Best and Worst Children’s Book Movie Adaptations

The release of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are brings to mind two thoughts: “Holy crap, this is totally going to suck” or “This is going to be the greatest kid’s adaptation ever!” Time (and box office results) will tell which side of the spectrum it will fall on, but for the time being, here is a list of some of the best and worst children’s book adaptations. Let us know what movies are on YOUR “best” and “worst” lists!

The Good

1. The Chronicles of Narnia : The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Book adaptations don’t come much better than this. The acting is wonderful, the effects are stunning and the script flows almost as nicely as the novel itself. While the performances from the children playing the Pevensies are great, I honestly can’t picture any two people more perfect to play the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) and Aslan (Liam Neeson).

2. Charlotte’s Web (1973)

While the 2006 live-action(ish) version is stellar on its own, one can’t help but love the original. Classrooms across the world got a taste of Wilbur and Charlotte’s world and have gone back for seconds ever since. If you’re looking for the ultimate story of life to show to a young kid, Charlotte’s Web is your best bet.

3. The Jungle Book (1967)

How many of you got “Bear Necessities” stuck in your head when you saw this? Admit it — you did! Baloo and Mowgli are among Disney’s icons, and rightfully so: The songs are catchy and the animation is so perfect, it’s as if the story was picked from your brain and put on the big screen. Not many films can say that.

4. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

The 1971 original is a classic. Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, the demented chocolate-factory owner, is one of his best performances to date. Despite being a children’s book adaptation, the “scary tunnel” scene was ranked  No. 74 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments list.

5. James and the Giant Peach (1996)

What happens when you cross the wonderful children’s book author Roald Dahl with the visionary animator Henry Selick? You get this fantastic film. The best part about watching this is that it not only entertains children viewers but also the adults as well. It is truly picture perfect.

Honorable Mentions: 

The Iron Giant (1999) – If you don’t bawl like a damn baby every single time, you’re heartless. 

The Princess Bride (1987) – It seems wrong not to include this on the list. It’s a total classic.

The Bad

1. The Cat in the Hat (2003)

While I want to blame Mike Myers for this crap, I can’t (at least not entirely). While the book was pretty wacky, the film was not. The characters you knew and loved from the book just weren’t interpreted well for film — not to mention the distinct lack of color in all of the characters except the Cat.

2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Not even Ron Howard could keep this movie from the massive suck. The original animated 1966 film was done so well that there was really no reason for a remake. The “tweaks” in the new version were extra-unnecessary, and Jim Carrey was even more over-the-top than usual.

3. Ella Enchanted (2004)

Cary Elwes was in one great kids book adaptation (The Princess Bride) but he couldn’t save this one. Unfortunately, a clever children’s book is turned into a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy a la Disney. If you want to see Anne Hathaway in a pretty dress, stick to The Princess Diaries.

4. Curious George (2006)

I’m not sure there was a kid who didn’t read these books. Unfortunately for the movie, it seems more like a movie about the Man with the Yellow Hat (voiced by Will Ferrell) than Curious George himself. Half the fun of this series was seeing what shenanigans George got into. Who cares about a man bitching about his bright yellow suit?

5. Eragon (2006)

You’d figure that a book written by a kid would make for an ideal adaptation. Sadly, that wasn’t the case here. The cast gives horrendous performances — which is sad considering Jeremy Irons is in it — and the film’s plot couldn’t be further from the book’s. There’s a reason why they canned the rest of this film series.

Honorable Mentions: 

Jumanji (1995) – Even Robin Williams couldn’t save this movie, and that says something. 

The Secret Garden (1987) – What’s the point of adapting a book if you’re going to destroy the plot?