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Oct. 30, 2009

Child's play

by Ava Wallace, Online Editor-in-Chief
With his movie "Where the Wild Things Are," directors like Spike Jonze have discovered how to create instant box office hits. The secret? Start with a beloved children's book and add some Hollywood magic.

"Where the While Things Are" is one of many popular children's books that have been adapted for the silver screen. <i>Picture courtesy of Warner Brothers.</i>
"Where the While Things Are" is one of many popular children's books that have been adapted for the silver screen. Picture courtesy of Warner Brothers.
"Where the Wild Things Are," released on Oct. 16, stormed the box office, becoming the number one movie in the nation with 32.5 million dollars in ticket sales, according to MSNBC. The runner up was Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler's blockbuster "Law Abiding Citizen," which made 11 million dollars less than Jonze's creation. Another recent box office hit is a movie released on Sept. 18, based off of the children's book "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." The movie made over 30 million dollars on its opening weekend, according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB).

But "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Cloudy With a Chance" are hardly the first children's book adaptations to make millions. "Mary Poppins," based off of the collection of books by P.L. Travers, made over 100 million dollars when it came out in August of 1964. Since then, movies like "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" have been topping box office charts and breathing life into classic childhood reads.

Other notable children's book adaptations have become some of the most famous movies of all time, which have been translated into multiple languages and enjoyed by children and adults across the globe. The "Harry Potter" series, for example, based off of J.K. Rowling's masterpieces, has become the highest grossing film franchise of all time. "Shrek," based off of a book by William Steig, is another popular series, and comes in at number eight on the highest grossing film franchises of all time, according to IMDB.

While it's obvious that silver screen adaptations of children's books positively hoard cash, they're also welcome forms of wholesome entertainment. Movies that rely on sex appeal, shock value or ridiculous, slapstick comedy can be entertaining. But, by the same token, it's a great feeling to be sitting in a theater, truly enjoying a well done revival of a book your parents used to read to you every night.

And therein lies the conundrum with children's book adaptations, especially "classic" children's book adaptation. Must the movie versions be "well done," meaning true to the original story, or can the movies be solely entertaining? The movie version of the sixth Harry Potter book left out an important battle. Although die-hard fans were distraught over the omission of the fight, the movie still managed to make - and entertain - millions.

While making millions, children's book adaptations have good messages that reach audiences of all ages. According to MSNBC, 47 percent of those who bought tickets to "Where the Wild Things Are" were 18 and older. Only 23 percent of the audience was parents and their children. Not only do these movies affect audiences with their morals, but they encourage people, especially youth, to read. Children's books that proudly boast "Now a major motion picture!" line shelves in bookstores, attracting readers young and old.

Now, rows and rows of DVDs of children's book adaptations also line bookstores. These films allow adults as well as youth relive some of their fondest childhood stories with new technology. Never become have the monsters from "Where the Wild Things Are" become so vivid and alive. With their ability to bring meaningful childhood books to life, keep them coming. Judging from the big bucks these movies bring in, Hollywood will listen.



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  • A.C. 2009 on October 30, 2009 at 3:59 PM
    This article was a missed opportunity to discuss substantive questions that this film adaptation raises, such as "Is the darkness and psychological weight of this film appropriate for children?", "Was the existential or solopsistic angle that makes this film magnificent and complex present in the book originally at all?" , or "How would our present culture, fixated on identifying psychological abnormality, judge Max? Would we try to treat him for some kind of disorder because of his behavior?" . This film's interpretation of Max renders him as a child analog of many of literature's greatest characters. This article was simplistic, ignoring the magnitude of the film's artistic achievement, and provided only financial statistics which reenforced what everyone already knows: making books into movies makes money. The author's voice, unlike in Silver Chips articles that I remember, lacked even the intention to open the reader's mind to a new perspective or present a well- articulated conclusion. Get serious.
  • Jia on October 30, 2009 at 8:48 PM
    LOVE YOU, AVA FLAVA! really great article.

    also, were you as disappointed as i was when the HP battle wasn't there?
  • Carlton on October 31, 2009 at 2:37 PM
    Applying the term "Hollywood magic" to a discussion of Where the Wild Things Are, though certainly convenient, makes about as much sense as applying it to any other Spike Jonze film. Wild Things is uncommonly dark and emotionally turbulent no matter how you look at it, and, despite its PG rating, isn't a children's movie. Whatever superficial similarities it might have with cloudy with a chance of meatballs and other family-oriented adaptations melt away once the lights go down and we enter the distorted childhood-esque world Jonze has made for us. Like his earlier movies, wild things is no child's play, and its popularity is more than just hollywood cashing in on childhood memories.
  • Amateur on March 14, 2010 at 6:18 PM
    You do realize that "Where the Wild Things Are" was actually somewhat of a box office flop right? The movie cost around 100 million to make and has only made back 92 million.
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