With the exciting news that Roald Dahl’s “The BFG” is set to get the silver screen treatment, courtesy of Steven Spielberg, what better time to take a look back at Dahl’s translation from paper to the big screen? Cue fantastic foxes, a Grand High Witch and a pretentious and bouncy Gene Wilder . . .

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

The first book I remember reading that was over five pages long. I couldn’t make much sense of it then, nor can I make much sense of it now. Maybe, it’s a story of a father turning to dastardly deeds to feed his family, or simply an explanation of the nature of foxes and chickens, or even just an excuse to get a fox into a suit?!  I do remember reading it over and over again, so it can’t be all bad. The movie failed to captivate me the way others have. Perhaps the innocence of childhood was long gone for me and although I hate to admit it, I’m now too grown up for Mr Fox. I put it down to a blip on an otherwise spotless movie/author partnership.

 Matilda (1996)

This is undoubtedly the best of the bunch in my humble opinion. Featuring the only child actor of my generation not to be pregnant by 13 or in rehab by 15, “Matilda” is the story of a young girl in an abusive (albeit hilarious) family who discovers her inner magical power. Rather horrific elements like “The Chokee” (essentially an iron maiden), swinging a girl around by her pigtails and even a hint of murder is something that will stay with you forever, and of course makes me sound insane for saying it’s one of the funniest films of my childhood. Although, as this list will demonstrate, “disturbing” is a recurring theme in the work of Roald Dahl . . .

James & The Giant Peach (1996)

If I ignore “a rhino made of clouds who eats people” and the kid who couldn’t pronounce his R’s, I’m on a slippery slope to splitting hairs amongst another trophy on Tim Burton’s shelf. Haven’t you heard if you want to run away from home the cheapest way is by huge fruit? I went down under on a grape last year. Roald Dahl = disturbia for kids. Burton was the natural choice.

 The Witches (1990)

Keeping the legacy alive, “The Witches” was released just months before Dahl’s death. Anjelica Huston and Rowan Atkinson – what could be better? It was dubbed “a black comedy for children” by critics and it certainly continued the theme of Dahl’s dark humour. A brave young boy who dares to take on Huston’s Grand High Witch with the help of his plucky Grandmother, who tells the scariest bedtime stories ever!

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)/Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (2005)

Every child’s dream come true! However, it does get ones hopes up. Anyone on a trip around the Cadbury Chocolate Factory will know what I’m talking about;they have no river of chocolate, no soda bubbles that defy gravity, and worst of all, no “Candy Man” with annoyingly catchy songs to share and a killer wardrobe! And, not an Oompa Loompa in sight . . . I felt robbed, to say the least. Of course, Dahl famously loathed the original Willy Wonka,calling him “pretentious” and “bouncy”, leading to yet another excuse for Johnny Depp to adorn a wacky outfit decades later for Tim Burton’s take, “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory”, which, according to Dahl’s widow, he would have “loved”. Apparently, Depp’s sinister take on Willy Wonka (minus bounce) was exactly Dahl’s intention when penning the character. Tim Burton triumphs again!

To date, Dahl’s transformation onto the big screen has undoubtedly been more hit than miss; the movie adaptations of his tales have managed to capture the imagination and hearts of audiences across the world, just as his books did before them.

I can’t wait until The BFG knocks on my door!

 

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