In reading the article by Griswold, I was pleased to find that I came to many of the same conclusions about the book and film that he did. I too distinguished between the reality vs. imaginative nature of Dorothy’s trip to Oz and drew parallels between Star Wars. I was also pleased to see that my focus on setting was backed up by Griswold’s assertion that “Oz is certainly one of the most memorable things about the book”. Like Griswold, I also noticed that the movie shifts the plot of the movie to a more straightforward line, combining the good witches and omitting the China village and characters like the Hammer Heads in favor of one major climactic moment. I typically do not think of myself as good at identifying these types of comparisons, but I think it came much more easily in this case since I have always loved the movie so much.
I found it interesting that Baum considered himself to be a fairy tale author and that he accepted the fact that people would retell and adapt his stories. This is very contrary to today’s world where everything is copyrighted and people are sued for even incidental copyright infractions. The openness of Baum is perhaps one of the primary reasons for the lasting success of the books, movies, merchandise, and spinoffs. Rather than dampen these efforts with copyright claims, Baum, by the sounds of it, would have likely encouraged these reinterpretations.
The geography of Oz was another aspect that I did not piece together. With so many mentions of the cardinal directions it seems that Baum was all but drawing a map for his readers. Finding each direction linked to a specific trait of our country makes sense and I feel a bit silly for not noticing it before reading the article. Understanding Baum’s geographic history and its ties to Oz provided a deeper understanding of Baum’s frame of reference when writing the Oz books.
In my comparison the book and film, I unfortunately focused very little on Toto, but after reading Griswold’s article, I feel that perhaps I should have given him more attention. While there is little direct attention given to him in the book and movie, he does shape many of the events that take place. From annoying Ms. Gulch in the movie, to jumping out of the basket, Toto truly was a catalyst for many of the shaping events in both stories.
I also had not, foolishly perhaps, noticed the connections between the witches and Auntie Em. I always thought of Auntie Em as a sweet lady, most likely because I had adopted Dorothy’s view of her as portrayed in the movie. When paying specific attention to Auntie Em at the beginning of the film and through Baum's description of her in the book, Auntie Em really does not seem like a nice person. After paying closer attention, it is easy to see how Auntie Em could share character traits with the Wicked Witch. Unlike the Wicked Witch, Auntie Em does care deeply for Dorothy, a love which is portrayed by the good witches.
The Wizard of Oz is a classic film, as is its inspiration, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Growing up, The Wizard of Oz was one of my all-time favorite movies and being an avid reader it is surprising that I had not read the book before this course. I suppose that is the point of this lesson though, to examine the effects of a movie that has overshadowed the original text. The differences between the two are numerous, but the changes made, in my opinion, are what have led to the film becoming the timeless classic that we know and love.
Scene to scene, chapter to chapter, there are many choices made by the filmmakers that stray from the original text, but I think the biggest change is the overall plot of the book. The book, in my opinion, is much more of an episodic adventure, where the movie has a more circular plot. This makes sense when translating a book into a film, especially when taking into consideration that film was a somewhat new medium and book-to-film interpretations were just beginning. Viewers today expect to see exact representations of their favorite stories and anything less is a disappointment. I wonder if it was the same then. I think that by altering the plot to fit within a circular story line made the story more palatable for viewers and helped to create a more satisfying story.
One way that the filmmakers created this circular story is by introducing new characters in what I think was an interesting way. Rather than simply introducing the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, Wicked Witch, and the Wizard of Oz in the Land of Oz, the filmmakers cleverly created “real life” counterparts in Dorothy’s Kansas life. I think this made for a more rounded story and made the story more plausible for viewers not accustomed to science fiction or surrealism. We also do not learn much of the backstory behind the Scarecrow or Tin Man like we do in the book. Aside from the time constraints of film, it was also likely because the back stories would not do much to advance the plot of the movie. The Scarecrow was stuffed the day before Dorothy found him, so he literally has no back story. The Tin Man, on the other hand, had a rich back story about how he came to be made of tin. This story, one of being cut apart limb by limb, however, would be considered graphic for children even today, so its omission is logical.
