Monday, January 21, 2013

Children's Novels and the Movies

1983, undated (but probably that year) Frederick Ungar Publishing edition
Edited by Douglas Street
Children's Novels and the Movies
Original price $8.95, purchase price unknown
Paperback where about half the pages detached from the binding

While reading this, I kept thinking of how much has changed.  Not just the nature of children's movies (from Harry Potter to the trend of the last decade of making full-length movies out of picture books), but even the methods of film distribution.  That there's a list of "Rental Sources for Films Listed in Filmography" reminds me that while cable TV and home video were becoming increasingly common in 1983, most families did not yet have them.  (I was middle-class and had neither.  A few friends had cable.  I don't remember knowing anyone who owned a VCR, or Betamax, although a few rich people had laser discs.)  Organizations, such as schools, still used film projectors, and rarely for entertainment rather than education.  (A year or two later, I did watch Romeo and Juliet [1968] on a classroom VCR, of course blushing at the topless Juliet and hoping no one noticed.)  As I've noted elsewhere, you can now watch an entire movie, sometimes for free, online.

So when I read about the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit, it wasn't just odd because of the current live-action version.  And yes, The Hobbit isn't a children's movie per se, but Street feels that any book with appeal to children is a children's book, so such classics as Treasure Island and Kim, not to mention more modern books that arguably have more appeal to adults, such as The Little Prince and Watership Down, are included.  There are even a few definitely YA examples, such as A Hero Ain't Nothing But a Sandwich (1978).  (It's a sign of the tendency of Hollywood to employ a small group of actors and actresses, especially those of color and at that time, but I was amused that both that contemporary story and Sounder [1972] of the Depression era star Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson as the parents.)

Contributors do their best to steer clear of Disney (at that time still seen as the predominant maker of children's films, which I think is less true in the era of Pixar et al.), although there's an interesting examination of Pinocchio (1940).  While in some cases the "book is better" syndrome prevails, some writers do find films that they think work equally well, albeit in a different way, such as Wizard of Oz (1939).  Admittedly, some of the movies that they (and other critics) trash as not just bad adaptations but bad films, I have a soft spot for from watching them on TV in the 1970s, like Pippi Longstocking (1969, but I think the American dub, which adds to the campiness, is from '73).  In some cases, they'll compare different versions, like the 1933 and 1949 films of Little Women, to each other as well as to the book.

I obviously found the contributions where I'd neither read the book nor seen the movie, like Tom Brown's Schooldays, less interesting, but overall I'd recommend this book, both as a product of its time (and the 15 or 20 previous years), and as a good starting point for the topic.

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