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Roald Dahl Books That Have Been Turned Into Films

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by Catherine Van Bergen (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer who lives on the Bellarine Peninsula. I enjoy finding new things to see and do in the beautiful area that I live in. I'm also a booklover- see my reviews at
Published September 11th 2012
Celebrate Roald Dahl Day (13 September)- Read a book
Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was a prolific and popular children's writer, penning such classics as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, The BFG, The Twits and Matilda, among others. He embarked on many careers during his lifetime, including a stint as a fighter pilot, and a Shell Oil Company representative, but his love of books and literature are what compelled him to make writing his ultimate career choice.

Roald Dahl Books That Have Been Made Into Films
Roald Dahl.

Roald Dahl also founded a charity, which he aptly named The Roald Dahl Foundation, which supports and funds specialist paediatric nurses throughout the UK who care for children with epilepsy, blood disorders and acquired brain injury.

Some of Roald Dahl's most popular stories have been made into films, and below is a list that you should definitely consider reading or watching in order to truly appreciate this master storyteller.


Matilda – The Book

Matilda Wormwood is a child genius. At the age of one and a half, she is able to speak just as well as an adult, and by the age of three, she has taught herself to read by studying the newspapers and magazines that are lying around the house.

But unfortunately for Matilda, her parents are unappreciative of her abilities, and her older brother Michael (who is destined to inherit their father's dodgy used-car dealership in the future) is considered a much more worthy child in their parent's eyes.
When, at the age of four, Matilda begins to show an interest in reading books, she finds herself making solo journeys through the village to the local library, where she is assisted by the incredulous librarian Mrs Phelps. Mrs Phelps immediately recognises Matilda's potential and offers her books by the likes of Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck, which are quickly devoured by the literacy-minded child.

But soon Matilda's horrible parents begin to make her life difficult, and in order to amuse herself (and give them a taste of their own medicine), Matilda devises some cunning plans to get her revenge. These plans work perfectly, and although her parents have their suspicions about the culprit, they are unable to prove anything.

At the age of six, Matilda is finally sent off to school, where her lovely teacher Miss Honey also notices Matilda's unique abilities. She takes the young girl under her wing and attempts to have her shifted up to a higher grade, even appealing to Matilda's parents and the horrible headmistress Miss Trunchbull, who is infamous for her intense hatred of young children. But when this fails, Miss Honey relegates herself to the role of private tutor, giving Matilda more advanced work to do while she teaches the rest of the class how to spell and multiply.

As time goes on, Matilda and Miss Honey form a close friendship, and they discover that Matilda's abilities reach far beyond the ordinary, especially when an incident with Miss Trunchbull reveals that Matilda has extraordinary secret powers. When Matilda learns of Miss Honey's personal problems, she uses her newfound abilities to try and make things right for one of the only people who has ever shown her any kindness.

Matilda is a true underdog story, which embraces the ingenuity of a child, but also allows a touch of magic. This is probably my ultimate favourite of Roald Dahl's stories- as a child, I always had my nose in a book, and even though my parents are the exact opposite of the Wormwood's, I always wished that I could have Matilda's special powers so that I, too, could move objects with my mind, and construct amazing plans that would eventuate in a bit of cheeky fun and excitement for all involved.

Matilda – The Film

Roald Dahl Books That Have Been Made Into Films

Just like the book, this film is all about the bullies of the story getting what they deserve. Matilda, played by the talented Mara Wilson, is a cute little kid with a heart of gold, determined to put her superficial parents (played by Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman) in their place, and help Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz) get back what is rightfully hers from the rotund and horrible Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris).

The film, however, goes one step further than the novel, with extra scenes added to further highlight the extremities of some of the characters. One such scene, where Matilda and Miss Honey are pursued by Miss Trunchbull through her old house, adds an extra element to the storyline, showing Miss Trunchbull as a true villain and Miss Honey as the victimised yet brave woman that she is.

The producers of the film have modelled the character of Miss Trunchbull in exactly the same way as she is described in the book- right down to her outfit and masculine features. Her intimidating character is further accentuated by her actions towards the children that attend her school, and you can't help but cheer when she is outsmarted or outplayed by the kids she despises so much, especially at the end of the film.

The namesake of this story is the one to watch, however. Mara Wilson plays the character of Matilda perfectly, with just the right amounts of innocence, wit and charm. Her family members, with their gaudy, ostentatious and admittedly ridiculous mindsets, highlight the normalcy of Matilda, as she struggles to survive within a family of idiots.

This is one kid's film that you absolutely must watch. Not only is it clever and fun, but it also teaches that if you persist, you'll get what you want in the end.

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory – The Book

Probably the most well-known of all Roald Dahl's stories, we all know the story of Willy Wonka, Charlie Bucket, the five Golden Tickets and the fantastic chocolate factory. But here is a brief summary in case you don't know how the story goes.

