Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Five Barnstorming Books-to-Movies: Gillian Philip
I know I’m going to get myself in hot water with this one. Books are so personal, and movies are so personal (but in a different way). There are films of children’s books that I should have seen but haven’t – The Secret of Moonacre (The Little White Horse) for instance, or How To Train Your Dragon (which I am desperate to see, but I’m having to wait for the DVD).
I think it’s harder with children’s books than it is with adults’ to find a movie that’s better than the book. Is that an indication of the higher quality of children’s books? I like to think so. At any rate, I can think straightaway of many adult movies that are better than the book – The Godfather, Jaws – but that very rarely applies to children’s books-to-movies.
I can, though, think of lots that are just as good but different. I actually think the different is important. I'm not crazy about films that are true to the book, which is why you won’t find any Harry Potter movies on my list – for me they are too faithful to the books and (with the exception of the third) don’t really have their own identity as films.
I don’t mind one bit when films take reasonable liberties with a book, because they need to be good in their own right, not just exact translations of page to screen. I want to be transported by movies and books in entirely different ways. I’m swept away far more by Inkheart the novel than Inkheart the movie. But (if I’m allowed to count abridged versions as children’s favourites) I’m far more enchanted by Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Tarzan (1999) as movies than as books.
I seem to have gone for five very recent movies (sorry, Bambi, I did want you). And I wanted more than five. I wanted Stuart Little, too, and Shrek, and Stormbreaker, and The Black Stallion, and I desperately wanted The (supremely quotable) Princess Bride, and... oh, that’s cheating. Get on with it.
Each of the five had to pass a simple test: do my children – one girl one boy – ask to watch it over and over again?
Peter Pan (2003)
A Peter who is ‘the personification of cockiness’ and whose American accent only makes him more otherworldly. Lost Boys you don’t want to throttle. Terrifying mermaids and thoroughly sinister pirates. A scheming, naughty, funny Tink. Jason Isaacs as a deliciously wicked and handsome Captain Hook - but ‘not wholly evil’. A soaring soundtrack. Scenes that make my spine tingle no matter how many times I watch them – Mr and Mrs Darling running home in slow motion, only just too late! Bankers and strict aunts and sleeping children chanting that they DO believe in fairies, they DO, they DO! Ah, I love this movie.
I know, I know, it’s allegedly the nadir of Robert De Niro’s career. But I like his turn as an effete, cross-dressing pirate captain. I like the seven fratricidal brothers, too, both alive and dead. Jokes, danger, thrills, romance, unicorns, views of Skye. If I was gay I’d want to marry Claire Danes, and if I was younger I’d want to marry Charlie Cox, especially after his ‘reverse haircut’. What’s more, I’m a soft touch for a cheesy Take That song. I adore this movie so much, I can even forgive a Ricky Gervais cameo.
Another Neil Gaiman adaptation, this time a captivatingly beautiful animation. Coraline is a clever, likeable heroine whose terror and danger seem very real, and whose bravery is therefore all the more impressive. The houseful of eccentrics are beautifully balanced by their vicious alternates, and I am a huge fan of that scrawny, smart cat who moves so comfortably between the worlds. As for Coraline’s button-eyed Other Mother: she’s evil enough to send even a parent diving behind the sofa. And (shhh) she makes me feel better about my own maternal inadequacies and laptop time.
Nanny McPhee (2005)
‘Once upon a time there was a huge family of children; and they were terribly, terribly naughty.’ And then Nurse Matilda went Hollywood and became Nanny McPhee, and disciplined a whole new generation. I came late to this one, and I watched it reluctantly, not expecting to like it. I laughed out loud as much as my children did, and I (surreptitiously) cried at the end. I’m a little afraid to see Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, because I don’t trust sequels. But I might have to try.
The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Oh, I had to sneak this one in. Not strictly a children’s book, but like many, many others, I first read the trilogy as a young teenager. The Two Towers and The Return of the King are grander, more threatening, more epic in scale, and you do get Gollum; but there’s something so watchable and entrancing about the first instalment. Aragorn’s rough and enigmatic and sexy, Boromir is still around (I always liked Boromir), the Black Riders are far more dreadful on horseback than on their flying mounts, and Arwen shows a bit of gumption, some blade and a nice way with a horse. And they dropped that ghastly old singing hippy Tom Bombadil. I could watch this one over and over, and I do.
Go on, I know your five will be different. Do tell...