We used Studio Ghibli's film adaptations of beloved children's books for a high school introduction to comparative literature. Here's how we did it — and how you can, too, no curriculum required.
Book or movie? With so many Christie adaptations and books to choose from, we’ve rounded up the cinematic cream of the crop and the stories that give the most mystery mileage.
Sometimes a curse can be just what you needed, as Sophie discovers in this delightful fantasy about a hat maker's daughter who's cursed to premature old age by the Witch of the Waste. To break the curse, Sophie will need to team up with the mysterious wizard Howl, who happens to be stuck under a curse of his own—but first, she'll have to get to his castle, which has a habit of wandering around. I love this as a readaloud, on its own, or (of course) a companion piece to the equally wonderful (though often quite different) movie adaptation.
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Celebrate Shakespeare's birthday this weekend by screening a great cinematic adaptation or two.
Prospero becomes Prospera, brilliantly acted by Helen Mirren, in this otherwise classical and faithful adaptation.
Also worth seeing: Derek Jarman’s punk rock (and definitely preview-screening-required) 1979 retelling
Christopher Eccleston is the frustrated and scheming Iago to the city’s first black police force commissioner in this version of the play transposed to modern London.
Also worth watching: 2001’s set-in-high-school O
Marlon Brando’s polished diction as Mark Anthony in this nicely executed history will make you wonder how he ever earned his nickname “the mumbler.” He took Shakespearean acting tips from costar John Gielgud, who plays lean and hungry Cassius.
Technically not a proper adaptation, Orson Welles’ anthology of Falstaff scenes from four different plays (Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Henry V) is the kind of brilliant, thoughtful mash-up that surprises and delights.
Joss Whedon’s inspired adaptation uses Shakespeare’s original language and themes of romantic love versus real commitment but moves the action to modern-day California.
Michael Fassbender’s balance of mad ambition and human fallibility makes this classical adaptation (complete with action-packed battle sequences).
Also worth seeing: Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood
What it lacks in iambic pentameter, this adaptation—set in a U.S. high school and starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles—more than makes up for in spirit and charm.
Merging Lear with legends of an historic Japanese warlord, Akira Kurosawa slowly strips away his characters’ humanity, until only honor and brutality remain.
Also worth seeing: Peter Brook’s RSC adaptation starring Orson Welles
Kenneth Branagh directed and starred in this faithful, haunted adaptation of the troubled prince of Denmark.
Also worth seeing: 2000’s Hamlet set in present-day New York City
Baz Luhrmann’s non-stop adaptation brings this tragic love story to gritty, adrenaline-fueled, dazzlingly visual life without sacrificing Shakespeare’s original language.
This list is adapted from the spring 2016 issue of HSL.
In almost every issue of home/school/life, we put together a book-movie list to recommend reading to go along with upcoming movies. It's always one of my favorite things to research. Though this list is from spring 2014 (when all these flicks were coming to the big screen), I think it's just as fun now that you can watch them in your living room instead.
Before you see: Divergent, starring Shailene Woodley as a girl whose multiple talents cause big problems in a society where people are sorted according to their strongest characteristic
Read: Divergent by Veronica Roth, the dystopian young adult novel the movie is based on
Why: How else will you be able to nitpick the details changed in the text-to-screen adaptation?
Before you see: The Double, in which Jesse Eisenberg’s shy hero finds his life slowly being overtaken by his brasher doppelganger
Read: The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the 1846 novella that inspired the film
Why: There’s plenty of critical controversy about what the Dostoevsky novel is really about, so it will be interesting to see what direction the film takes—and if you agree.
Before you see: Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s apocalyptic-style retelling of the Genesis flood story
Read: Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle, a quiet little fantasy that transplants two modern-day Murrys to Noah’s time
Why: Aronofsky is all over the story’s epic details, while L’Engle’s novel touches on deep emotions and philosophical questions.
Before you see: X-Men: Days of Future Past, a time-hopping entry into the X-Men universe with an Oscar-worthy cast
Read: Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction by Paul J. Nahin, a terrifically comprehensive examination of time travel in science fiction
Why: Nahin digs deep into the science behind science fiction, so you can intelligently quibble about disrupted timelines.
Before you see: Maleficent, in which Angelina Jolie attempts to create a sympathetic backstory for the baby-cursing villainess of Sleeping Beauty
Read: From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers by Marina Warner, a smart exploration of women’s roles in fairy tales and their history
Why: Jolie’s villain’s sympathetic origins can reveal a lot about society’s values and needs—if you know how to look.
Before you see: How to Train Your Dragon 2, which flashes forward five years into Hiccup and Toothless’s future
Read: How to Train Your Dragon: How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel by Cressida Cowell, the latest installment in the popular series
Why: Like the Harry Potter series, Cowell’s dragon books have grown increasingly dark and complex as her hero grows up. Will the movies follow suit?
Before you see: The Fault in Our Stars, starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as teenagers with cancer who fall in love
Read: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, the heart-warming (and tear-jerking) novel the film is based on
Why: There’s every chance the movie will be excellent, but you are missing out if you don’t read the book, which is so beautifully sad that it can make you cry on the subway. (Ask me how I know.)
This list was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of HSL.
You don’t have to choose between the book and the movie in these terrific adaptations—enjoy them both. We’ve rounded up some book-and-a-movie combos perfect for cold weather marathon sessions.
The film version gets the full Hollywood treatment (star Elizabeth Taylor definitely doesn’t have book-Velvet’s cottony hair and buck teeth), but it manages to hang onto the story of one stubborn girl’s determination to win a horse race.
Though it wanders from the book’s storyline, Studio Ghibli’s adaptation captures the sheer visual magic of the Borrowers’ tiny world with gorgeous animation.
Shaw’s play may feel like heavy going to readers new to his style, so take advantage of the delightful musical adaptation to appreciate its nuances—and to kick off the never-ending argument of what a happy ending to this story would actually be.
Maria’s quest to save her family from an unfortunate curse is the crux of this fantasy book and movie combo. (The book was J.K. Rowling’s favorite as a child.)
Though not a literal adaptation of the classic fairy tales, this inventive film about the enchantments of imagination, set in an abandoned theater, channels the same storytelling spirit—and may inspire some living room reenactments.
Really, this animated film—about a boy who teaches a warmongering robot how to love—should get more respect than it does—and Hughes’ lyrical storytelling is as memorable as his poetry.
Sherlock Homes sometimes used the alias Basil, so it’s no surprise that’s the name of the Sherlock Holmes of the mouse world, who—accompanied by his biographer/assistant Dawson—solves baffling crimes.
The action moves to New York and there are a few other changes in this lavish adaptation, but it slow-paced, dreamy filmmaking and a terrific Sara Carew make this movie a must-view.
This list was originally published in the winter 2016 issue of home/school/life. Because apparently winter is when we need lots of movie breaks.