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  • Kat Rosenfield 3:15 pm on 2016/07/15 Permalink
    Tags: , children's classic, , , , revisiting childhood favorites,   

    Ranking Every Roald Dahl Movie 

    This month, a very big kidlit-to-film adaptation came galloping into theaters: Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited take on Roald Dahl’s classic, The BFG. And thanks to a loyal script and Spielberg’s willingness to leave the signature darkness of Dahl’s stories pretty much intact, the big-screen version of The BFG is, by all accounts, a whizz-popping good time.

    But while Spielberg’s take on Dahl’s giant story is being very well-received, fans of the author’s work were understandably nervous going in—because previous adaptations of Dahl’s books have been decidedly hit or miss. Below, we’ve ranked them all, from the ones that left much to be desired to the nearly perfect cinematic triumphs.

    The Witches
    As a book, The Witches was magnificently creepy. As a film? Alas, nope. Despite Angelica Huston’s best efforts, the witches in the screen version came across as bumbling idiots rather than dreadful, formidable foes; the slapstick humor was overdone; and the whole thing capped off with a made-for-Hollywood ending that totally denied the bittersweet flavor of the book. But one thing does make The Witches potentially worth a rewatch: Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey makes a surprise appearance, in a brief role as a hotel chef with a mouse down his trousers.

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
    Tim Burton’s second outing as a Dahl adapter was, alas, the less successful of his efforts. Although the weird and wonderful visuals were…well, weird and wonderful, and the production hewed pretty closely to the original book, Johnny Depp’s unsettling take on Wonka was a sour note amidst all that delicious chocolate.

    You’ve got to love this movie for its A-plus casting—of the Trunchbull, particularly—and wildly entertaining take on the book’s forced cake-eating scene, both of which nearly made up for a script that didn’t quite capture the unique and oddly intellectual flavor of the original Matilda. Bonus points for Mara Wilson, who was not only a very capable Matilda, but grew up to be a lot like the character in some truly delightful ways.

    James and the Giant Peach
    Tim Burton was a producer on this film, and his signature claymation was the perfect vehicle for a retelling of Dahl’s twisted fantasy about a boy who goes inside the aforementioned giant peach and befriends the giant bugs who live inside it. Add in a score (complete with original songs) by Randy Newman, and you’ve got some solid entertainment, even if it’s only reasonably faithful to the book.

    Fantastic Mr. Fox
    Based on concept alone, Fantastic Mr. Fox is not just the best of the Dahl adaptations, but possibly one of the greatest movies ever made in the entire history of film. Oscar winners George Clooney and Meryl Streep as the heads of the titular Fox family; Bill Murray as a badger lawyer; a script cowritten by Noah Baumbach; and none other than Wes Anderson spearheading the effort? Be still our beating hipster hearts! But despite its charms—and it had a lot of charms—the film fell victim to the same fate of so many others on this list, falling shy of capturing the unique darkness at the heart of Roald Dahl’s original book. It was, however, still quite good.

    Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
    Forty years of doing Dahl onscreen, and you still can’t beat the original: The 1971 adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Despite not adhering particularly closely to the source material—and being loathed by the author himself—this movie has everything that matters in a Roald Dahl adaptation, from the wildly imaginative visuals to the unrestrainedly harsh life lessons. But its reasons for placing at the top of this list can be summed up in two words: Gene Wilder. His performance perfectly captured the mercurial-bordering-on-malicious nature of the titular character in a way that remains unparalleled—and the image of him standing like Charon the ferryman, reciting slam poetry at the bow of that boat careening through a psychedelic tunnel, continues to both thrill and terrify us in equal measure.

  • Nicole Hill 5:15 pm on 2015/11/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ms. frizzle, revisiting childhood favorites, teaching moments,   

    6 Books You’d Find on Ms. Frizzle’s Dream Curriculum 

    Nearly all of us have a favorite teacher from our youth—someone who worked relentlessly to help you reach your potential, someone who opened your eyes to new possibilities, someone who shrink-rayed you and sent you careening into your classmate’s lower intestine.

    That last one will sound familiar to anyone who’s ever hopped aboard Ms. Frizzle’s Wild Ride, or, as you might remember it, The Magic School Bus. Public school used to be so different. It used to be appropriate not only to turn students into bees and krill, but also to bake them into pies or, on the rare occasion, float them down a river of molten lava. (Hypothesis: the people who used to write up waivers for the Department of Education cut their teeth at Muppet Labs in the days of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s Exploding Clothes™.)

    But even the Frizz had her limits. One imagines they were budgetary restraints, vehement objections from the PTA, page counts, and TV running times. It does lend itself to a question, though: what does Valerie Frizzle teach on the days she’s forced to stay in the classroom? And what would her textbooks be? Here are our best guesses.

    Cosmos, by Carl Sagan
    The sky’s the limit, right? Well, The Frizz bows to no man or scientific concept, though surely she doffs her eccentric hat to Sagan for his seminal text examining our cosmic existence. There are a number of field trips to mine here, but let’s be real: Frizzle’s teaching this in preparation to take her troops straight to the Big Bang, probably without the appropriate protective outerwear. Or, if she’s feeling frisky, she’ll turn them all into trilobites during the Cambrian explosion. It’s a toss-up.

    The Origin of the Species, by Charles Darwin
    Yes, we know, Phoebe, you never had to struggle for existence against other organic species at your old school. Your old school was lame…and OSHA certified.

    A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking
    “Well, class, wouldn’t it be fun to see what happens inside a black hole? Wrong answer! Yes, it would!” I imagine this comes up because Wanda’s trying to do a report on Hawking and asks a question about some concept, only to immediately regret her decision.

    Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach
    Oh, like she’s above it. Frizzle has only nearly killed her students on more occasions than you could shake an iguana at, including that time she abandoned them in the middle of outer space. The only reason the bus never stopped at a morgue was because ethical lessons about human death are hard to impart in a 25-minute TV show. I, for one, long to hear the puns Carlos comes up with when they learn about cadavers used as crash test dummies.

    The Pluto Files, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
    Remember that time Arnold took off his helmet on Pluto and froze his entire head only to somehow survive? I’m betting that was the actual inspiration for this book.

    Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond
    This is Frizz catnip—scientific inquiry with a healthy dose of cultural anthropology and greater lessons. It also gives her the chance to test her students’ resistance to endemic diseases. We are going to examine genomes and, despite all odds, we are going to find Arnold’s lacking. As much as you wish it were only Janet suffering, it’s important we acknowledge it is going to also happen to Arnold. Everything happens to Arnold.


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