writes the screenplay.
  • Coraline (2009) — If you want to blame any movie for the rise of the 3-D film experience, Coraline can shoulder some of the blame. Visually, it’s a stunner, though. And the story ain’t half shabby either.
  • Holes (2003) — Stanley Yelnats isn’t fat, but aside from that, there’s little to criticize about this marvelous retelling of Louis Sachar’s book. The fact that the author helped out on the process doesn’t hurt matters much either.
  • Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) — Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasy novel was adapted into an animated film by the great director Hayao Miyazaki — and animated by Studio Ghibli. A visual delight, this one.
  • The Iron Giant (1999) — A sleeper hit, but with a core fanbase. The book by Ted Hughes (yep, Sylvia Plath’s Ted Hughes) originally came out in 1968. This adaptation cast Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., and Vin Diesel and, amazingly enough, is a darn good film.
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) — Walden Media is a Christian organization. In that light, it makes a certain amount of sense that they would have put as much time and care into this adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s best-known book.
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939) — Entirely faithful to the original script? Not hardly, but sometimes a classic stands on its own two legs. This movie certainly does.


Can We Get a Take Two, Please? Our Votes for Least Favorite Film Adaptation:

Peter: I’ve got a triple feature: Island of the Blue Dolphins (1964), My Side of the Mountain (1969), and Hatchet, a.k.a. A Cry in the Wild (1990). Although these survival stories were super on the page, watching one character wander around the wilderness with no one to talk to for a couple hours is super-boring.

Betsy: I know that the world acknowledges The Cat in the Hat as the worst of the worst, but for eye-bleeding awfulness my money’s firmly on that live action Grinch monstrosity. Three words for you: Grinch love interest. Bleack!

Jules: In 1985, when I was 13 years old and knee-deep in my All Things Oz obsession, I saw Return to Oz, a film adaptation (starring Fairuza Balk) based on some of the Oz books, mainly The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. At one point in the movie, all the citizens of Oz have been turned to stone.

Now, in Baum’s books the Nomes are rock fairies who live underground. In this film adaptation, they took the Nome King to an extreme (via claymation) and made him look like this:


I’ve always had this dislike of giant, stone structures—so much so that they make me feel just downright creeped out—and it wasn’t until I re-watched this movie as a grown-up that I figured out why.

I’m not saying that I consider it a bad movie adaptation, but it did give me lots of sleepless nights as a child. (I’m averting my eyes even now from the above image.)

Betsy: Whereas I have this odd and perverted love of that film. Maybe because I saw it for the first time as an older teen. That’s sort of the perfect age to watch the film. Can’t imagine what it would do to your brain to see the film younger. (Mombi and the Wheelers alone would twist your gray matter into donuts.)

Jules: I do like it — it just made me loathe big, stone things for the rest of my life. Visiting Rome was challenging, and the first time I looked up at the statue of Athena here at the Parthenon in Nashville, which we affectionately call “The Redneck Parthenon,” I cried — and it took me about 30 minutes to actually uncover my face and peek at her. YIGGEDY!

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