When a movie is made from a children’s book, several factors may result in the movie being a great one: the quality of the original book, the production values of the movie, and how true the movie is to the spirit of the book. Once in a rare while, these three things come together in a perfect magical recipe which creates an unforgettable experience for children and adults alike.
But which ones were the absolute best? Everyone has their own opinion, but here are my picks.
It seems to be easy to create a magical recipe with animation. There have been many wonderful children’s stories that have been made into animated features, particularly by Walt Disney. Many Disney adaptations of fairy tales, including Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and The Little Mermaid to name but a few, have become true classics. So let us begin with animation.
1. Frozen (2013)
I think the 2013 mega hit Frozen is one of the best children's animations ever. It is a wonderful but extremely loose adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen which bears very little resemblance to the original. The boy kidnapped by Anderson's Snow Queen becomes a magical princess. Although the story line is quite different, I believe it actually improves on the original. While it retains Anderson's themes of sacrifice and the power of love, it refuses to be a stereotypical fairy tale romance, focusing instead on the love between two sisters. It also introduces us to one of the best ever comedic cartoon characters, Igor, the adorable snowman who incongruously lives for warm hugs. and who is always falling apart but somehow always manages to put himself together again.Credit: HumMelissa_Glee. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
2. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
When I was young, one of my favorite books was The Borrowers by Mary Norton which was a story about a tiny little family who lived in the walls of a country cottage. The Secret World of Arrietty is a beautiful and moving adaptation of Norton's vision. It is a miniature artistic feast from the Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli and the renowned cartoon artist Hayao Miyazaki, best known for Princess Mononoke and the Academy Award winning Spirited Away.
I definitely agree with critics who have praised this magical anime for the direction of Hiromasa Yonebayashi, for its musical score, its touching story, and most of all for the artistry of its animation.
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Live Action Movies
While many animated features have successfully created movie magic, it seems to be a more difficult to create the same magic with live action movies. However, there are quite a few that seem to have succeeded.
3 and 4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1971 and 2005)
Roald Dahl was a master children’s storyteller who created many great children's books, including James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. He is best known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a hilarious cautionary tale about a poor boy who wins a tour of a magical candy factory.
There have been two movie versions of Charlie's story.
The 1971 version, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, is a zany and lighthearted romp which in my opinion captures the playful spirit of Dahl’s original book. Its Academy Award nominated musical score by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley includes the eternal favorite The Candy Man Can, and Gene Wilder received a Golden Globe nomination for his quirky and eccentric portrayal of factory overlord Willy Wonka.
Although Raould criticized the way that the movie script altered the plot of the book, I believe the 1971 film was a far superior interpretation than Tim Burton's 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, even though the later movie is more faithful to the original story. While reviews were generally favorable, I feel that the movie presents director Tim Burton's own twisted vision of the original. In addition, Johnny Depp's portrayal of Willie Wonka seems to hide a disturbing undercurrent of evil. Rather than the bright, colorful world of the 1971 version, the sets have a dark, haunting quality, and the musical score is a patchwork of musical genres. Rotten Tomatoes recommended this movie, which is definitely not suitable for young children, as "for people who like their Chocolate visually appealing and dark."
5 - 12. Harry Potter (2001 - 2011)
The perfect storm of great best-selling books with blockbuster movies is, of course, the eight-movie Harry Potter series, based on the novels by J.K. Rowling. Some secrets to the success of the books’ transition to the screen include stunning production design and visual effects, inspired casting, and screenplays written in close consultation with the author.Credit: By Daniel_Radcliffe.jpg: Matthew Blaney from London, UK Rupert_Grint.jpg: John Griffiths from London, United Kingdom Emma_Watson_GoF_Premiere.jpg: Zaheer12a derivative work: Bovineboy2008 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via
However, there have been inevitable production changes over the ten-year length of the series. There have been four different directors, two different screenwriters and six different directors of photography, which has resulted in a lack of consistency throughout the series. I thought that some of the episodes were quite brilliant while others were frankly disappointing. Book fans often find the first two movies, The Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the U.S.A.) and The Chamber of Secrets, richly beautiful fantasies directed by Chris Columbus, to be more faithful to the original books. I liked the first two films best of all, but I was seriously disappointed in The Half Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows Part 1.
13. The Wizard of Oz (1939)Credit: By CBS Television Network [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The first Harry Potter movie was an instant success and eight films together are the highest-grossing series of all-time. However, not all great movies are immediately popular. The Wizard of Oz, based on Frank L. Baum’s 1900 children's novel about Dorothy Gale's journey to a magical far away land, was a box office failure when first released in 1939, but subsequently became one of the best loved movies of all time.
The Wizard of Oz is recognized for its groundbreaking special effects and for introducing the use of Technicolor. It is also is the source of many familiar quotes, such as “There’s no place like home,” and “I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more, Toto.” There are many differences between the movie script and the book. For example in the book Oz is a real place and in the movie it is a dream world. However, in spite of these differences the film is considered to be an inspired interpretation of the book. It is ranked as one of the top ten best movies of all time by the Library of Congress and has received 100% positive reviews on its Rotten Tomatoes website listing.
Just for Fun
Take a Nostalgic Trip Down the Yellow Brick Road
The Wizard of Oz was 75 years old in 2014. Will any of the Harry Potter movies still be around in 75 years' time? What other great movies may be made from children’s books in that time? We can only wait and see.