Peter Pan (or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up) started out as a play in 1904 from the pen of Scottish playwright and novelist J.M. Barrie before he expanded it into a 1911 novel. The timeless tale of the mischievous boy who can fly and finds adventures on the island of Neverland has been brought to the world of film a handful of times over the past half-century, but Pan is the first to bring an origin story to the screen with newcomer Levi Miller in the title role, Hugh Jackman as the evil Blackbird, Garrett Hedlund as James Hook and Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily. Pan opens in theaters October 9.
L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has stood the test of time as it celebrated its 115th anniversary earlier this year. Having no thought of writing any Oz sequels, Baum ultimately wrote 13 Oz-related books before his death in 1919 due to the public’s overwhelming demand. Ironically, the now-legendary 1939 film adaptation starring Judy Garland was an initial box office disappointment—despite receiving six Academy Award nominations. Yet in the 75 years since its theatrical release, The Wizard of Oz has become inarguably one of the most popular family films ever made and today is as much a part of American culture as baseball and apple pie.
Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been adapted twice for the Silver Screen. First in 1971 with the revised title of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (starring Gene Wilder as the mysterious candy man) and director Tim Burton took a swing with 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (with Johnny Depp in the Wilder role). Both were successful and each has its fans, although they don’t always see eye-to-eye on which is ultimately the best film. Different strokes as they say.
The late Willie Morris’s touching memoir about growing up in a quiet Mississippi town and the special relationship with his dog was published in 1995 and turned into a major motion picture of the same name in 2000. My Dog Skip—starring Kevin Bacon, Diane Lane, Luke Wilson and Frankie Muniz in the title role—was a hit at the box office and later on DVD. After seeing an early cut of the film, Morris was thrilled with what he saw. Sadly, he died of a heart attack shortly after the film was completed in 1999 and never saw the finished version. The movie was appropriately dedicated to the man who shared his story with the world.
In keeping with an animal loving bent, we have the 1946 theatrical adaptation of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s Number One bestseller, The Yearling, from 1938. The story takes place in the backwoods of 19th Century Florida where the Baxter family—young Jody and his parents—do their best to survive with meager food, while also doing battle with their neighbors the Forresters. When Jody finds a fawn and brings it into the family, rest assured there will eventually be some tears. The popular film of the same name that resulted from the book starred Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman as the elder Baxters and both received Oscar nominations for their performances. Watch with a hanky or two close by.
Frances Hodgson Burnett’s early 20th Century novel has resulted in two very popular cinematic adaptations, first in 1949 and again in 1993. Each film was a success in its own time and both remain popular to this day. The 1949 version featured Margaret O’Brien, Dean Stockwell and Brian Roper as the three children who discover another world in the outside garden. Like The Wizard of Oz before it, the movie was shot in black-and-white but the scenes within the secret garden are in color. The 1993 version was even more popular and more epic in scope than the original.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure tale of pirates and treasure maps as told through the words of a teenage Jim Hawkins was first published in 1883, and, 50 years later, the first “talkie” adaptation was brought to the screen. Starring Jackie Cooper as Hawkins, Wallace Beery as Long John Silver and Lionel Barrymore as the mysterious Billy Bones, Treasure Island was a reunion of sorts as Cooper and Beery had huge success the year before in the classic The Champ.
First published in 1979, Michael Ende’s fascinating fantasy tale about a boy who loses himself in a book and finds himself at the same time became a film in 1984. The movie—directed by Wolfgang Petersen—was hugely successful even though it only covered the first half of Ende’s book, and was followed up by 1991’s The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter.
The beloved children’s story by Maurice Sendak—first published in 1963—became a major motion picture in 2009 with director Spike Jonze at the helm. Basing an entire film on a book that contains less than 400 words was no easy feat and there was some controversy as to whether the film was too dark for children. Critical feedback was favorable though and the box office tally ultimately covered the large production budget.
Kathryn Lasky’s fantasy book series, Guardians of Ga’Hoole, contains sixteen entries that began in 2003. In 2010, director Zack Snyder culled the first three books of the series into Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. This visually-compelling and stunning computer-animated epic left critics and audiences alike spellbound during its theatrical run.
Also be sure to check out our look at Literary Classics in From Book to Screen, Vol. 1