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.

Stardust (2007)

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.

Coraline (2009)

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...


Jo Treggiari said...

Completely agree with Stardust, Coraline and that version of Peter Pan which came closest to capturing the relationships between Wendy, Pan and Tink.
Found Nanny McPhee awfully boring (despite Colin Firth) but will give it another go as you like it.
Also think Babe and The Nightmare Before Christmas should be on the list.
I enjoyed How To Train Your Dragon much more than the usual hollywood kid's fare though it annoyed me that the kid characters spoke with american accents and the rest of the Vikings were Hollywood Scotch, but it was a fun movie though not as quirky as the books.
I also liked the movie version of the Golden Compass though it is not even close to being in the same class as the novel. The brilliant story still shone though.

Rachel Ward said...

Hi Gillian,

Totally with you on Stardust - it's a fabulous film. I would add the first Twilight film although I confess I've only read the first few pages of the book (over the shoulder of my daughter who then told me to go away). I found the setting and the way it was filmed terrifically atmospheric and then, of course, there's Robert Pattinson in all his brooding loveliness...

Elen Caldecott said...

What about the Railway Children? Jenny Aguiter saying 'Daddy, my daddy...' Sob!

maryom said...

I don't think you've missed much by not seeing The Secret of Moonacre. I read the book as a child and it was totally magical - the film just wasn't, for an adult.
I'd have to include The Secret Garden - the version with Maggie Smith as housekeeper. I think it might be the walled garden that fascinates me but Lizzie loved it too when younger.

Ben Horslen said...

Gillian, I think we may have been separated at birth. Inkheart, check - the film was the cinematic equivalent of a five-year-old's repainting of the Mona Lisa. Peter Pan, check - whisper it quietly but I was never that fussed about the written version anyway. Stardust, check - the brilliance, deftness and economy of the plotting came over just as well, if not better, on screen (why can't more screenplays be like that?), and you're right about Bob de Niro too. Fellowship, check - the film captures and expands on the character dynamics that raise that book above the sequels, for all their epic derring do. However, as two out of five seems excessive, even for one of Mr Gaiman's godlike genius, I'd replace Coraline with Jurassic Park. Like LOTR, not a children's book, but not only did the film have dinosaurs (DINOSAURS!), it redefined kids' expectations of monster movies. Priceless.

Juliette said...

I absolutely love both LOTR and Stardust, but I'm afraid the purist in me has to discount both of them as neither are children's books (check out the sex scene in Stardust - I hope that's not aimed at kids). Sooo...

1. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe - minor historical inaccuracy forgiven (the children would probably have been evacuated before the bombing actually started, but that scene is perfect, such a good way to explain their situation to children unfamiliar with the history and the whole theme of war is brillinatly handled)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - which I think is better than the book, having lost all the padding and focussed on the story. It's also my favourite Harry Potter film.
3. The Secret Garden (the one with Maggie Smith) - just perfect.
4. Disney's Alice in Wonderland
5. Hook. I know it's got a terrible reputation, but I saw it as a child and loved it.

Honourable mention to the Muppet's Christmas Carol, also ineligible as not based on a children's book!

Juliette said...

Just looked at the comments and realised I forgot The Railway Children! Put that in the list instead of Hook!

hilary said...

Ballet Shoes

Little Women

Cold Comfort Farm (not sure if that should really count. Teen, maybe?)

I loved the recreations of Hobbiton and Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring- perfect, and by far the best of the three films I agree. (Thought Rivendell looked a bit damp).

kathryn evans said...

Oh oh oh! Loved Stardust - didn't know it was adapted by Gaimon - explains a lot - haven't seen Coraline am scared I'll hate it as I loved the book. Inkheart possibly the worst film I've ever seen - didn't even make it to the end was so irritated by it...this is a ll a bit unfair though because I know How to Train Your Dragon would be in your top 5 if you'd seen it - not at all like the book but brilliant none-the-less - and the black dragon in it is just like my dog ( only not as smelly)...Funny though - I hated the LOTR films. Bored senseless, too boring even to do the ironing too - I realise this means there is something wrong with me.

Nick Cross said...

