Five dark children's book adaptations
From the downright freaky Witches to the nightmarish animation of Coraline, some of the best adaptations of children’s books have succeeded due to their dark undertones. A Monster Calls is the latest example of this - a bleak masterpiece, tracing the story of a boy, who confronted with his mother’s declining health, meets a tree monster determined to help him face his demons. Here are five other children's book adaptations tinged with darkness.
The Witches (1990)
For the duration of his life thus far, young protagonist Luke has been made to believe witches really do exist and this is confirmed during a dangerous encounter with a mysterious old woman. After entering a conference of witches whilst on holiday, the youngster concocts a plan to defeat them. Jim Henson’s puppeteering is both hilarious and creepy throughout. And the witch transformations are horrifying due to pioneering make-up work. Add this to Anjelica Huston’s magnificent performance as the Grand High Witch and you have a creepy Roald Dahl adaptation worth watching.
Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
This adaptation of the Katherine Paterson novel maintains both the book’s elegant style and its deeply tragic content. Jesse and Leslie are classmates in a rural Virginia town who develop a friendship in order to escape from the struggles of everyday life. Deep in the forest, they create the mythical world of Terabithia that provides joy and comfort to them. The film takes a serious turn in the third act however exploring complex emotions which venture beyond your usual family capers.
Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Her director Spike Jonze finds affecting lyricism in the classic illustrated storybook. Eight-year-old Max escapes into a dream world filled with monsters to ignore the harsh reality of his parents’ divorce to find a land of magic and wonder where he is considered king. How does one go about stretching a 40-page storybook to feature film length without it feeling forced? Jonze focusses on the dream-like quality of the visuals in order to create a sumptuous viewing experience with a beautiful dusky colour palette.
Surprisingly scary horror abounds throughout the stop-motion animation feature based on Neil Gaiman’s nightmarish work. Through a hidden door in her bedroom wall, lonely Coraline finds a utopian alternate reality in which her parents are much kinder and more considerate than usual. Things however are not as perfect as they seem and soon she has to fight to escape from her demonic Other Mother. For a certain generation of children, the image of the Other World’s characters’ button eyes is ingrained into their imaginations as they give the characters an unforgettable and unsettling appearance. This one is perfect for older children.
This is a unique style of adaptation of the classic children’s ghost story series. When Zach moves into a new neighbourhood next door to Hannah, he tries to uncover the true identity of Hannah’s mysterious and reclusive father. Could he really be RL Stine, author of authors of beloved Goosebumps novels? Along the way, spectacle is provided by escaped creatures from Hannah’s basement that her father must recover before they destroy the town. A must-see for any adult with memories of being spooked by the book series as a child.
A Monster Calls on general release now.