Adapting Roald Dahl

There are few people who manage to capture the imagination of a global audience in the way that Roald Dahl does through his stories. Over the years we have seen numerous adaptations in a wide variety of mediums and genres through the eyes of a huge spectrum of visionaries. From directors including Danny DeVito and Tim Burton and genres stemming from Mel Stuart’s musically charged classic to Wes Anderson’s progressive stop-motion animated masterpiece. The scope of adaptations made to date only adds to the genius of Dahl’s creativity and highlights the strength of the imagination the man in the shed conjured. Watching the 1971 adaptation, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory feels just as timeless as Tim Burton’s take in 2005 despite the films bringing a polar opposite aesthetic to the novel.

Originally, I was going to try and list my favourite adaptations but much like the films of directors such as Kubrick or Paul Thomas Anderson, each one is unique for particular reasons and I found it impossible to come up with a reasonable list that sums up my love for Dahl’s stories. Netflix announced in November 2018 that they were going to adapt a number of his works and the excitement and hype ever since has been astrominical. Anne Hathaway is rumoured to have been cast as the Grand High Witch (who was brilliantly played by Anjelica Huston in the original film) in their production of The Witches. This particular remake is being directed by Robert Zemeckis to boot showing the demand around these projects.

Dahl wrote both children and adult books but is probably more known for the former. However, it was his experience and openness to discuss an array of topics (including his autobiographies Boy – Tales of Childhood and Going Solo) that allows him to approach his writing with a fearlessness, bringing a new and exciting perspective to literature. Even when creating his own universes and language, Dahl never patronises the reader and I think this is what has translated so well into the film adaptations such as Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches (1990) and Danny DeVito’s Matilda (1996). Both are great examples of films that are primarily aimed at children but are perfectly suitable for adults as well. No one is excluded from a Dahl tale. Also, the nostalgic draw also undoubtedly contributes to the hype as adults of today probably read his books as children. Dahl has become synonomous with Western (particularly British) childhoods.

I am hugely excited to see what these Netflix adaptations bring as they promise to show a more faithful and darker side to the Dahl bibliography that perhaps has been left out in previous adaptations. Not that has is a bad thing as each adaptation has brought something unique in the way that Dahl has in each of his books but it’ll be interesting to see The Witches with its original ending and a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the right balance of book loyalty and darkness (the Tim Burton one slightly overdoes it in my opinion). I am mainly looking forward to The BFG however as that is the one that captured me most as a child. I found the giants absolutely terrifying and I am looking forward to seeing how Netflix adapt it. I enjoyed both adaptations but I feel that the Steven Speilberg take was a bit sillier than it needed to be (although I completely appreciate that The BFG as a character is rather silly). I would probably say that if pushed to choose, my favourite films adaptations would be either Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), The Witches (1990) or Matilda (1995) which is odd because none of the films are 100% faithful but the final cut doesn’t compromise Dahl’s vision and that is the most important thing.

Which is your favourite Roald Dahl book and/or film adaptation? Let me know in the comments below!


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