Saturday, June 18, 2011

Poor "Mr Popper"

Years and years ago, I did a list of ten of my favorite books that the movies have ruined. Things like "Mary Poppins", "Stuart Little", "Doctor Dolittle", etc. 

I had high hopes that the faithful adaptations of the first few "Harry Potter" books would teach the Hollywood ignoramuses that you CAN make a good movie without mauling the book. But by the time they got to "Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix" they obviously didn't care any more. "Half Blood Prince" was appalling and if that clip that seems to be Harry and Voldemort falling out of a high tower is supposed to be the key scene in "Deathly Hallows" where Harry does the Jesus/Aslan bit, I'm glad that I didn't see part 1 and won't see part 2 at the movies!

I bring this up today because having spoiled what might have been a pretty good "Ramona the Pest" movie last summer by casting pretty-pretty Latina girl Selina Gomez as plain, white bread Beezus Quimby (my girls wouldn't have anything to do with this movie), they have now gone after one of my favorite favorite childhood works, Mr Popper's Penguins. Complete with casting book killer extraordinaire Jim Carrey as Mr Popper.

What is it with Jim Carrey? Is he INTO killing kids books?
The Grinch? Horton Hears A Who?
And now, Mr Popper's Penguins!

Please note that the character on the cover of the REAL book looks nothing like Jim Carrey, and certainly doesn't look like he's circa 2011.
Because he's not. This book has been beloved of kids since 1938, just as it is.

 Mr Popper is a kind, dreamy, ne'er do well housepainter. He has a loving, understanding wife and 2 nice children, Janie and Bill. Mr Popper loves to listen to the radio and is fascinated by tales of the Antarctic. So he writes a fan letter to one of the explorers and is surprised and delighted when he receives a gift--a live penguin!

"Captain Cook" becomes a member of the family, once the Poppers have figured out how to accommodate him. But he gets lonely. The result is the arrival of Greta, the second penguin and eventually that leads to 12 penguins living in the Popper family's basement!

But all that penguin care is more than the Poppers can afford, until they get a chance to take the penguins on the road in a vaudeville show. Which leads to a very happy ending for Mr Popper and his penguins.

There are no flatulence jokes. No penguin poop jokes. No mean villain. No angst over a neglected childhood. Just a sweet funny story about a family.

Note that Newberry Honor sticker on the cover? I'm not much for awards, but back then those librarians knew their stuff. They picked this as a book that would last through the generations and it has.

My own copy, circa the 1940s, was read by my mother and her sister, by her cousin (who apparently tried to draw over some of the drawings) and was read with equal pleasure by me. It's still on a shelf in SC's room, its binding worn, but still loved.

"I read that book, Mom," JR commented when she saw the ads. "It was great. They're going to ruin it as a movie, aren't they?"

JR is still indignant over what they did to "Percy Jackson". As for SC, she STILL loves the picture book "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs", but declared she'd never want to see the movie. Or that travesty made of "Where the Wild Things Are", her favorite book when she was 2 and 3.

You know, it CAN be a pleasure to see your favorite book as a movie or TV mini-series if it's done right. The original "Anne of Green Gables" was one of the most satisfying adaptations I've ever seen. I now see Colleen Dewhurst every time I read those books. I had high hopes for the sequels to be done with equal loving care and faith to Maud Montgomery's characters.

But then Kevin Sullivan and Co took the rest of the books and ruined them.

Get "Mr Popper" off the shelf in your house or library and read it with pleasure. Make sure your kids read it, or read it to them--it's one of my favorite read aloud suggestions.

Then, if you want to waste your money on this movie your kids will see for themselves--it's no match for the book.

Poor, poor, Mr Popper!


Saints and Spinners said...

When looking for online streaming versions of the Ramona series starring Sarah Polley, I stumbled across the Ramona movie trailer. I was curious, and began to play it. After 10 seconds my daughter said, "Turn it off! Turn it off!" I had the same reaction, but was gratified that her interest in videos was trumped by good taste and a protectiveness of the story.

Have you seen The Secret of Roan Inish? It's a quiet film by John Sayles, and is based upon the children's book The Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry. I liked it quite a bit.

The Library Lady said...

Now the Sarah Polley version of Ramona ROCKED. I used to have some of the videos at the library, and I saw it on YouTube--in fact, I put a clip here on Mrs CLeary's bday.

Funnily enough, Roan Inish is one of the Man's favorite kids films. SC saw it with him and he's trying to get JR to watch it too!

Anonymous said...

What did you think of this?

The Library Lady said...

Harriet's not so sacred in my personal pantheon and I've never seen it through. I think Michelle Tractenburg wasn't a much better choice for Harriet than Selena Gomez was for Beezus, but it's amusing to see her younger self, before her days on "Buffy the Vampire Slayers".

Of Life, Education, E-bay, Travel & Books said...

The Hollywood version of The LIttle Princess also ruined a wonderful book. They moved it to New York and turned Sarah into a Civil Rights crusader. They also butchered The Secret Garden. The Little House Books will never recover from what Michael Landon did to them. When it comes to adaptations of Children's literature I still to the BBC productions.

The Library Lady said...

Yup, the Beeb tends to do the best adaptations. Their Secret Garden, Little Princess and Ballet Shoes were all far better than most commercial versions.

They also have regular radio dramatizations of children's books that I've enjoyed. Nothing like it for kids here--then again, there's nothing like their adult book dramatizations over here for grown ups!

De said...

I could not believe the trailers for Mr Popper when i saw them. I think your theory about Jim Carrey is well-founded.

KLJ said...

I am sitting in this stupid movie right now, and I couldn't agree more! The kids and I will be rereading the book this afternoon. I feel like I need a shower!

The Library Lady said...

My mother up and took me out of the Rex Harrison "Dr Dolittle" around the time they got in or out of the Sea Snail. Enough was enough, I guess :D