Kids’ Books That Should Get Gritty Movies By Grown-Up Directors

Sure, you’ve seen Gavin Hood’s Ender’s Game, but how about a horrifying David Lynch take on Goodnight Moon?

Two trends currently dominate Hollywood: The gritty, self-serious blockbuster, and the young adult fiction adaptation. It’s only a matter of time before these fads converge and are exhausted, at which point studio executives with no better idea of what to do will simply move down a demographic. Well, if it’s inevitable that children’s literature will soon find its way to the big screen, we’ve seen fit to propose a few very adult auteurs to head up the best choices.

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The BookCurious George by Margret and H.A. Rey

The Director: Werner Herzog

The Result: Not satisfied with his attempts to tell the story of one monkey’s unlikely friendship with a human in America as a fiction feature, it seems likely that Werner Herzog would turn instead to the documentary, where he could capture the reality of the adventure in all its natural beauty. We imagine Herzog would go about hunting down some strange middle-aged shut-in who lives in Brooklyn and happens to be co-habitating with a childlike chimpanzee — there’s bound to be one kicking around somewhere, and Herzog seems like the best man to capture its essence. “What haunts me,” Herzog would whisper in plaintive voiceover, “is that in the face of the monkey I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I only see the overwhelming indifference of nature.” It’s a thoughtful movie for kids of all ages, who admittedly may be shocked when Curious George turns on his master and beats him to death in his own living room.

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The Book: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

The Director: David Lynch

The Result: Now, perhaps it’s just us, but the idea of an infant rabbit wearing pajamas and saying goodnight to everything in his room already sounds like a terrifying nightmare, so it seems appropriate enough that David Lynch would transform it into abject horror. The details seem quintessentially Lynchian as is: That creepy red balloon floating near the ceiling, the relative sizes of everything (seriously: the rabbit is smaller than the bowl of milk on his bedside table), that strange framed picture of three bears. What is up with this house? “Goodnight noises, everywhere,” goes one particularly disconcerting line. What noises?! Only David Lynch is qualified to tell us, and it no doubt involves the very innermost reaches of a child’s psyche. Will a singing woman be revealed within that odd little dollhouse? Will those two cats conspire to kill? Will it all be a dream? We need this film to find out.

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The Book: Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

The Director: Terrence Malick

The Result: Few children’s books inspire tears in both the kids and the parents reading them as Robert Munsch’s beloved Love You Forever, a picture book founded on melancholy and hard truths. The unceasing passage of time, the ritualized breakup of familial bonds, the slow deterioration of the human body, the boundless vitality of the human spirit: Yes, these are the themes with which director Terrence Malick has long shown a fascination, so it seems only natural that he should gravitate to the book best-known for portraying them. You can almost picture the streaks of sunlight peeking out from behind leaves as they bathe the mother and son maternally, cosmically. Malick’s version of Love You Forever would almost certainly be wistful, plaintive, deeply philosophical. It would also probably contain fewer words. 

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The Book: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

The Director: James Cameron

The Result: We all know well that James Cameron doesn’t really need a good story to make a movie around — he just needs some kind of framework on top of which he can drape all kinds of spectacular special effects. Well, there aren’t many better excuses for mindless blockbuster spectacle than The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a book built around its own (literal) structural gimmick. Translating holes in pages to the holes in the screen is the perfect opportunity to show off the wonders of 3D, and in James Cameron’s visionary, three-hour Caterpillar epic, viewers all over the world will finally see what it’s like for a caterpillar to chew through a pear. Incredible.

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The BookGreen Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

The Director: Terry Gilliam

The Result: Dr. Seuss books have a rather dismal track record when it comes to cinematic adaptations — it’s telling that Ron Howard’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas, despite being pretty much unwatchable, isn’t even the worst one — but that’s largely because Hollywood hasn’t quite figured out how to expand 15-page picture books to feature length. Our solution? Hire somebody who hasn’t quite figured out how to expand any idea to feature length: Former Monty Python master Terry Gilliam, director of Brazil and 12 Monkeys, who tends to pad out his slivers of story with an insanity that can only be described as mad genius. Gilliam’s take on Green Eggs and Ham would doubtless entail making one man’s staunch refusal to eat a bit of breakfast a nightmarish descent into existential dilemma, with the titular emerald eggs representing, say, modern British apathy. It isn’t hard to imagine Gilliam slaving over Seuss’s winding curlicues of mountains and trees, going millions over budget to get the look of the corkscrewing train tracks just right, barely making it through the picture alive. On the plus side, it’s guaranteed to be better than The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

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The Book: The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien

The Director: Guillermo Del Toro

The Result: Del Toro is basically the world’s premiere purveyor of dark fantasy, with an eye for world-building and creature design that rivals some of the greatest science-fiction minds of all time, so it’s only fitting that he be given— wait a second, Del Toro was actually supposed to direct this thing before Peter Jackson fired him? See, this is why we can’t have nice things, Hollywood.