Reading the Book and Film
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is another classic example of children’s literature. In reading the book and film, I began by analyzing the story elements. The most striking element between the book and film is Max, the main character. We are introduced to Max in the film by a series of close-ups and wide shots as he is causing a ruckus and likely getting in trouble. This is similar to how we are introduced to Max in Sendak’s book. In the book, Max is also getting into trouble, leading to the fantastical adventure that takes place. One difference between the movie and book is the depth with which we get to know Max. In the film, we learn that Max is lonely, exemplified by his attempts to get his sister to play with him. Rather than play with him, she tells him to go play with his friends. In the next scene, we see Max bossing around his “friends”, showing viewers both Max’s loneliness and creativity. We also see Max as being sensitive, a side of him not shown in the book. When Max’s snow fort is destroyed, you can see the hurt in his eyes after seeing what has been done.
I found the setting in the book and film to be very different from one another. Sendak’s drawings and descriptions of the setting of the book do not align with the direction chosen by the film makers. In the film, the world to which Max travels is very dreamlike and ethereal. The land in the book is much more concrete and closely resembles an actual jungle. It is likely that filmmaker Spike Jonze chose to go in this direction since Max’s adventure is imaginary. Adding a dreamlike quality to the film was perhaps intended to allow viewers to experience the journey in the same way that Max would.
The plot in both the book and movie are a bit more complex than most children’s stories. For children reading this book and viewing the movie, the plot is simple. Max gets in trouble, Max gets mad and goes away, Max comes home to a warm dinner. As an adult however, the plot becomes more complex. The story becomes a tale of anger and love and how a boy realizes that no matter how naughty he is or what he does, he still has people that love him.
Stylistically, the book and movie are surprisingly similar. I was surprised to come to this conclusion because the book and film seem so different. They are very similar, however, because they are both so surreal. This effect is achieved in different ways, but both techniques leave viewers with the same type of surreal experience. One interesting observation of the book is how the illustrations are laid out on the page. As the story progresses and the action intensifies, the illustrations get larger and take up more of the page. As the story nears the ending, the pictures gets smaller and take up less of the page. This could be a subtle way that Sendak set out to intensify and conclude the story without adding extra text to the story.
Overall, it seems that critics that reviewed the film focused heavily on the psychological and metaphorical elements of the film as well as the choices made in the visuals of the film. In a review on Timeout.com, a critic specifically discussed the use of puppets and CGI to create a surreal feeling in the film. This, coupled with “handheld shots and magic-hour light” created the solid and detailed world that is “uncanny in an age of virtual imagining”. The critics also discuss the social structure of the wild things, comparing them to “a group of long-arrested adolescents left to their own devices”.
Another review, this one by Sarah Silver, is much more critical of the film. She calls the film, “Unnecessarily gloomy and emotionally convoluted,” taking a much different stance than the other review I examined. Silver mentions that Jonze uses a very naturalistic tone in the movie, rather than the fantastical tone set in the book. This visual tone is echoed in the use of tribal sounding music throughout. Silver continues to state that the film takes “itself too seriously”, especially in Max’s “hipster” attire. He is dressed in fingerless gloves and trendy Converse sneakers, something that does not really fit with Max’s persona in the book. She also points out the lifelessness of the characters, something I did not notice at first, but a point that I agree with. In the book, the wild things are very fluid and mobile, unlike the film where they are much more heavy and rigid. During the wild rumpus, the characters seem to dance and float in the book. This is not the case in the movie.
In reading the film, the critics looked at the underlying meaning of the story as well as the quality with which the movie was created. From costumes to puppets, lighting to CGI, the reviewers evaluated whether the choices made by the filmmakers made sense to the original story and to the story being told through the film adaptation. Most of the critics used more of the film language than the literary language, something I found a bit surprising. While they did discuss settings, characters, and plot, most of the reviewers fixated on ideas like metaphors, underlying meanings, social implications, and the mental conditions of the characters. Some of the critics even made political connections, such as when Sarah Silver compared the Max’s leadership over the tribe to the leadership of Obama, “novice leader makes outlandish promises to turn the forest into a utopia.”