In addition to adding characters, two characters from the book were combined into one. In the book, the Witch of the North and Glinda, the Witch of the South are two separate characters. In the movie, however, they were combined in the film, creating another instance of circularity. We meet Glinda when Dorothy first arrives in Munchkin Land and are revisited by her again when she saves Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion in the field of poppies, and at the end of the movie when Dorothy is finally sent home. In the book, we met the Witch of the North when Dorothy first arrived in Oz. She was described as being much older than Uncle Henry with a face “covered with wrinkles, her hair nearly white, and she walked rather stiffly”. Glinda, the Witch of the South, is not introduced until much later when she helps send Dorothy home. Unlike the Witch of the North, Glinda is “both beautiful and young to their eyes”. While I understand why these two witches were combined for the film, I think the story is better served by having the witches as separate characters. If Glinda knew that the shoes would take Dorothy home from the beginning, why would she make her go on such a grueling and dangerous journey? With two different witches, it is easier to understand that perhaps the Witch of the North did not know the power of the shoes, making the journey to seek out Glinda necessary.
By setting up the beginning of the movie with negativity towards the Elvira Gulch/Wicked Witch character, the filmmakers were able to create a more circular story a major climax where the book has more than one climax and has a number of different adventures. From the very beginning of the movie, there is a conflict between Dorothy and the Wicked Witch leading to a large climax when Dorothy finally melts the witch. In the book, we don’t learn of the Witch until much later. She is mentioned by the Witch of the North, but there is not really a true conflict between Dorothy and the Witch of the West until the point that the she tries to steal Dorothy’s shoes. The true conflict, in fact, is between the Witch of the West and the Wizard. Dorothy is merely fighting Oz’s battle for him, where her conflict with Witch is much more developed in the film.
Another major difference is the entire premise of the Land Oz. In the book, Dorothy actually travels to Oz. This is evidenced by the description of Dorothy’s return home. “For she was sitting on the broad Kansas prairie, and just before her was the new farmhouse Uncle Henry built after the cyclone carried away the old one”. The house has obviously disappeared or else it would not have needed to be rebuilt. Unless she had been unconscious on the prairie for a very long time, it is unlikely that she was simply imaging her adventure through Oz. The film, on the other hand, depicts Oz as a dream or hallucination caused by being hit on the head. We see this Dorothy is struck on the head and wakes up in her same room.
In the movie interpretation, Dorothy starts out in Kansas, just as in the book. Both are dull and gray, but the story taking place in both is very different. In the movie we are given a more in depth look at Dorothy’s life in Kansas, which is surprising as books typically provide a deeper story. Where the book begins almost immediately with the approaching cyclone, in the film we are introduced to the farm hands that are never mentioned in the book. We also meet Elvira Gulch and Professor Marvel, other characters not mentioned in the book. In addition to just meeting these characters, these characters shift the plot from that of the original book. Dorothy runs away from home because of Ms. Gulch, causing her to meet Professor Marvel/Oz and to get stuck in the cyclone rather than make it to the safety of the storm cellar. The fact the Dorothy is running away makes the theme of “home” stronger than presented in the book. In the film, Dorothy decided to leave home. She did not intend to be taken to a magical land, but just the same, she made the choice to leave home. In the book her trip to Oz is completely accidental.
In creating a circular plot, the filmmakers removed, downplayed, or altered several of the episodes and story elements presented in the book. One example is the use of color. In the book, colors are very important. The munchkins, for example, are represented by the color blue. This is part of what causes the munchkins to trust Dorothy. Their houses and clothing, in the book, were all blue, just like the dress she chose to wear upon arriving in Oz. In the film, we see Munchkin Land as a bright colorful place. This was probably done for the same reason that Dorothy’s shoes were changed from silver to ruby. That is that the film makers were showcasing the use of Technicolor and the bright colors and shiny ruby color were more impressive on film. Since this was Dorothy’s (and the viewer’s) first impression of Oz, I think the film makers were wise in making such a contrast with the image of Kansas.
