Split Decision: Children's Books to Screen
Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!
This week’s question:
In honor of Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, what is your favorite film based on a children’s book?
While I love the films Hugo and The Witches, I don't recall reading those books, so I'll select a children's book I read albeit, as an adult: Mr. Popper's Penguins. I was given the book because of my undying love for flightless waterfowl, and so of course, I had to see the film as well. And yes, I was charmed and enchanted by the waddling tuxedoed animals who outperformed the manic Jim Carrey with their madcap antics.
I feel half-bad using this because Jill already brought it up in a Split-Decision last month, but my favorite cinematic adaptation of a children's book has to be Jumanji. Like a lot of his work, Chris Val Allsburg's Jumanji book is made up of a bunch of gorgeous illustrations that evoke a mood more than a narrative. I remember re-visiting it as a kid, after the Robin Williams movie had come out, and being amazed that the source material doesn't really have any characters outside of the main brother and sister. Like, there's no missing child who spends decades trapped in a jungle, much less a whole town that's dealing with that boy's disappearance. It's a book about board game conjuring jungle stuff, and then the jungle stuff vanishes. It's impressive how many ideas are packed into a movie that only really tries to evoke its inspiration's creepy tone.
I was obsessed with Agnieszka Holland's The Secret Garden as a kid. Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, it's about a young girl named Mary who, after being orphaned, is sent to live with her uncle, an English lord, at Misselthwaite Manor. While there, she befriends her maid's younger brother, and together, they discover a secret unkempt garden on the manor grounds. Together, the children bring the garden back to life again, which in turn, brings happiness and joy back to the lives of those living at the manor. It's a classic story with a simple and focused message that is brought to the screen in an elegant, mature package by Holland. Ryan has called this movie "boring" to my face, and I can see why someone may take that view. We certainly don't make movies like it for children (or families) anymore. I love stories about hidden worlds that require some effort or sacrifice to get to, and even more, to fully experience. The garden in this film, and really, every location they used, is nothing short of perfection. From the cold, austere interiors of the manor, to the warm colors of the garden and the English countryside, this film is gorgeous to behold. The manor is also filled with hidden passages which, again, mimicking the hidden garden, lead Mary to unexpected discoveries. After seeing this movie, I may have run around my yard as a kid, skeleton key in hand, searching for some hidden door in a hedge. I'm just saying.
I could have picked any number of Roald Dahl adaptations, like the aforementioned The Witches, to Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, or my beloved Wes Anderson adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox.
But I wanted to pick a book I loved from my childhood that–if not for the whimsical genius of Phil Lord and Chris Miller–should never have been made into a movie: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Taking a 32-page book aimed at preschoolers and adapting it into a hilarious film that not only captures the imagination that always spurred me in the book, but also celebrates a love of science, invention, and romance is an astounding achievement.