Adapting a picture book into a feature length film is quite an undertaking. How do you take a story as well loved as Where the Wild Things Are and make it long enough to be a movie? The book has under 400 words, so creating story of substance while staying true to the original story is an obvious challenge. For me, the most important element in deciding whether a film has been adapting successfully is the emotional reaction that is created. Do I get the same feeling when I watch the movie as I did when I read the book? In the case of Where the Wild Things Are I would say that I did feel many of the same emotions. In the book, we can feel Max’s anger, a feeling we also get from the movie. There is also an element of fear in the book, specifically in relation to the wild things. The movie is also scary in parts, eliciting the same feelings as in the book.
While emotional connections are what speak to me, there are also other important rules that a film adaptation must following, including a respect for the original plot. When filmmakers change the plot of the story, they are creating a new story rather than depicting the story in the book. While some changes are necessary to translate a book into film, the plot should remain as close as possible to the original story. This respect for the plot is also a respect for readers of the book. Readers go into a film expecting to see an interpretation of the story they love. By changing the plot, a filmmaker abandons those fans and their expectations.
Translating the text of such a short story into a feature length film is obviously difficult. Film makers must take the essence of the story and extrapolate that into full dialogue for the movie. I think this is done effectively when the filmmaker does two things. First, I think the film maker should include words and phrases from the original text as much as possible. In Where the Wild Things Are, the “wild rumpus” is a unique saying that is identifiable with the book. Including this in the movie creates a solid connection with the text in the book. The second thing that film makers can do to with the text is to pay attention to the soul of the characters. By making connections with who the characters are, film makers can create more convincing language for their characters.
Obligations of Film
While film is a separate media than books, it is important for film makers to be respectful of the text on which their films are based. It is important that the story follows the same general plot, uses some of the same language as the original text, and elicits the same or similar emotional reactions. These three things are what viewers connect with and will determine who well the film is accepted. One way in which I think the film was especially successful was in its choice of music. I felt that the music chosen was effective in eliciting the emotions felt by Max and the wild things. The screams and frenetic pace left me feeling on edge, exactly the emotion you would be feeling if you were angry and upset.
Edith, good work on thinking through the picturebook and film versions of Where the Wild Things, and what unique aspects of book-to-filmmaking that might need to be considered when the book in a picture book.
What a fabulous start to a course about children’s literature and film! E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web is obviously a classic, and so too is the 1973 film version by Charles A. Nichols and Iwao Takamoto, The newest iteration, the live-action version released in 2006 by Gary Winick, is a beautifully done film that is also set to be a classic loved by children for years to come. As an avid reader and lover of film, I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to examine such a familiar and well-loved story and connect it to its film counterparts.
In “reading” the films, I tried to keep in mind the elements we discussed in regards to the text including the characters, setting, plot, theme, and style. By focusing on these elements, I was able to make more relevant and specific connections than an overall, general review of the films. Did the characters in the film match with the characters depicted in the movies? How did the tone of each interpretation compare? How was the setting depicted in each version of the story? By focusing on these major elements I was able to truly compare the films and the book rather than simply picking out the noticeable differences. Also, by examining the elements of the films in a smaller scope, I was able to think like the director and come to conclusions about why certain changes were made.
In viewing the films, I also tried to keep in mind that reading a film is different than reading a book. I have always been the typical book lover who is never happy with film interpretations of the books that I love, so for this class, I tried to look from a more analytical view than the emotional view that I normally take towards film adaptations. In doing so, I found that I enjoyed the movies more than I may have if I had just watched them for pure entertainment. I always fall in love with the minute and obscure details of a book, so seeing these things changed or left out of a movie is always disappointing to me. One of the best examples of this is the movie version of City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. City of Ember is one of my absolute favorite series so when the movie came out I was beyond excited. Like always, however, the film left me disappointed. Major elements from the book, such as the idea that there were no movable lights in Ember, were left out of the movie and left a noticeable gap in the story line. If I had viewed this movie more analytically rather than emotionally I may have felt differently.
One major difference between reading the film and reading the book is the pacing. A film has a much smaller window in which to tell the same story, so choices have to be made by the filmmaker as to what is important to the story and which elements are not. In both of the films, I felt the filmmakers stayed true to the plot of the book while still including enough elements from the book to keep the style and tone similar to the book. The pacing of the films was very different though. The animated version spent a lot of time on songs, so the story telling part of the film felt more rushed than the live action version that did not include the songs.