Another major departure from the book is the golden cap and flying monkeys. In the book, the golden cap is the source of the Wicked Witch’s power over the flying monkeys. The book explains that the monkeys can be used three times by each owner of the cap before losing its power. Dorothy also uses the cap to control the monkeys, showing that the monkeys are not evil, rather they are just cursed and doomed to serve whoever controls the cap. The film gives the impression the Winkies and flying monkeys are simply the Wicked Witch’s slaves. I thought it was interesting, however, that the filmmakers DID include the golden cap. There is a scene where the Wicked Witch is talking to one of the flying monkeys and you can clearly see the cap in her hand. I watched this movie probably one hundred times or more in my life but never noticed this. Perhaps it was intended to be a nod to fans of the book who would have noticed the omission of the cap.
One thing that remains constant in both the film and the book is the theme; that home is important. Even if it is not the most beautiful or glamorous, home is where family is found and it is someplace to be treasured and appreciated.
The book provides readers with a sprawling adventure that includes many different lands and characters not included in the film. With a more episodic plot, we are taken on a fast paced adventure through Oz that feels rushed at times, but provides much excitement for the reader. With the episodic plot line, readers experience a number of adventures and climactic moments rather than the one major climax found in the movie.
As with most books, we are able to get to know the book’s characters on a much deeper level. From the very first pages, we learn about the history and back story of Uncle Henry and Auntie Em including how they came to live on the prairie and how life on the prairie changed Auntie Em in particular. We also learn more about the Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man, learning that the Scarecrow was stuffed just the day before Dorothy finds him in the farmer’s field and that the Lion acts brave by roaring loudly, but that he is in fact a coward. The most interesting of these is the back story of the Tin Man in which we learn of his love for a beautiful girl. Through a curse, he loses all of his limbs and has them replaced with tin, eventually losing even his heart. With the loss of his heart, he loses his love.
In addition to knowing the main characters more deeply, we are also introduced to secondary characters that are not present in the movie, including the field mice and their queen, the Khalidas, the stork, the China princess, the Quadlings, and the Hammer-heads. The field mice are important in this book as they are the reason that Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion are saved from the poisonous poppies, unlike in the movie when they are saved by snow sent by Glinda. The other characters were also important to Dorothy’s travels through Oz, but were in parts of the book that were not chosen for the movie, so it makes sense that they were not included in the film.
Setting is very important in this book as there is a stark contrast between dull, drab Kansas and the bright and glistening Oz. L. Frank Baum paints Kansas as a lifeless land, with descriptions such as the “great gray prairie”, “not a tree nor a house”, and “the house was as dull and gray as everything else”. Oz, on the other hand, is bounding with life. With “lovely patches of greensward”, “trees bearing rich and luscious fruits”, “banks of gorgeous flowers”, and “birds with rare and brilliant plumage” Oz is a land full of life and vitality, very much the opposite of Dorothy’s Kansas. While the visuals of the setting are presented in the film, the text descriptions really causes you to think about the land in which Dorothy has arrived, rather than taking it for granted in the film.
While being far from a faithful interpretation of the original book, the filmmakers created a well-rounded story that captured the essence of Oz while adapting the story to the medium of film.
Just as the book has characters not present in the film, so too does the film. Most noticeable are the farmhands, Zeke, Hickory, and Hunk, as well as Ms. Gulch and Professor Marvel. In my opinion, this was probably done to make a more circular story line and advance the story of their Oz counterparts even before Dorothy’s adventure. It also let viewers get to know the characters before even meeting them. For example, when Dorothy meets Professor Marvel, we see that he is sneaky and dishonest. When we are introduced to the Wizard of Oz, we can assume that he has the same character traits. We also get to learn about these characters and their interactions with each other through the use of two and three shots. One good example of a three-shot is when the Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man are waiting outside the castle plotting how best to rescue Dorothy.
