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Tuesday September 10, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday September 10, 2013 MYT 1:42:30 PM
by sharmilla ganesan
A scene from Henry Selick’s wonderful stop-motion animated movie version of Roald Dahl’s James And The Giant Peach. — File photos
It’s Roald Dahl Day on Sept 13! What better time to re-acquaint ourselves with the many adaptations the author’s books have inspired?
THE books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She traveled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”
So goes Roald Dahl’s desription of the magic little Matilda finds in books. But any reader familiar with the wildly imaginative author’s works knows that his own stories are just as able to transport us into worlds both weird and wonderful, whether it’s a beautifully bizarre chocolate factory, an underground den that houses a family of genteel foxes, or a barren land inhabited by giants who chomp on little “chiddlers”.
This is perhaps the reason why Dahl’s works lend themselves so well to being adapted for the screen or stage; after all, who wouldn’t want to see his quirky characters, extraordinary settings and unusual stories come to life in front of them?
With this Friday being the official Roald Dahl Day – Dahl was born on Sept 13 in 1916; he died in 1990 – not to mention the upcoming local stage adaptation of Fantastic Mr Fox by Box Of Delights Family Theatre (see opposite), we thought the time was ripe for us to revisit the different ways in which Dahl’s books have been adapted.
Some of these were truly scrumpdiddlyumptious, and while others weren’t quite swishwiffling, they still do a great job of giving us a glimpse into the dark, delightful and sometimes deranged worlds that Dahl created.
Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971) – This film musical adaptation will be, for many, the definitive movie version of what is perhaps Dahl’s most famous story: the impoverished Charlie gets the opportunity of his lifetime when he wins a chance to visit Willy Wonka’s amazing chocolate factory. And despite Dahl’s opposition to the movie – he felt too many liberties had been taken with the story – the movie is still considered a classic, with Gene Wilder’s performance as Wonka among his most memorable.
Danny The Champion Of The World (1989) – This story of Danny, whose widowed father is a mechanic by day and poacher by night, is one of Dahl’s quirkier yet more realistic stories, and the movie does a great job of bringing the English countryside to life. Jeremy Irons and his real-life son Samuel Irons play the father-son pair, which is another plus point, and Robbie Coltrane is terrific as the land-grubbing businessman Victor Hazell. Unfortunately, the sly humour and absurdism of Dahl’s writing doesn’t translate so well in the movie, which leaves the story sometimes feeling a little flat.
The BFG (1989) – An adaptation of one of Dahl’s most beloved books, this animated movie sticks almost faithfully to the book. The story of a young orphan, Sophie, who makes friends with the Big Friendly Giant (BFG), is a must-read. While the movie doesn’t quite capture the zany humour of Dahl’s writing, there’s plenty to enjoy, especially in its realisation of the giants. The 1980s animation seems rather outdated today, but if you can get past that, you may just find yourself pleasantly entertained.
The Witches (1990) – This deliciously dark movie adaptation manages to stay true to the book’s disturbing plot and wicked sense of humour. The story of a young boy who discovers that not only are witches real and live among us disguised as real people, but also that they have a diabolical plan to get rid of all the children in England, is equal parts terrifying and thrilling.
A spot-on performance by Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch and creature effects by Jim Henson truly make the film, even though the ending veers away from Dahl’s original one to something more bland.
Matilda (1996) – This story of a neglected little girl who finds solace in the world of books, but later learns to use her extraordinary mind to get her own back on abusive adults, can’t help but steal your heart. The movie is a sweet, funny and uplifting adaptation that doesn’t shy away from the book’s nastier elements. Dahl’s delicate characterisation of Matilda and her relationships with the people around her, however, is very difficult to capture onscreen, and that is perhaps one of the movie’s few failings.
James And The Giant Peach (1996) – Henry Selick’s delightfully macabre sensibility is perfect for this admittedly dark tale. The orphaned James is abused by his two aunts until he one day manages to escape them aboard a peach that swells magically to giant proportions. Stowing away with him on the floating fruit are an assortment of life-size insects, whom James befriends.
The characters are not quite as captivating as they are in the book, and some parts of the story are changed, but the sheer visual splendour of the stop-motion animation certainly does the book justice.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (2005) – Tim Burton and Dahl may seem like a match made in heaven, but the director’s adaptation of this story didn’t quite reach its potential. The magically kooky world of the chocolate factory is fantastically realised, there is the perfect amount of gruesomeness, and Freddie Highmore is near-perfect as Charlie, yet there is something lacking – which many blame on Johnny Depp’s weird, borderline-creepy performance as Wonka.
Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) – Directed by Wes Anderson with stop-motion animation by Henry Selick, this film is widely-acknowledged as one of the best movie versions of Dahl’s works. Despite making some changes to the plot, which revolves around a wily fox who outsmarts three mean farmers, the movie embodies the spirit of the book beautifully, enhanced by excellent voice-acting by the likes of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray.
Matilda The Musical (premiered in London, 2011) – The musical version of the story was not only a box office hit but also garnered rave reviews. The show won seven Olivier Awards at the 2012 ceremony, including Best New Musical, and currently holds the record for most number of awards won by a musical. The show is still running in London’s West End and New York’s Broadway.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory The Musical (premiered in London, 2013) – Having just premiered in the West End this June, this candy-coloured musical is getting good reviews, particularly for its technical polish and special effects. Directed by Sam Mendes (who most recently directed James Bond movie Skyfall), the show is also being praised for staying true to Dahl’s original storyline, with a solid emphasis on its characters.
Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox on stage
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