Zachary Gordon in 'The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days'/Image © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox
On August 3, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” starring Zachary Gordon and Steve Zahn, opens in the theaters. Based on the bestselling series by Jeff Kinney, “Dog Days” is the third movie of the franchise. A popular online comic that became a surprise hit in its book and movie forms, the realistic Wimpy Kid novels focus on Greg Heffley, a sometimes unlikeable middle schooler who prefers video games to social interaction.
Next to comic book heroes, serialized young adult literature is at a premium in the film industry these days, what with some of the biggest recent blockbusters — “Harry Potter,” “Hunger Games,” and “Twilight,” to name a few — coming from equally popular books. But, in the scramble to find the next moneymaking movies, there are as many misses as hits, thus shutting down potential franchises at the first hurdle: Many devotees of Philip Pullman’s acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy felt let down by the Golden Compass adaptation, while never let us speak of the car-crash version of Susan Cooper’s classic The Dark is Rising.
So we want to highlight good adaptations based on a children’s book series — anything from old favorites to under-the-radar new franchises that aren’t, say, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Shrek,” or “Tintin.” Obviously, this is just a jumping-off point! We’d love to hear your suggestions of what to watch or what should be adapted (Anastasia Krupnik? Akiko? Encyclopedia Brown?) below.
“Pippi Longstocking” (1969)
If you watched Sunday afternoon TV in the ’80s, you probably remember these movies (edited together from the original Swedish television version) of Astrid Lindgren’s books. The Pippi stories follow a pigtailed, eccentric girl who lives on her own and is strong enough to lift her horse above her head. The program was cobbled into two features for American audiences and was followed by two more in 1970.
“The Rescuers” (1977)
Margery Sharp’s books about the Rescue Aid Society, a mouse-run organization in New York, inspired an animated Disney film. Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor (a match made for TV geeks) voice Bernard and Miss Bianca, who attempt to rescue an orphan kidnapped to obtain a valuable diamond. In 1990, “The Rescuers” became the first Disney animated movie to get a sequel with “The Rescuers Down Under.”
“Anne of Green Gables” (1985)
Based on the classic L.M. Montgomery series, this two-part adaptation stars Megan Follows as the famous red-haired orphan, alongside the great duo Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth. Two sequels appeared in 1987 and 2000 (though the latter is best skipped), as well as a spin-off television program with Sarah Polley, “Road to Avonlea.” Anne fans: a new multi-part adaptation begins shooting in Canada next year.
Polley also starred as spunky Ramona Quimby in this television series based on Beverly Cleary’s beloved novels. Like the books, the show isn’t precious about its material; its child actors are cute, but not sickeningly adorable, and there’s no glossing over the Quimbys’ financial worries or the realistic details of being a kid. Sadly, it’s not available on DVD, but you can (shhh) catch episodes on YouTube.
“Nanny McPhee” (2005)
Emma Thompson loosely adapted crime novelist Christianna Brand’s Nurse Matilda series and also stars as the unsightly, but effective nanny who arrives to assist Colin Firth’s widowed father-of-seven. A sequel, “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang,” followed in 2007, with an all-star cast of Thompson, Maggie Smith, Ewan McGregor, Ralph Fiennes, and Maggie Gyllenhaal; a third film is planned.
“How to Train Your Dragon” (2010)
If you haven’t seen this yet, get a jump on the franchise ahead of the sequel’s 2014 release. Loosely based on Cressida Cowell’s popular series, the computer-animated film features Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, a smart (and smartass) Viking teenager who tames a dangerous Night Fury dragon. With voices ranging from Kristen Wiig to Craig Ferguson, the movie, with its gorgeous animation and snarky dialogue, will satisfy adults as well as kids.