ILLUSTRATED BOOKS Movie adaptations have happy endings
Movie adaptations have happy endings
Friday, March 14, 2008 3:06 AM
BY MARK FEENE
THE BOSTON GLOBE
What Horton the elephant hears in the Dr. Seuss story about him is, of course, a Who.
What 20th Century Fox hopes to hear with the movie adaptation of Horton Hears a Who!, featuring the voices of Jim Carrey and Steve Carell, is something quite different: the rustle of runaway box-office receipts.
That's what Hollywood has always wanted to hear when it adapts children's stories -- and why it's adapted so many. What's notable about Horton Hears a Who! is that it marks the latest instance of an increasingly common development in Hollywood's pursuit of the family market: the return of the illustrated children's book.
Using children's picture books and illustrated novels as inspiration is nothing new for Hollywood. Several early Disney animation features originated that way. Yet the past few years have seen picture books come to the screen as never before.
Seussian cinema, as one might call illustrated-book-derived movies, has practically become its own genre: The Cat in the Hat (2003) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), among others, preceded Horton. No doubt this movie connection would please Seuss, who, as Maj. Theodor Geisel, headed the animation division of Frank Capra's Armed Forces Picture unit during World War II.
Rivaling Seuss as king of the illustrated-book movie genre is Chris van Allsburg. Adaptations of his books include Jumanji (1995), The Polar Express(2004) and Zathura (2005). Like Seuss, van Allsburg has a Hollywood connection: He was a layout designer on Disney's The Little Mermaid (1989).
The genre might have rival kings, but there's no argument about who its 800-pound gorilla is -- or, rather, 800-pound ogre: The three Shrek movies, featuring the title character of William Steig's 1990 picture book, have had worldwide grosses of $1.6 billion.
Almost since they began, movies have adapted both fairy tales (Cinderella in 1899) and children's classics (Heidi in 1920). And it was a fairy tale that Walt Disney turned to for his first feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
The bad thing about the genre is how it invariably abandons one of the most cherishable elements of the books it draws on: their elegant simplicity of storytelling.
In filling out the narratives for the screen, so much of the charm, grace and character of the books' storytelling gets lost. The Shrek movies are the worst offender, but they make up for it with their inventiveness. The creepiest children's book adaptation might be The Polar Express, with its weird animatronic computer graphics.
Almost since they began, movies have adapted both fairy tales and children's classics.