Beloved Children's Book Characters on the Big Screen

We take a look at beloved characters that jumped from the page to the silver screen…

This week, PADDINGTON is released in Irish cinemas. Having started life in a children’s book by Michael Bond in 1958, this polite, marmalade loving bear from Darkest Peru has been loved by kids and adults alike for generations. Paddington was the star of an animated BBC TV show in 1975, and has gone on to star in animated series by Hana Barbera and Cookie Jar Entertainment. With this in mind, and our deep nostalgia for our childhoods in tow, we took a look back at other beloved children’s book characters that have been immortalised in cinema.


Roald Dahl’s MATILDA was published in 1998, and tells the story of a precocious young girl who is often ill-treated by her father or neglected by her mother. In retaliation, Matilda pulls pranks, but finds herself bored in school until her teacher, Miss Honey, helps Matilda harness the power of her brain and turn it into telekenisis.
MATILDA was made into a film in 1996, starring Mara Wilson as Matilda, and Danny DeVito as her father. The film moved the story to America, referenced other Roald Dahl books – including The Witches and The BFG – and was received critical acclaim when it was released. The film holds a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and both Danny DeVito and Mara Wilson were praised for their performances.
MATILDA has also been brought to the stage as a musical and is currently running in London’s West End and on Broadway in New York.


Lewis Carroll’s ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND was first published in 1865, and tells the story of a young girl who, bored of her dreary school lessons, finds herself following a talking White Rabbit into the wonderful world Down the Rabbit Hole. While there, Alice grows to enormous size, confides in a hookah smoking caterpillar and becomes a guest at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, before waking up in her own world, wondering if she imagined the whole thing.
Carroll’s novel has been hugely influential on the fantasy genre, and has been adapted for the screen numerous times; both as a silent film and a ‘talkie’. Disney took on the tale in 1951, creating an animated world full of weird and wonderful characters in a vibrant and madcap version of the story. While the film was panned when it was first released, it has since been praised for it’s animation and as an adaptation of Carroll’s story. Disney tackled ALICE again in 2010, with a film directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, which reimagined the story somewhat; making the Mad Hatter a freedom fighter, battling the oppression of the Red Queen.


FANTASTIC MR. FOX, another Roald Dahl story, was published in 1970, and tells the story of a cunning fox who outwits his farmer neighbours to steal their food and provide for his family.
Many of Roald Dahl’s stories were made into films, with varying degrees of success, but Wes Anderson’s take on FANTASTIC MR. FOX is a charming and warm film. Animated in stop motion, the film features the voices of George Clooney and Meryl Streep, as well as Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. FANTASTIC MR. FOX was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar in 2010, but lost out to Pixar’s UP. That said, the film was named, by Time Magazine, as one of The 25 All-TIME Best Animated Films, and holds a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


Neil Gaiman’s CORALINE tells the story of a young girl who moves into the Pink Palace, a dilapidated Victorian mansion renovated into an apartment building, with her parents. Since her parents are working on their book, Coraline feels neglected, so when she discovers the magical Other World, in which she has an Other Mother who dotes on her, Coraline feels like she has found where she belongs. It is not long, however, before our heroine discovers that not all is as it seems.
Released in 2009, CORALINE was adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel by the animation company Laika. Directed by THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS’s Henry Selick, CORALINE is a stop motion animated film, which features the voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. The film was praised as being a dark and creepy but enchanting fairy tale.


Kenneth Grahame’s tale of four anthropomorphised animals in a pastoral version of England was first published in 1908. THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS focuses on a mole who, tired of spring cleaning, ventures down to the nearby river and befriends a water rat by the name of Ratty. Mole and Ratty get into many adventures together; they visit Toad of Toad Hall, encounter the respected but elusive Badger and help rid Toad Hall of the mischievous weasels who drive Toad out of his home.
Like ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS has been adapted for the screen many times, the first big screen outing being a 1949 animated outing from Disney, which combined The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Mr Toad, into a film called THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR TOAD. Since then the story has been adapted for TV numerous times, and was made into a live action film starring Steve Coogan, Eric Idle and Terry Jones.
In 2003, it was reported that Guillermo del Toro was working on a new version of the story for Disney, but the film never came to be due to differences between the director and the film company.


Do you have a favourite children’s book that was adapted for the big screen? Let us know in the comments below.

PADDINGTON is released in Irish cinemas on November 18th 2014

Words: Brogen Hayes