13 of the Best Children’s Movies Adapted From Books

13 of the Best Children’s Movies Adapted From Books

There are plenty of children’s books being adapted into movies this year. Some look faithful to their source material, such as Dreamworks’ The Wild Robot. Others, like the live-action film Harold and the Purple Crayon, have me already wondering why Hollywood is messing with a good thing.

When compiling this list of movies based on children’s books, I wasn’t concerned about how closely they followed the books. I just cared if they were good. Here are 13 movies I liked that you can share with your children—and perhaps inspire them to pick up a copy of the corresponding book.

The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

Author Norman Juster wasn’t a fan of this live-action/animated adaptation of his beloved book. However, there are plenty of fans of this movie about an indifferent kid who travels to the Kingdom of Wisdom in the Lands Beyond in a toy car with his “watchdog,” Tock, who has a large pocket watch for a body. It also features gorgeous animation from Chuck Jones, the artist who animated numerous Looney Tunes cartoons, and the original The Grinch Who Stole Christmas television special.

The Bad Guys (2022)

Aaron Blabey’s graphic novel series gets the Dreamworks treatment. Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell plays the smooth-talking Big Bad Wolf, who believes society hasn’t given him and his team of criminals a chance to be good. Borrowing its style from heist films Oceans 11 and neo-noirs like Pulp Fiction, there’s plenty here for kids and parents to love.

Freaky Friday (1976, 2003)

There have been plenty of adaptations of Mary Rodger’s novel about a mother and daughter switching places for one day. If you have to pick one, choose the 2003 version, which features an unhinged performance by Jamie Lee Curtis that should have snagged her an Oscar nomination before she won the award last year. The original, featuring Jodie Foster and a hilarious Barbara Harris, also has plenty of laughs.

Coraline (2009)

Parts of this stop-motion animated film, based on the book by fantasy and horror author Neil Gaiman, might be a little intense for younger viewers. However, if your children can handle it, they’ll delight in its story of a girl who finds a parallel universe in her house where all her dreams come true, but her fulfilled wishes come with a price.

101 Dalmatians (1961)

With all due respect to Glenn Close and Emma Stone, the original animated take of Dodie Smith’s tale of puppies in peril is the best of the litter of remakes and revamps. Walt Disney’s classic film also boasts the meanest villain of them all: Cruella de Vil, voiced by the brilliant Betty Lou Gerson.

The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Despite its misleading title, this fantasy film, adapted from Michael Ende’s novel, ends around the 90-minute mark because producers chose to adapt the book’s first half. Perhaps that is one of the many reasons Ende hated the film. Despite this, the film has delighted many Gen Xers and those who discovered it through the title song’s inclusion in Stranger Things.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)

Dav Pilkey’s book series about a duo of grade-schooler comic book writers who turn their tyrannical principal into the titular Wedgie Warrior has many things parents might not like, such as scatological humor and a plot in which almost no one learns a moral lesson. Maybe that’s why kids love it so much.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

Not to be confused with the recent series of horror movies being made now that the willy-nilly silly old bear is in the public domain, this animated film is actually a collection of shorter films Walt Disney made based on A.A. Milne’s stories about the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood. Imaginative and whimsical, it’s a movie pretty much any child (and adult) would love.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

While this computer-animated classic may not closely follow Cressida Cowell’s series of books, it’s still an eye-popping adventure about a young Viking who befriends a dragon and realizes his village’s war with the species has been all wrong. The film was such a hit it inspired a franchise that includes two sequels, an upcoming live-action remake, and numerous television shows.

Mary Poppins (1964)

Walt Disney’s attempts to obtain the rights to P.L. Travers’ beloved book became its own movie. While she was ultimately dissatisfied with the final result, the live-action/animated hybrid about a nanny who changes the lives of a British family became 1964’s highest-grossing film and snagged 13 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. I can also confirm that my two boys loved it, proof that the 60-year-old musical still holds up.

Charlotte’s Web (1973)

It is rumored that E.B. White, who wrote the beloved novel on which this animated movie is based, turned down Walt Disney when he tried to adapt his story of a pig saved from the slaughterhouse by a spider. White wasn’t a fan of this version either, but in the years since its release, its legions of fans continued to grow, prompting a live-action remake in 2006.

Holes (2003)

Louis Sachar could only blame himself if he didn’t like Disney’s adaptation of his young adult novel—he wrote the screenplay. He can relax, though, because this story about a kid sent to a detention camp for a crime he didn’t commit has plenty for families to dig into, with its plot touching on themes regarding racism, masculinity, and child labor. It’s also a lot of fun for adults and teens.

Orion and the Dark (2024)

Credit to screenwriter Charlie Kaufman for turning Emma Yarlett’s 40-page picture book about an overly timid kid getting over his fear of the dark into a delightful full-length film, and shame on Dreamworks for taking their first attempt into the existential territory that Pixar occupies so well straight to Netflix. It’s a bold, hilarious film that deserves to be seen on a big screen.

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