Best kids' movies adapted from children's books
For a decade, fans of the Harry Potter book series were able to relive the magic and obsession as it played out on screen. Who can remember devouring each page to see what adventures and danger Harry, Ron and Hermione would find themselves in next? We all breathed a sigh of relief when the eight movies turned out to be just as enchanting as the books with close attention to book details that has made every fan—and author J.K. Rowling—proud. From the moment Harry receives his acceptance letter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry through Quidditch games, an unforgettable cast of characters and epic battles against Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters, each movie will have you at the edge of your seat. Rated PG to PG-13.
While C.S. Lewis’s Christian allegory can be tough to get through on the page, it soars onscreen. Led by sweet and adventurous young Lucy, the Pevensie siblings save the magical land of Narnia from the evil White Queen with the help some talking beavers, brave fauns and the lion king Aslan. No expenses are spared in this lavish production, which nobly resists the urge to modernize the story. Rated PG.
More than half a century before J.K. Rowling dreamed up Harry Potter, children fell under the thrall of a different kind of wizard—plus a cackling green witch, singing Munchkins, flying monkeys and a wide-eyed girl who just wants to go home. This Technicolor masterpiece, based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, is still the gold standard against which all other lit-based kids’ movies are measured. Not rated.
This is not the first screen adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel about how four sisters live through the Civil War in New England by singing, putting on plays and being generally wonderful—it is, though, arguably the best. The A-list cast includes Winona Ryder as the heroine Jo, quivering-chinned Claire Danes as the doomed Beth, Kirsten Dunst as spunky Amy and Christian Bale as the handsome boy next door, Laurie. Rated PG.
When an incredibly bored boy named Milo finds himself home again with nothing to do, he discovers a mysterious tollbooth that has appeared in his room. A drive through its doors lands Milo in a fantastical world inhabited by a ticking watchdog named Tock, the feuding brothers of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, the arrogant Humbug and others. After Milo goes on a quest to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason, he discovers that life is far from boring. Norman Juster’s novel is a beautiful presentation of smart wordplay and imagery and the 1970 film–featuring both live-action portions and animation from Chuck Jones-will enchant no matter the age. Rated G.
Cressida Cowell’s novel, about a scrawny Norse teen named Hiccup who wishes he were big and strong like his Viking father, leaps off the page and plays out beautifully on screen—especially in 3-D. When Hiccup befriends a rare and powerful Night Fury dragon he’s named Toothless, he must find a way to convince his village that the flying beasts are not to be hunted, but rather team up with to confront an even greater threat lurking beyond their shores. Kids will be wishing for a pet dragon of their own once they visualize how awesome it would be to soar through the clouds on the back of a dragon. Rated PG.
While Director Chris Columbus, a veteran of two Harry Potter movies, couldn’t quite conjure up the same level of cinematic magic in his adaption of Rick Riordan’s book about a regular kid who discovers he’s the demigod son of Poseidon, the movie is packed with enough high-spirited action and cool Greek mythology to be a hit with the book series’s multitude of fans. Bonus: Percy is played by Logan Lerman, who went on to star in the sublime teen-novel adaptation Perks of Being a Wallflower. Rated PG.
While Tim Burton’s 2005 remake with Johnny Depp may have been a little more faithful to Roald Dahl’s original edgy story about some naughty children who misbehave in a candy factory, we prefer the psychedelic, gumdrop-colored original, with Gene Wilder as a loopy but kindhearted Wonka. We still dream of chocolate rivers and edible teacups. Rated G.
Katniss Everdeen puts her own life on the line when her younger sister Primrose is selected for the Hunger Games, an annual tournament that pits teenagers from each of Panem’s 12 districts in a televised battle to the death. The first book of Suzanne Collin’s trilogy is an intriguing read that makes you hungry for more, but the film's cast—Jennifer Lawrence as the heroic Katniss, Elizabeth Banks as the eccentric Effie Trinket, Lenny Kravitz as fashion designer Cinna and Stanley Tucci as M.C. of the show—is captivating in its own right. Rated PG-13.
