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Entertainment Weekly recently noted the trend of edgy, offbeat auteurs like Spike Jonze, Tim Burton and Wes Anderson turning their talents to edgy, offbeat adaptations of youngster classics (like Where the Wild Things Are, Alice in Wonderland and Fantastic Mr. Fox, respectively). Sadly, an overdeveloped sense of childhood wonder may not be the only reason the aforementioned directors have gone all gee-whiz on us. According to EW, "As art-house movies quickly become an endangered species, family films are a refuge for serious-minded filmmakers looking to tell personal stories in a marketable genre."
Or, you know, maybe it's just a coincidence. But on the off chance the upcoming spate of hipster kid flicks is, indeed, the vanguard of some nouveau-Nickelodeon movement, your pals here at Nerve would like to greenlight the following projects now so we'll have something to look forward to during the 2010 holiday movie season!
The Wachowski Brothers Present...
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
According to IMDb, Alfre Woodward appeared in a Disney-fied 2003 TV movie adaptation of Madeline L'Engle's pre-teen brain buster, which apparently met with a resounding "meh" from fans of the book (sample IMDb comment thread: "Reasons why this movie is horrible"). But that's okay. Rankin-Bass gave us a silly, serviceable NBC cartoon of The Hobbit back in 1977 (with Gandalf the Grey voiced by John Huston, of all people!), yet most geeks worth their twenty-sided dice are still champing at the bit for the definitive, big-screen Peter Jackson/Guillermo del Toro version. And that's where the Wachowskis come in. Sure, the Matrix sequels were disappointing and Speed Racer bombed like the Enola Gay, but siblings Andy and Larry (or Lana) blew our minds once before with their potent brew of big-head storytelling married to groundbreaking CGI — and L'Engle's trippy tale of fifth-dimension tesseracts and funky space witches fighting to free the universe from the evils of group-think conformity could be just the magic (red) pill the Wachowskis need to help them get their "Whoa!" back.
M. Night Shyamalan Presents...
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone & Mike Stollin
Speaking of wunderkind directors on the skids, the M. Night Shyamalan backlash kicked in about halfway through The Village, intensified with the unfairly maligned (yeah, I said it!) adult fairytale Lady in the Water, and crested like a tsunami with last year's bizarrely Ed Woodian killer-shrub movie, The Happening. Apparently on work-release from movie jail, the offbeat auteur's next project is (trend confirmed!) a live-action kid's movie based on a Nickelodeon cartoon series called Avatar: The Last Airbender. And who knows? Maybe it won't be terrible... but if Shyamalan really wants to climb back to the A-list, he needs a project that plays to his strengths like Monster, a psychological pressure cooker of suspense that builds to a shocking twist ending. The premise is deceptively simple: Sesame Street stalwart (and suspected Elmo babydaddy) Grover tries his damndest to stop the story in progress because there's a frickin' monster at the end! It says so right in the title! It literally took me years to read Stone & Stollin's book to my friends' kids, because they kept freaking out and making me stop... in the same way, theoretically, that Shyamalan's audiences would scream for the projectionist to shut off the movie until (like the aforementioned kids) curiosity got the better of them, leading to the climactic revelation that — SPOILER ALERT! — the monster was loveable, furry old Grover all along.
Richard Linklater Presents...
Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss
Okay, so I may be cheating a little with this one. Sure, the last Seuss work published in the good doctor's lifetime is technically for children. And yet the late doctor's fanciful look at life's delusions of grandeur, sloughs of despond, and occasional victories has become a rite-of-passage touchstone for the hundreds (thousands? millions?) of teens and twentysomethings who've received the book as a graduation gift, on the verge of exactly the kind of uncertain, overeducated young adulthood Linklater has chronicled from Slacker to Me and Orson Welles (a Depression-era coming-of-age tale due in November). And while Austin's favorite son may lack Seuss' visual flair, I'm guessing the man responsible for Waking Life's surrealist mindscapes (and whimsical boat car) would come a lot closer to capturing Places' scrappy, wistful optimism than, say, Mike Myers with a goofy prosthetic chin.
Drew Barrymore Presents...
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Again, this one may not strictly count as a children's book, although I knew plenty of kid sisters (and brothers) who snuck peeks at Are You There, God? and the rest of the Judy Blume oeuvre long before adolescence, in hopes of gaining insight into the mysteries ahead. Given her work on pubescent potboilers like Thirteen and Twilight, Catherine Hardwicke seemed like a good choice to adapt this story of a young girl struggling with family, religion and puberty... until I remembered just how gawkily funny Blume's writing could be, and how difficult it was to imagine any of Hardwicke's generally mopey characters screaming, "We must! We must! We must increase our bust!" But Drew Barrymore's all about gawky, and though new to directing, her work on Whip It demonstrated she has the chops and cheerful empathy to bring a character like Margaret to vivid life onscreen. (Or, if Drew's not available, maybe Tamara Jenkins...) Wikipedia Fun Fact: In the 2006 edition of Blume's book, Margaret finally switched to struggling with adhesive sanitary pads after thirty-six years of struggling with belted sanitary napkins — and roughly fifteen years of tween readers asking, "What the hell is a belted napkin?"
David Lynch Presents...
Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
An exhausted pair of lovers, desperate for shelter, are startled by the vision of a surrealistic swan (accompanied, mayhaps, by the eerie warbling of Julee Cruise). Suddenly, their moment of transfixed bewilderment is shattered when the female is nearly struck down by a passing cyclist. Hiding from the world, she gives birth to a brood of squawking creatures with scrawny little necks, just like chickens. The father disappears. The mother attempts to find him, leading her offspring on a perilous journey. Then, with darkness closing in and no hope in sight, a lawman appears and clears a path. The father reappears and the family reunites, under the sycamore trees. In the Public Garden, everything is fine. Oh, sure, Robert McCloskey's classic fable is the quintessential Boston children's book, and if Ben Affleck directed the adaptation, he'd capture a lot of local flavor and get all the accents right. But after seeing that weird family of rabbits in Inland Empire, I'm dying to see what Lynch would do with ducklings.
Judd Apatow Presents...
EVERYONE POOPS by Taro Gomi
The Farrelly Brothers (and Jeff Daniels) are responsible for one of the all-time classic cinematic poop scenes in Dumb & Dumber, so maybe they deserve first dibs. But I'm guessing Apatow would bring more smarts and heart, drawing on his experiences toilet-training his daughters (and frequent collaborators) Iris and Maude to create yet another raunchy (but relatable) examination of contemporary life in Southern California. Plus: Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, riffing hilariously on the density of their stool.