Another way in which we got to know the character was the use of close-up shots. Close-ups are used throughout the film to show the emotions of the characters, as well as during the songs. Close-ups are most frequently used with Dorothy, which makes sense as she is the main character and also shows the most emotion throughout the film
The setting in the film is impressively established through wide shots of the varied landscapes. The film was created with expansive sets with painted backdrops. This combination, along with the wide shots, creates the impression of a large, fantastical world; a world that I am sure must have wowed viewers who watched the film when it was originally released. These establishing shots are extremely effective and provide an even richer picture of Oz than presented in the book.
The use of color and black and white was also an effective choice in the visuals of the film. While in Kansas, the filmmakers decided to use the black and white film that was traditionally used at the time. In contrast, Technicolor film was used in Oz, making a large impression when Dorothy first opens the door into this new world. Filmmakers obviously considered their audience, one not accustomed to colored films, and provided a wow-factor by waiting to introduce color into the film until Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.
.One noticeable change from the book is the addition of songs. By translating the book into a musical, the filmmakers were able to add a lot of emotion and personality into the characters, as well as being able to elicit emotions from the viewers. Who would not feel the joy and excitement of the Munchkins when listening to Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead or feel Dorothy’s longing in Somewhere Over the Rainbow? By adding songs, the filmmakers were able to cleverly and efficiently get viewers invested in the emotions of the characters while staying within the time constraints of a film.
While the book is a classic in its own right, it was a classic book at the time the film was made after all, the film version of the Wizard of Oz has maintained its popularity around the world. In addition to its popularity, it has also had an influence in film, TV, and music, even in recent years.
Due to its popularity, The Wizard of Oz has been referenced in many different mediums, but one of the most recent is in one of my favorite television shows, LOST. The entire premise of the show mirrors that of the film and book. The characters in the show are stranded in an odd and lovely world that can be dangerous at times. Their adventures and motivations on the island are much the same of Dorothy’s, which is a desire to go home. Additionally, the creators of the show also directly reference the film through the names of episodes and characters, like “Henry Gale” who arrives on the island by hot air balloon, or episodes called The Man Behind the Curtain and There’s No Place Like Home, both direct references to lines in the film.
The visuals of the film have also had lasting effects in pop culture with of the most popular being the Star Wars movies. One of the most obvious correlations is between the characters. C3PO, the golden robot, is in essence a man made of tin, closely resembling the Tin Man. Another of Dorothy’s companions, the Lion, creates a striking comparison to George Lucas’s Chewbacca. Luke Skywalker, the protagonist of the Star War series, also shares many of the character traits of Dorothy. Both are naïve in many ways, but are passionate about their beliefs. Friendship is important to them and they are not too proud to lean on those around them.
One way in which the book has been recently reintroduced into pop culture is through the 2013 film, Oz the Great and Powerful. It wisely was created as a prequel to the 1939 film, rather than trying to recreate the classic film. In this film, we are introduced to many of the elements from the book that were omitted from the original film, most notably the China village.
There is also the book and musical, Wicked, which is an interpretation of the life of the Wicked Witch of the West. While there is a lot of content that does not relate to the original text, there are connects to some of the elements from the original Oz books, such as references to the Quadlings and Boq, both omissions from the 1939 film.
While the 1939 movie is most undoubtedly more popular than the book, I think that quality of the book should not be diminished by the fact that it is not as well represented in pop culture. The film was so smartly and well done that I feel that the movie improved upon something that was already great. The filmmakers took advantage of new filming techniques and gave viewers a film like they had never seen before.
Edith, very good paper about the book and film versions of the Wizard of Oz. You did a great job comparing the "texts" and what they offer, and thinking about what that means in a cultural context.
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.
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.
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!