Another difference, specifically between the book and the 2006 film, was the main theme. In the book, the main themes are friendship and the idea of birth and death. While birth and death are a part of the film, they are not as pronounced as they are in the book. Also, in the film, the narrator frequently revisits the idea that ordinary people/creatures can sometimes do extraordinary things. In the book, Charlotte and Wilbur are depicted as anything but ordinary; they seem special from the first time that we meet them. In the movie, however, they are seen as normal, or even outcasts.
In comparing the films to each other, I felt the 2006 version did a more favorable job in terms of producing an experience similar to reading the book. For one, I thought that the characters in the live action movie were better representations of EB White’s original characters. I found the animate Wilbur to be too whiney and self-centered. The 2006 Wilbur truly seemed humble, as he should be. There were more deviations from the original text, such as Fern bringing Wilbur to school, but the overall experience was most like the book.
In the 1973 version of Charlotte’s Web, the filmmakers focused on sound and music as an element of storytelling that was impossible to include in the original text. By including songs, they were able to emphasize the emotions of the characters, something that would have been done using rich language in the story. This was a smart choice as music has been recognized as creating emotional reactions for listeners. Since the movie was intended for younger children, the addition of catchy songs was smart since many films targeted at this age group use songs.
The 2006 version used music in a much more subtle way. Rather than sing along style numbers, this live action version of the movie used music and sound to add a depth to the setting of the movie as well as helping viewers to feel the emotions of the characters. By omitting the lengthy music montages, the filmmakers were able to tell more of the story in about the same amount of time. It also gave this version a more grown-up feel that would appeal to older children.
It was important for us to view and analyze these films. As teachers, we all show movies, so it is important that we use these movies to the fullest and use them as opportunities to deepen our students’ understanding of the texts and their film counterparts. According to Elizabeth Thoman, there are three steps in an effective media program. One of these steps is the use of critical viewing. In critical viewing, viewers are “learning to analyze and questions what is in the frame, how it is constructed, and what may have been left out”. This is exactly what we did throughout this unit and what we should strive to include in our lessons that include films.
Very good paper, Edith. You have a good start here to thinking about how films function as interpretations of books, and why that matters. These are issues that will underlie almost all the activities of the course.
For my technology exploration, I decided to look at two tools that I have used. My Weebly site is located at http://maet-portfolio.weebly.com/ and my Google Sites webpage is located at https://sites.google.com/site/ericksonmaetportfolio/.
After using both of these platforms for quite some time and for a variety of reasons, I believe that Weebly will be a better choice for my portfolio. It is quicker and easier to use, which is a requirement since I have a busy six month old girl at home and a full time job. One of the biggest differences between Google and Weebly is the ability to easily embed third party widgets. This is one of the other primary reasons for selecting Weebly over Google. I want to be able to embed anything that I might need and would hate to start my site on Google Sites and get stuck trying to embed something. I do not have the time to troubleshoot and subvert the contraints of Google when I can do this easily in seconds with Weebly. Overall, Google Sites is adequate, but when time is a concern, which it is, Weebly is more effective.
Edith, excellent job comparing each of the film versions with White’s original novel. I appreciate that you don’t just talk about the differences, but that you focus on what difference those differences make. Nice work.
Overall, the 1973 Hanna-Barbera film interpretation of Charlotte’s Web did a fair job of keeping true to E.B. White’s beloved classic. Most of the vital scenes from the book found a way into the film. While more rushed than in the book, these scenes were addressed in enough detail to satisfy fans of the book while maintaining the brevity that is needed in a film adaptation of a book. There were some changes, such as how Henry Fussy was introduced and the addition of Jeffery the gosling, but overall the story being told is the same as in the book.
Henry Fussy, in my opinion, is one of the standout differences between the book and movie. In the book, Henry is mentioned, but seems to be a rather flat character. He is, in essence, simply a reason for Fern to leave Wilbur and is not developed in much detail. In the movie, however, he is a much more developed character. In the movie, he is given more of a back story, complete with overbearing mother, violin lessons, and more of a high-society type life than Fern the farm girl. Throughout the film, Henry changes, first with his visit to the Zuckerman farm, and later in his glasses-free form at the fair. This change by Henry, in my opinion, is meant to lead viewers to think that the changes he has made were in order to woo Fern.