E.B. White’s beloved children’s book about a piglet named Wilbur who’s saved from certain doom and the artistic spider Charlotte who brings him fame with her woven words has had two major film adaptations. A live-action and CGI version was released in 2006 with an impressive cast, including Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, Oprah Winfrey and Robert Redford, but we prefer the animated 1973 classic of the heartwarming tale. We dare you not to tear up in those final scenes. Rated G.
The film version of Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 classic about a brainy 11-year-old who spies on both her neighbors and friends gets a 1990s update with some of the rough edges smoothed away (and a miscast Rosie O’Donnell as the nanny Ole Golly). Many of the best elements of the book are still there, though, and Michelle Trachtenberg makes a likable Harriet. Rated PG.
The much-loved works of Dr. Seuss have inspired some cinematic duds (a live-action Cat and Grinch who shall not be named), but 2012's Lorax struck the perfect balance of whimsy and heart. The environmental fable about the Once-ler, who greedily stripped Thneedville of all its trees, and the boy who tries to right that wrong, sells its conservation theme with catchy tunes, understated voice performances by Zac Efron and Taylor Swift, and vibrant animation. Rated PG.
Director Spike Jonze expands Maurice Sendak’s small-in-length but huge-in-imagination story of Max, who is sent to bed without any supper and escapes into a dreamscape of terrifying creatures who make him their king. Some of the added plot points and dialogue drag on, but visually it’s as if Jonze took our collective childhood dreams and captured them on film. Rated PG.
Flint, the hero of this popular adaptation of Ron and Judi Barrett’s slender storybook, lives on an island where the only food is sardines, so he invents a machine to turn water into food—which sounds great, until the food takes over the island. Even though it's a pretty silly concept, we're pretty sure every kid we know would love a machine that churns out pancakes, gummy bears and ice cream all day long. Rated PG.
Louis Sachar adapted the screenplay from his own novel for this engrossing film that deftly interweaves three stories: a black comedy about a mysterious camp for wayward boys, where each kid is forced to dig a five-foot-deep hole each day; a spooky tale of an ancient family curse; and a proto-feminist Western. The endearingly geeky, pre-Transformers Shia LaBeouf stars as the hapless protagonist Stanley Yelnats. Rated PG.
Just a few years before Josh Hutcherson was hunky Peeta in The Hunger Games, he was Jess, a shy sixth-grader who forms a special bond with new girl in town Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb). The two kids dream up a magical land in the woods called Terabithia; all goes well until tragedy strikes, in this adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s book about the enduring power of friendship and imagination. Rated PG.
When you have Wes Anderson directing George Clooney and Meryl Streep as the Mr. and Mrs. in an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story about a fox who wants to go on one last big raid before taking on the responsibilities of being a dad, you already know you’re in for a fun ride. But the real treat here is the mesmerizing stop-action animation and the surreal underground settings that makes this unlike any other cute-animal feature we’ve seen. Rated PG.
The new security guard at the American Museum of Natural History, played by Ben Stiller, didn’t know what he signed up for when he took on the night shift—a museum that literally comes to life after hours. This adaptation of Milan Trenc’s novel is full of hilarity as Stiller deals with a T. Rex on the loose, Teddy Roosevelt (played by Robin Williams) and an ancient curse that won’t let these old relics lie. Rated PG.
This stop-motion-animation adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel is creepy, dark and moody—a perfect distillation of the book. The heroine Coraline has just moved into a scary old house with her self-absorbed parents when she discovers a secret passageway into a parallel world where her parents are nicer, the neighbors are more interesting and everything seems perfect—except for those weird button eyes. Rated PG.
Brian Selznick created such lovingly detailed illustrations for his novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, about an orphaned boy living in a Paris train station, his mysterious automaton and the real-life pioneering film director Georges Méliès, that an actual movie seemed almost unnecessary. But leave it to Martin Scorsese to elevate the book through cinema—the very art form that Selznick celebrates in its pages. Rated PG.