With Neil Gaiman's Coraline becoming one of the first critical and commercial hits of the year, it got us thinking about how stop-motion animation has evolved over the years - from creepy old Russian fairy tales to Rankin/Bass Christmas specials to The Nightmare Before Christmas. And now that, with few box-office successes under its belt, stop-motion has arguably worked itself into the Hollywood mainstream, we can't help up think of how it could be used to bring some of the most beloved books of our childhood to life. Coraline is a massive step forward in its medium, proving that the merging of Real 3D technology, stop-motion animation, great source material, and the vivid imagination of talented filmmakers can make for fantastic movies. It got us at MovieRetriever thinking... what other beloved books could make for great stop-motion films?
[One note: For years, I always thought that Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are would be the perfect book for stop-motion animation. It's a story that has stuck with me since I was a little kid. Now, as any good movie lover knows, WTWTA the movie is in the works under the guidance of Spike Jonze and is currently working through a controversial post-production, allegedly plagued with problems. There are very few 2009 movies I'm more interested in seeing, but if the bad buzz is true and it doesn’t come together, someone should give it a try in stop-motion in a few years. Until then...]
5. The BFG by Roald Dahl
When I think of writers who truly affected the way I look at fiction, Roald Dahl is near the top of the list. Coraline director Henry Selick has already brought James and the Giant Peach to the big screen with mixed results and, of course, Tim Burton did, well, something to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (if I get started on my problems with that film, I'll never stop). There were also movie versions of The Witches and Matilda that are well worth seeing. They made a standard, 2D animated version of The BFG in the late '80s, but the time is right to revisit this classic tale with stop-motion 3D animation. Imagine the scope and the depth that the technology used for Coraline could bring to the story of the "Big Friendly Giant”. It would never work in live-action and traditional animation doesn’t seem right either. Stop-motion is the perfect medium to bring a world of The BFG to life. And, like Coraline, The BFG would definitely appeal to the older kids with its tale of a creature who blows good dreams into the sleep of children but who occasionally comes across a nightmare. Millions of children know and love Willy Wonka because of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, and James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and even The Twits seem to come up more often than The BFG, which I worry is being lost to history. Let's bring it back with a stop-motion movie.
4. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
A curious four-year-old boy can create worlds of his own imagination through the power of a magical purple crayon - it's the perfect launching board for a visionary director to design his own vision for children of all ages. Unlike some stories, the original story of Harold and the Purple Crayon could be merely a starting point. Design a stop-motion Harold and then let your filmmaker's vision run wild. In the story, Harold begins by drawing a moon because he wants to go for a walk in the moonlight and then draws a path. He has many adventures after that, but this would be a great project to leave open to interpretation. All you need is an imaginative boy, a crayon, and the power of imagination. It could be Waking Life in stop-motion for five-year-olds. This one should be trippy, amorphous, and more about creativity than plot. Toddlers don't need linear plotlines. Imagine Richard Linklater's Waking Life in stop-motion for Kindergarteners. Don't imagine it for too long. Your head will explode.
3. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
If Harold is for the little ones, this one is for the young adults willing to put down their Jonas Brothers CDs and Stephenie Meyer books long enough to take a different kind of trip. Juster's book is similar to The Neverending Story (another great option for stop-motion animation if the film franchise hadn't been beaten it to death with lackluster sequels) in that it's about a young boy who enters an alternate universe on a quest to rescue a princess. The Phantom Tollbooth is clever, imaginative, and memorable for everyone who read it at the right age. It could easily be adapted into a stop-motion film with the same creative energy as the source material. (Chuck Jones did a great job with his Tollbooth cartoon back in 1969, but stop-motion could really bring Rhyme and Reason to life for a whole new generation.) Several of the choices on this list would provide a filmmaker like Tim Burton or Henry Selick the option to bring their own voice to the material, but everything is already there in The Phantom Tollbooth to just take this great nearly-five-decade-old book and bring it to a new generation.
2. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
Stick with me here. Why does stop-motion animation always have to be aimed at 8-year-olds? We've seen in recent years that 2D animation can be used brilliantly to speak to older kids and adults with films like Persepolis and Waltz With Bashir. It's going to be a while before stop-motion is effectively used in an R-rated setting, but The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon would be a great bridge between kids and adults, making a stop-motion adventure for the kids in the family. How many stories have been both turned into a pop-up book and nearly adapted by George A. Romero? And the story fits the "other world" concept so perfect for stop-motion. As Trisha, the lead character in Tom Gordon, wanders further into the woods and her fear and hunger gets the best of her, the right stop-motion artist could perfectly capture that experience more than any CGI studio could in live-action.
1. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
This one would be epic. Imagine an anthology film of Silverstein's short stories in different stop-motion styles from different stop-motion auteurs. Henry Selick takes one poem or story. Tim Burton the next. Another short would be in Rankin-Bass style. Using different styles from silent film to puppetry to clay stop-motion, a team of people could recreate the experience of the varying tones and ideas that Shel Silverstein found a way to get into his one beloved volume. Silverstein's imagery and ideas never seemed right enough for traditional animation and it's hard to make a movie based on a book of poetry. Imagine Paris, je t’aime with Shel Silverstein poems and stories done by the most creative stop-motion artists, many of whom were probably inspired by Silverstein as a child. It’s unlikely to ever come together, but if I was a producer, I couldn't green-light that movie fast enough.
What do you think? Did we miss some obvious choices? Are you jonesing for a stop-motion adaptation of Mike Mignola's Hellboy, Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, or Judy Blume's Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret?