Pop Off: Children's books to film
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 11, 2013 22:03
Last week I discussed the decline of family films. But I stated that the genre hasn’t exhausted its material, and there are plenty of potentially classic movies not in existence. The stories can be found, like all of the greatest stories, in books. A number of renowned family films were adaptations of novels. I mentioned several last week; some I didn’t are “Shiloh,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Pollyanna.” Here are a few books that would make good family features. And to reiterate, these are live action films that focus on the real as opposed to the fantastical.
“The Midnight Fox”: This is a story of a boy who goes to live with extended family on their farm for a summer and becomes interested in a black fox that appears on the property. It’s not your typical boy finds animal story. It’s about discovery, living outside of one’s comfort zone and the importance of personal attachment, which the book shows isn’t always achievable. It has one of the most realistically drawn child characters I’ve encountered and is just an all-around touching piece. I first read it in elementary school, but only recently did I realize its greatness, and how much I want to see it come to life.
“Dandelion Wine”: This is Ray Bradbury’s autobiographical book about one summer of his childhood. It’s something of a love-hate book for me. It has an episodic format, jumping between Bradbury and people he knows in his town. Half of the stories are sweet, engaging and perfectly create childhood nostalgia. The other half feels contrived, overreaching for sentimentality. There were talks of this being adapted two years ago, though I’m not quite sure what happened to those. I hope the project is still in the works. If they choose the right chapters for the screenplay (as adapting all of it would result in a six hour run time), and don’t force the tone, this could be a great film.
“A Long Way From Chicago” and “A Year Down Under”: These two award winning novels by Richard Peck tells the story of two kids, later teenagers who move from the city to a very rural town amid the Great Depression. But they’re not really the focus, they mostly as an observer for their grandmother, a spiteful woman who gets her way through ruthless cunning and trickery, and relishes all that she is. She’s simply too good of a character to be kept as ink on a page. Hey Sally Field, you want a third Oscar? This role might earn it. In my opinion, “A Year Down Yonder” is by far the stronger work, but both are deserving of an adaptation.
“Maniac Magee”: Actually, this was already made into a film, but it was terrible so let’s try again. I could have chosen any of Jerry Spinelli’s books for this, but “Maniac Magee,” a story about a runaway in a racially divided town, is his best, and his best known. What makes it so great is the title character, and his many peculiar habits and abilities. He’s painted as someone slightly more than human, which adds a subtle element to the tragedy of the book’s racial themes, which succeed near the level of “To Kill A Mockingbird”: I can imagine an adaptation being difficult to market, which is probably why the 2003 film was made for television. But a lot of people have read and enjoyed this book, and its message is an important one for children, perhaps even more for adults.