Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kid-lit books to movies: Not a bad track record

The age-old debate of books vs. the movies is so age-old it seems almost pointless to me to debate the topic. Books are books and movies are movies.  Rarely does the twain meeet, and I wish more people, book-lovers and movie-lovers alike, could live with that.

But EW's new foray into the argument, and the imminent release of Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, prompts me to put a new spin on the topic - what about kid-lit books turned into movies?

I looked back on the topic and found that the track record of Hollywood adapting kid's literature to be not too bad at all. Consider this very solid list MSN put together of some of the best examples. The major omission? Mary Poppins.

As for kid-list movies made recently, there are a number of very good ones. There's the outstanding Bridge to Terabithia. There are the Harry Potter films, if you consider Rowling's books kid-lit. Holes also leaps to mind.  So does Kit Kittridge: An American Girl Movie. The movies made from Chris Van Allsburg's books range from good (Jumanji) to even better (Zathura) to truly wondrous (The Polar Express, if seen in IMAX 3D.)

So why was I thinking that the adaptations of kid's books weren't so great? Probably because of the vitriolic reactions to movies based on Dr. Seuss' books. I thought How the Grinch Stole Christmas was barely OK, but I know a lot of people who hate it.  I always tell those people "Hey - you could be watching The Cat in the Hat instead."

The Cat in the Hat. Oh GOD, what they did to that.  (How Seussian of me!)

When I read film writer Anne Thompson's post, wondering if Where the Wild Things Are would make back its reported $100 million budget, I thought to myself, "Hey - if The Cat in the Hat can make $100 million, Where the Wild Things Are had jolly well better, or I will lose faith in the American moviegoing public forever."

But I will give The Cat in the Hat credit for one thing - it inspired me to write one of my best-received reviews.

The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play.
So I sat in a theater on a cold, cold wet day.

And then something went Boom!
How that Boom sealed my doom!

I looked! Then I saw a film bomb just like that.
I looked, then I saw it, “The Cat in the Hat.”
And I hated this movie like a model hates fat.

I know it’s for kids, but it’s just plain not funny.
I concluded it isn’t worth anyone’s money.
For after some time when I got a good look,
I began to complain, like the fish in the book.

Like the fish, I said, “Ugh! Make this cat go away!
For this ‘Cat in the Hat’ film has ruined my day!
It should not be so shrill; it should not be so rude,
When this cat burps and vomits ’cause he loves to be crude!”

This kind of coarse humor would shame Dr. Seuss,
If I had been he, I’d have blown and let loose
With a stream of complaints about how the film’s crass
And was made with nary a glimmer of class.

“After all,” I cried out with a rant and a rave,
 “Why, Dr. Seuss surely would spin in his grave
At the scene where the cat dons a big derriere
And makes like a plumber, pants slipped down to there!”

Mike Myers’ gags land with loud crashes and thuds,
But that’s what you get when you wallow in crud.
At times he’s so gross and so caught up in dreck,
I’d swear Myers thinks that the cat should be Shrek.

This film’s famed producer had found it a cinch
To make lots of money with a film of “The Grinch.”
But as much as some critics complained it lacked taste,
At least that film’s heart had been in the right place.

The “Cat” movie strains for a lesson to teach
About how to have fun, and it tries hard to preach
The importance of cleaning up after you play,
But amid such foul jokes, this rang hollow, I’d say.

To be fair, I’ll concede that the sets are quite dazzling,
So much so at times they gloss over the frazzling
Of mild crude humor and dumb jokes galore
That the film’s PG rating has brought to the fore.

The kids are good too, I will gladly confess,
Spencer Breslin has risen above all the mess.
And little Miss Fanning with the first name Dakota,
Helped notch my grade up just a teensy iota.

But I still left the film with my head hanging low,
As I thought back on reading the book long ago:
“‘Oh dear,” said the cat, ‘You did not like our game.
Oh dear. What a shame! What a shame! What a shame!’”

Some parents may protest, “Now don’t be so icky.
This movie’s for little ones who aren’t quite so picky.
My children will love it, of that there’s no doubt.
Your kind of critiquing they can do without.”

It’s true that the children may not share my taste,
But don’t take them out to this movie in haste.
There are better films out there, much funnier fare
Like that hit movie “Elf,” and the fine “Brother Bear.”

As for the filmmakers, your sins you’ll atone
As long as from now on, you leave Seuss alone.
If you remember but one thing, remember this most:
Make “Green Eggs and Ham” and that’s it…. you are toast!

This review prompted one of my most memorable reactions. Someone I knew called me about another subject, then mentioned "Oh, I read in your Cat in the Hat review. Normally I just read the first few paragraphs and skip down to the grade, but this time I read the whole thing!"

I was simultaneously gratified and insulted.

I plan to be back this weekend with a review of Where the Wild Things Are. In the meantime, what kid-lit books turned movies stand out in your mind, for good or ill?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love love love love love Mary Poppins, and although it is not really a book, Ever After and its adaption of Cinderella is definitely a favorite. And of course the Wizard of Oz BECAUSE BECAUSE BECAUSE BECAUSE BECAUSE! It is just brilliant!