Magic, whimsy and a hint of ever-present darkness. No wonder that the works of Roald Dahl have endured. As each generation passes them onto another, filmmakers too, continue drawing inspiration from his stories of sentiment, innocence and how it’s always better to be a child in a world run by mean adults.
On his 100th birth anniversary, we take a look at some of the best adaptations of his books. These are films made by some of the finest, most visionary filmmakers working today.
The marriage of Dahl’s evergreen themes with the directors’ magical visuals promises wonders.
So we picked the five most wonderful.
James and the Giant Peach (1996)
The macabre tale of a child who enters the surreal insides of a giant peach was directed by Henry Selick, the stop-motion animator who was so clearly inspired by Dahl in his most famous film The Nightmare Before Christmas, and then again in Coraline. As with most adaptations of Dahl’s works, the popularity of the books couldn’t quite translate to their movie adaptation. Perhaps the film was too obtuse, too weird for the general audience, but it remains a minor classic.
In the same year, the unlikeliest of directors adapted what is arguably one of Dahl’s most famous books, Matilda, a story which if you think about it, is a kids version of Stephen King’s horror masterpiece Carrie. Like so many Dahl protagonists, Matilda is a child who fights adult authority. Only this time, she also happens to be a genius with the power of telekineses.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1971/2005)
Director of the 2005 version Tim Burton, who is no stranger to strange stories, dismissed the late Gene Wilder’s ‘71 film as ‘sappy’. Wilder, in return, called Burton’s adaptation ‘an insult’. But what those two couldn’t agree on, we can. Both films are unique in their own way. And both feature some of the most memorable work by stars Wilder and Johnny Depp, whose inspiration for Willy Wonka seems to have been an unsettling cross between Michael Jackson and Marilyn Manson.
The BFG (2016)
Two lonely, misunderstood souls and their lovely friendship is the beating heart of Steven Spielberg’s film of The BFG, perhaps the most visually stunning of any Dahl adaptation. It also features some excellent performances, especially by Ruby Barnhill, who plays the orphan protagonist of the story, and as the titular Big Friendly Giant, Mark Rylance. Remember, beware of the frobscottle.
Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
But perhaps the best film based on a Dahl book is Wes Anderson’s stop-motion (yes, just like James and the Giant Peach) animated Fantastic Mr Fox. It’s unlikely that two such unique voices could come together in such a beautiful way, but Anderson, the delicate genius that he is, created an odd little movie about a fox, his family, real estate politics, and folk music. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t quite make its money back.
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