In our earlier discussions, I mentioned that I thought that the book had a theme focused on birth and death. The film also has this theme. While the film feels very whimsical with all of the singing and dancing, it does not hide the harsh realities of death and loss that are central in the book. This is especially true at the end of the movie when Wilbur has reached his breaking point with the loss of all of Charlotte’s babies. This feeling of loss is remedied when Wilbur learns, like in the book, that three of the babies have remained at the barnyard. This is almost like a rebirth for Wilbur, giving him a purpose. He feels it is his responsibility to teach these three small spiders about his dear friend Charlotte.
Obviously the book is not rife with songs like in this version, but the songs fill an important void. When interpreting a book, especially one as beloved as Charlotte’s Web, film makers seem to struggle with conveying the emotions that are so much more easily expressed in text. By adding songs to the movie, the film makers were able to embed added emotion that would be hard to instill without making the film much longer. Music has been used for hundreds of years as a means both express and elicit emotions and the film makers used this tactic to relate Wilbur’s feelings of sadness, joy, and melancholy. Some of the songs were a bit hokey and added for pure entertainment, but even these songs added to the tone of the story. The song Charlotte sings to Wilbur about keeping his chin up seemed especially successful at adding emotion into the story.
The 2006 version of Charlotte’s Web starts very similarly to the book with the birth of Wilbur on the Arable farm. Fern starts the film by saving Wilbur’s life and promises to keep Wilbur alive. Fern’s character, known for being stubborn and strong in the book, is amped up in the movie and is a much stronger character, so much so that she could almost be considered defiant in some of her responses to her parents. This is especially obvious in her response to her parents after being told that Wilbur would be going to the Zuckerman farm when she said, “I didn’t promise you, I promised Wilbur.” It is also evident in her actions when she disobeys her parents and brings Wilbur to school with her after being told to put in the basket.
The theme of this version of the movie is a bit of a departure from the theme of the book. While birth and death are part of the storyline of the movie, the theme seems to focus more upon ordinary creatures doing extraordinary things, a sentiment which is mentioned several times by the narrator. This, in my opinion, is to make the story more relatable for younger viewers. Birth and death are not necessarily topics that many children can relate with. The idea of being ordinary, however, is much more relatable. Perhaps the film makers saw this as an opportunity to inspire ordinary children become extraordinary.
Another big difference between the book and this film version is how Charlotte is viewed by the other barnyard animals. In the book, Charlotte is respected by the other creatures and seen as being wise and motherly. In the movie, however, the barnyard animals think that Charlotte is disgusting and creepy. The horse literally faints in fear at the sight of her and Templeton asserts that she is even lower in status than him, and he’s a rat! I think the film makers probably made this choice to make the friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur more unlikely. If Charlotte was popular and well liked, of course she would be liked by Wilbur. This change also serves to strengthen the idea or ordinary things becoming extraordinary. The barnyard animals see Charlotte as a normal, creepy, ugly spider and Wilbur as a normal, doomed, pig. Throughout the film, however, the animals change and learn to view Charlotte and Wilbur with respect. Through Charlotte’s beautiful webs and Wilbur’s innocence, the creatures are transformed.
One idea that was translated well into the film is the passage of time. It is not overly pronounced, but touches such as fireworks for the 4th of July and the changing color of the leaves show that time is passing and the seasons are getting ever closer to Christmas dinner. The changing of seasons is present in the book as a reminder of the imminent death of Wilbur, just like in this version of the movie. This is important in providing a sense of urgency for the characters. If they are not able to change how Mr. Zuckerman feels, than Wilbur will not see the first snow.
I'm currently in the capstone portfolio class and chose your portfolio as my favorite. Your homepage was very well organized and visually appealing, making it easy for visitors to get acquainted with your portfolio. I like that you included personal information so that viewers could get to know you as a whole person (congratulations on your wedding, by the way). I feel like there is very little disconnect between personal life and professional life when it comes to teaching, so it is important to show that you are a real person. I also really like your organization, both in terms of navigation and on each individual page. The annotated transcript is easy to peruse without getting overwhelmed with the amount of text on the page. Your resume is also easy to follow, especially since it resembles the format of a traditional resume.
Thank you so much for sharing your portfolio! It has given me some great ideas for things I will be incorporating into my own portfolio this semester.
