Emily’s Top 5 Children’s Book Adaptations

Written by Emily McWilliams July 03, 2013

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Adapting any book into a movie is a difficult task, but when it comes to the books from our childhood, turning them into a film that lives up to our memories can be particularly tricky. These are the stories and characters that we grew up with; the ones that accompanied our bedtime stories and first experiences of reading. Here I’ve compiled a list of what I believe are the best children’s book adaptations into  film that capture the imagination and wonder of their literary sources.

5. Holes (Andrew Davis, 2003)

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Louis Sachar’s classic middle-school novel about a boy named Stanley Yelnats (yes, his last name is his first name spelled backwards) who is sent to a juvenile detention center that forces delinquents to dig holes in the desert all day as punishment was adapted into a movie starring Shia LaBeouf in 2002. The film version retained much of the novel’s original plot and characters, allowing audiences to fully appreciate the story’s level of mystery and suspense. As well, Sigourney Weaver’s fiery performance as the villanous warden was a perfect embodiment of the character as described in the original novel.

4. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009)

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For many years, attempts were made to adapt Maurice Sendak’s classic picture book. In 2008, director Spike Jonze teamed up with the Henson puppet company to bring audiences a live-action version of “Where the Wild Things Are” starring the late James Gandolfini, Forest Whittaker, Katherine Keener, and Chris Cooper. Critics and audiences were torn over the film, but Jonze managed to bring a sense of wild youth to the screen that was essential to the original book’s themes. Accompanying this highly visual film, based on Sendak’s original artwork, was a soundtrack featuring the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O.

3. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart, 1971)

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Roald Dahl is the source of many classic children’s books that have been successfully turned into movies. Although Dahl hated the 1971 version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (the film’s title was changed to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”), this film starring Gene Wilder has become a family classic and has a bit of a cult following. While the film version does depart from many of the novel’s plot points and moral lessons (the book has a much darker sense of humour), it did manage to bring the magic of Willy Wonka’s chocolate utopia to realization.

2. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005)

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One of the most famous fantasy series for children, C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” were adapted by Disney in 2005. I think Disney was probably hoping for “Harry Potter”-sized success and the chance to adapt all 12 of Lewis’ books into movies, but unfortunately the series just didn’t take off. Still, the first installment, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” was a well-done fantasy epic for children that brought Narnia and all of its creatures to life. Featuring performances from James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus the faun and Tilda Swinton as the White Witch, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” introduced a new generation to Lewis’ classic stories.

1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuaron, 2004)

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Why single out one movie from the much-loved series of adaptations? Besides being my personal favourite film from the “Harry Potter” series, “Prisoner of Azkaban” represents a creative and appropriate approach to adapting not only a children’s book, but one of the most popular children’s series of all time. Director Alfonso Cuaron carefully navigated the series’ thematic and tonal changes into more mature territory signaled by the characters’ changing ages, and a departure from Chris Columbus’ family-friendly approach to the films. Cuaron made significant changes to the scenery and costuming of Hogwarts, hinting at the dark changes to come as the series continued to progress. “Prisoner of Azkaban” is a successful adaptation for combining the director’s personal style and the source material while orienting the series in a new direction.

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