Kathy - I think the script for Stardust was written by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughan, but adapted from the Neil Gaiman book. Stardust is an interesting choice actually, because it is adapted quite liberally but works really well as a film. The climax in particular is a wonderful bit of imaginative action, but completely invented for the film.

Have to agree with Juliette's choice of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - a great film in it's own right and very likely to be my favourite Potter film unless David Yates pulls his finger out on the last two!

Nicky S (Absolute Vanilla) said...

ha, watched Stardust AGAIN, last night. Love Nanny McPhee and Coraline and Stormbreaker. Would also have to add to the list: the Spiderwick Chronicles (I suspect a lot has to do with Freddy Highmore being so cute and who could not love Hogsqueal and Thimbletack!) and Matilda, Billy Elliot, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (though it took a while to get used to the Johnny Depp version) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Nicky S (Absolute Vanilla) said...

and oh yes, have to add the Secret Garden too!

Lynda Waterhouse said...

I enjoyed the film version of Holes which is a novel I really love.

Tracy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Glad to see some Stardust fans here. Had come to the conclusion it's a film people love to hate.

Becky said...

I loved Stardust but then I haven't read the book. It is a film I can watch again and again.
I also loved Fellowship of the Ring. I love the whole hobbitness of it all.
I agree about Inkheart. The film was appalling. The book was good.
Same with City of Ember. I love the book but the film was at best mediocre. Again same with Percy Jackson but then I am a HUGE Camp Half Blood fan.

Katherine Langrish said...

I liked Stardust! (And I've met the original of the star...)

Gillian Philip said...

Wow, thanks for all the comments - I just knew they'd be interesting!

Jo, I forgot about Babe (how could I?) - yes, that has to be a contender. And Elen, same with The Railway Children - probably not in my top five but I do always blub at that ending.

Rachel, hi! Yes, I liked the Twilight movie much better than the book - I watched it on Keren David's recommendation and she was right, it had a nice dark indie feel.

Ben, good point about Jurassic Park - not a children's book at all, but with a lot of changes it made a terrific kids' movie (and that's another one my children watch over and over). It still looks good, years later!

Juliette - I know what you mean but I allowed Stardust in on the same grounds I allowed FOTR - it's an adult read that's easily & frequently enjoyed by quite young teens, and I think it's definitely a movie for children as well as adults. For that reason I'd definitely count Hilary's Cold Comfort Farm, too!

Tracy (and Juliette, unless you meant the earlier animation?) - Alice in Wonderland is one that seems to divide people down clear lines, isn't it? I have friends who absolutely adored it, but it left me completely cold and unmoved (especially Johnny Depp, which is definitely against all precedent). But it did look very beautiful.

Lynda - I would have liked to include Holes because I adore that book. It's one of my favourites. But (hides head in shame) - I have never seen the movie, so I couldn't. But I will, one of these days SOON.

Katherine - do you mean Claire Danes? WOW!! Seriously, I have an almost-crush on her!

Thanks again everybody, terrific comments!

Linda Strachan said...

I loved Stardust, and FOTR, Matilda and Nanny McPhee. Not seen Coraline yet, but intend to and Loved the book Holes but like you Gillian, I've not seen the film.
Yes, must include Cold Comfort Farm 'cos there's something wicked in the woodshed...!

madwippitt said...

How could you pass over on the sublime Princess Bride? And what a good argument it is for allowing authors to adapt their own books!

Gillian Philip said...

I adore The Princess Bride, but it fell at that all-important hurdle of being one that my children want to watch over and over again. They enjoy it, but it isn't a favourite. I suspect it has a lot of 'adult' appeal.

And I do agree, it's an argument for authors adapting their own work - but there are so many other arguments for the opposite! Most authors are not screenwriters, and it shows. In saying this I am of course baiting fate, in the hope that someone will some day want to adapt one of mine... ;-)

Savita Kalhan said...

Gillian, I love your choices, and for me I would include The Secret Garden, Holes, The Little Princess, The Railway Children, Jungle Book and The Wizard of Oz...

MG Harris said...

Bridge To Terabithia! Wonderful film and story about childhood.