What a fantastic story to start with! Charlotte's Web is one of the stories that inspired my love of reading. Charlotte's Web is written with a straightforward, linear plot line, perhaps one of the reasons this appealed to me as a budding reader. The story starts with a problem and works towards solving this problem throughout the story. From the beginning, Wilbur's life is in danger and the plot of the story follows the way in which his life was ultimately spared. From Fern's initial attempt to save Wilbur's life to the eventual success of Charlotte's plan, most of the events of the story lead to Wilbur's rescue. Even with this linearity, there is an element of circularity in that birth and death are central to both the beginning and end of the story. Wilbur's birth is the catalyst of the story, presenting us with the conflict of whether or not the pig should live. The idea of birth and death are also vital to the conclusion of the story, in Charlotte's death and in the birth of her children. This circularity, paired with the linear plot line, is likely the reason this story appeals to children of all ages. The linearity makes the story easy to understand for more inexperienced readers, while the circularity allows for a deeper connection for more advanced readers.
Geographically, Charlotte's Web takes place in three primary locations. The first is the farm owned by Fern's family. This is Wilbur's birthplace and where the story begins. This is where Fern meets and falls in love with Wilbur. The next location, Zuckerman's farm, is where most of the story takes place. This is an important location as it is where Wilbur meets Charlotte and eventually lives out his days after being saved by Charlotte's plan. Finally, the most influential location is the fair. This is where Wilbur is ensured safety by winning a special award for Mr. Zuckerman, and is also where Wilbur says his final goodbyes to his dearest friend.
Time is also important to this story. Wilbur is constantly under pressure in terms of time. From the time of his birth, it is established that by December he will be part of a meal. The passing of time is indicated through the changing of the seasons throughout the book, creating flow for the readers and reminding them that time, for Wilbur, is running out.
The three main characters in the story are Fern, Wilbur, and obviously Charlotte. Wilbur was the baby pig that is the reason for the story. He was the runt of the farrow and was set to be killed until Fern intervened. Throughout the story, we learned about the gentle, sensitive nature of the pig through his interactions with Fern and the other barnyard animals. He is also very loving and learns to accept creatures for what they are, rather than based off of initial impressions, making him a dynamic character. Rather than avoiding Charlotte based on her eating habits, he comes to have a meaningful and important relationship.
Fern is also a vital character in this story, and probably the most dynamic. In the beginning of the story, Fern is very stubborn and innocent. She fought for Wilbur's life and was content spending her time at the Zuckerman farm. As the story progressed however, Fern grew, as all children do, and lost interest in spending time with her animal friends and grew more interested in Henry Fuss.
Finally, Charlotte is the most stable and static character in the story. She is clever and caring from the beginning, knowing full well that her own time was limited. Charlotte is the character that not only solves the problem of saving Wilbur, but also teaches Wilbur and the readers important lessons in love and devotion. While static, the character of Charlotte is most definitely not flat. The character is deep and well developed.
One of the most flat, static characters is Templeton. His character remains primarily the same throughout the story and plays on the literary stereotypes typically given to rats. While not as developed as some of the other characters, Templeton is vital to the story in that he was responsible for locating words for Charlotte to spell.
Since this is a class about literature, I think one vital theme to point out in this story is the power of words. Not only does Charlotte use words to save Wilbur from being killed, but these words also inspire confidence in Wilbur. The words amaze and delight onlookers, much like the words of E.B. White delight readers of this class piece of literature.
Birth and death are also central to the story. In fact, the entire story is centered around the idea of saving Wilbur from impending death. The story starts with Wilbur's birth, and right from the beginning the threat of death is predominant in the story. Even after being saved by Fern, the threat of death drives the plot of the story as Charlotte tries to save Wilbur from slaughter. While Wilbur's life is saved, birth and death are revisited at the end of the story through Charlotte's passing and through the birth of her babies.
What is not to love about E.B. White's style? He writes with such detail that it is easy to picture all of the elements presented in the story. We are given copious amounts of details about the surroundings and goings on in the story so that we as readers are able to immerse ourselves in the Wilbur's world exactly how E.B. White intended. White is a master in terms of using sensory details, making use of all of our senses to build a real, tangible world in our minds. Including descriptions of the smell and feel of certain places helps readers put themselves into the story. This use of sensory details is perhaps one of the reasons this story is so well loved. By being exact and descriptive, struggling readers are able to visualize and immerse themselves more readily into the text than a story that would require more imagination, inferring, or speculation.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!