Printed, with a chance of movies | St. Louis Public Radio

Printed, with a chance of movies

Sep 14, 2009

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 14, 2009 - Hear that? That splat, splat, splat? That sound of something smacking down to the ground as it falls from the sky?

In the classic children’s book, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” it’s the daily sound of burgers, soup and waffles that rain down and feed the town of Chewandswallow. In the book, the story is told by a grandpa to his grandchildren.

But in the movie by the same name, which comes out Friday, Sept. 18, the drama gets amped up a bit. The adaptation, starring Andy Samberg and Anna Farris, looks into why the town had food raining on it in the first place. (It involves a wacky inventor, a childhood bully and a machine with a mind of its own.)

Starting this weekend and well into next year, a few more classic kids’ books will make the leap from page to screen, including “Where the Wild Things Are,”  on Oct. 16, and Tim Burton’s version of “Alice in Wonderland,” in March of next year.

In the past, there have been some critically acclaimed transformations, like the Harry Potter series -- and some puzzling ones, like Mike Myers in “The Cat in the Hat.” So what makes good book-to-movie moves?

We asked three people who are in-the-know in children’s literature to break it down for us, plus their top favorites and what else they’d love to see on screen.

And so far, Sarah Windau, assistant manager in youth services with the St. Louis County Library, doesn’t think the adaptation of “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” looks too great.

“However, if it inspires people to go find the book and read it,” she says, “then that’s a great thing.”

Sarah Windau

Assistant Manager, Youth Services with the St. Louis County Library

Q. What are your top three favorite children’s books that have become movies and why?

A. 1. “Anne of Green Gables” is my all-time favorite, and the 1985 movie adaption made by Sullivan Entertainment literally brought the book alive. The actors they cast matched the characters perfectly. It’s timeless. 2. “Holes” by Louis Sachar is another favorite, and the 2003 movie adaptation followed the book almost exactly. 3. The Harry Potter series because the casting of the characters was well done, and the special effects

Q. What makes some children’s book-to-movie transformations work, while others seem to flop?

A. The best scenario is when the film producers actually involve the author of the book; then it has a chance of maintaining its integrity. For instance, J.K. Rowling was always consulted, as was Stephenie Meyer for “Twilight.” Being faithful to the story is really important.

Q. What’s the worst adaptation you’ve seen?

A. “The Polar Express” was an awful adaptation of a picture book. Also, “The Series of Unfortunate Events” movie, with Jim Carrey. It combined the first three books in the series, but also added elements that weren’t even in the book, so it was puzzling. I don’t think people responded well because they obviously haven’t tried to continue making any movie sequels to it.

Q. Are there any children’s books you’d like to see made into a movie that haven’t yet been made?

A. “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” is a classic historical fiction story that won the Newbery back in 1959, and it would make a wonderful movie.

Q. Switching that last question around, have you found any great movies that would also make great children’s books?

A. Strangely, I can’t really think of any. Sometimes books adapted from movies do get published, but the books are not really notable in any way. For instance, many Disney picture books are based on Disney movies. But a full-length children’s novel based on a movie usually doesn’t become a literary classic.

Q. With a few notable adaptations coming out this year and next year, are there any you’re excited about seeing?

A. I can’t wait to see “Where the Wild Things Are,” and I’m a fan of Dave Eggers, who wrote the screenplay. Also, the trailers for “New Moon” look great, so I hope the movie lives up to it. And in early 2010, the Percy Jackson movie will come out. That will be huge.

Amy E. Sklansky

St. Louis children’s author of five children’s books, including “Where Do Chicks Come From” and “Skeleton Bones and Goblin Groans”

Q. What are your top three favorite children’s books that have become movies and why?

A. I think Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have been the greatest big screen successes to come from the world of children's books. A big part of that should be credited to the top-notch teams that made these movies: screenwriters, directors, producers, and the investment of time, money, and thought that went into making the movies. I also think that these particular books adapt well to the movie screen since their subject matter is so visual and magical. For instance, it's exciting to read about a quidditch match or an epic battle involving the likes of elves and dwarves, but it adds something to the story experience to also be able to see it all convincingly depicted on the movie screen.

Q. What makes some children’s book-to-movie transformations work, while others seem to flop?

A. The movies that do their best to remain true to the essence, the heart of the book and the characters are the ones that succeed. This is particularly true of those books well loved by readers because their expectations are very high.

Q. What’s the worst adaptation you’ve seen?

A. I can't really name a worst, though I will share that I was rather disappointed with “The Golden Compass” movie, particularly the ending.  I loved Phillip Pullman's book!

Q. Are there any children’s books you’d like to see made into a movie that haven’t yet been made?

A.Nothing comes to mind but plenty of people are out there thinking about this question, particularly over the last 15 years. I'm more than happy just to read a great story.

Q. Switching that last question around, have you found any great movies that would also make great children’s books?

A. No.

Q. With a few notable adaptations coming out this year and next year, are there any you’re excited about seeing?

A. I think it will be interesting to see how “Where the Wild Things,” a 32-page picture book, is adapted as a full-length movie. It's quite the opposite of the challenge faced by a Harry Potter movie, for example, in which parts of the book must be omitted. I also think Spike Jonze is an interesting choice to direct.

Vicki Erwin

Owner, Main Street Books, St. Charles

Q. What are your top three favorite children’s books that have become movies and why?

A. “Little Women,” -- this is one of my favorite movies and they did a great adaptation this last time; “Because of Winn Dixie,” -- the casting was great, the added tension was great and it was child friendly yet had appeal for adults; “Willy Wonka,” -- the original one based on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” -- so whimsical!

Q. What makes some children’s book-to-movie transformations work, while others seem to flop?

A. Sometimes it seems that the adaptations don't seem to understand the child wonder of a story.

Q. What’s the worst adaptation you’ve seen?

A. “Matilda.”

Q. Are there any children’s books you’d like to see made into a movie that haven’t yet been made?

A. Something from Patricia Polacco; her stories are so heartfelt! (Also) “Chronicles of Vladimir Todd,” -- so far three of them: “Eighth Grade Bites,” “Ninth Grade Slays,” “Tenth Grade Bleeds.” And she's a local author, Heather Brewer.

Q. Switching that last question around, have you found any great movies that would also make great children’s books?

A. I don't tend to think in that direction, but I loved the movie “The Goonies.” Not sure if that's ever been a book or not.

Q. With a few notable adaptations coming out this year and next year, are there any you’re excited about seeing?

A. “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” “Where the Wild Things Are” -- picture books are hard to stretch into a movie length and I'm interested to see how these work out.