Charlie Bucket lives with his parents, his two grandmothers and his two grandfathers in a ramshackle old house on the edge of the city. Extremely poor, the family struggle to survive on Mr Bucket's miserly wage from the toothpaste factory, where he screws the caps onto tubes of toothpaste. Within a short walk from the Buckets' house lies Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, and although delicious smells waft through the air from the place, no one is ever seen going in or out of the heavy, locked gates.

One day, an announcement is made that Willy Wonka has hidden five golden tickets inside his chocolate bars, which are distributed all over the world, and the five lucky people who find these tickets will be allowed to tour the factory and win a lifetime supply of chocolate. Charlie dreams of going inside the factory, but he only gets one bar of chocolate every year, for his birthday, as this is all that his family can afford. Fortunately, his birthday arrives that week and he has the chance to win, but he is sorely disappointed when all he finds in his wrapper is a bar of chocolate. As the tickets are slowly found, Charlie begins to lose hope of having his dream come true.

But then Lady Luck visits him when he finds some money lying on the ground and, in an act of impulsiveness, decides to buy a chocolate bar with it. After receiving his change, he decides to buy just one more chocolate bar, and when he unwraps it, discovers that he has found the last remaining Golden Ticket!
In a fit of excitement, he rushes home to show his family. Grandpa Joe, who has told Charlie numerous stories about Willy Wonka and the factory, volunteers to be Charlie's plus one, and the next day, they head off to the factory gates to meet the famous chocolatier.

Along with Charlie are four other winners and their parents- Augustus Gloop (a greedy and fat boy), Veruca Salt (a spoiled brat), Violet Beauregarde (a girl who is constantly chewing gum) and Mike Teavee (who does nothing but watch television). As the group tour the factory with their eccentric and slightly mad host, they slowly but surely start to disappear through various means that highlight their bad behaviours- Willy Wonka's employees, the small and mischievous Oompa-Loompas, have a song to accompany each child as he or she gradually leaves the group. Soon Charlie is the only one left, and doesn't Willy Wonka have a surprise in store for him?!

I highly recommend that you read this novel, written by Roald Dahl, especially if you have only seen one or both of the films. It'll be interesting for you to compare the original story to the film versions.

Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory – The Film

Roald Dahl Books That Have Been Made Into Films

Every time I watch this film, I am transported back to the days of my childhood. Just hearing the opening strains of the song 'I've Got A Golden Ticket', or hearing the orange Oompa-Loompas singing their highly recognisable songs bring a smile to my face, even after so many years.

Starring the fabulous Gene Wilder and boasting numerous songs and examples of dry humour, Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory is probably Roald Dahl's most well-known film, based on the stories of Charlie Bucket and his visit to the amazing chocolate factory owned by the reclusive and eccentric Willy Wonka. All of our favourite child characters are brought to life- greedy and guzzling Augustus, stubborn Violet, spoiled brat Veruca, and television-orientated Mike- and as they get their just desserts, we can't help but cheer that their bad behaviour is being rewarded in kind.

This musical production was released in 1971 and was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score, yet despite being a cinema classic, Roald Dahl apparently loathed the film and refused to be associated with it after it was completed. This was in part because somebody else rewrote the script after he had already approved it, and he disliked the changes.

Despite this, the film went on to become one of the most recognisable Dahl stories, and even spawned a remake in 2005, starring Johnny Depp.

Charlie and The Chocolate Factory – The Film

Roald Dahl Books That Have Been Made Into Films

The 2005 version of the Willy Wonka story, starring Johnny Depp and young Freddie Highmore, didn't receive quite the same accolades as the original film.

Deemed creepy by many people, the Willy Wonka that was portrayed by Depp reminded many people of a sinister-looking version of Michael Jackson. Director Tim Burton puts his own unique spin on the story without turning it into a musical production like the original. The exception, of course, is the Oompa-Loompa songs, which are not terribly memorable, even if they do use Roald Dahl's original words. However, Willy Wonka gets more of a back-story in this film, with flashbacks to his childhood (where his dentist father denied him any sweets, thus pushing him towards the ultimate rebellion- becoming a chocolatier).

And as much as critics compare this film to the original 1971 film, it has to be said that the 2005 remake is a lot more faithful to the book. The bright pink viking boat, the introduction of the Oompa-Loompas, and the squirrels in the nut-sorting room are just some of the examples where the story in the book and the story in the film are almost exactly the same.

I'll leave it up to you to decide which of these films you prefer more.


The BFG – The Book

Sophie is an orphan who one night spies a huge and 'devilish' giant roaming through the streets of London during 'the witching hour'. Approaching the windows of sleeping children, the creature blows some sort of magical substance towards the child through a trumpet-like device and then shifts off into the night.

But unfortunately for Sophie, the creature catches her watching him, snatches her from her bed, and takes her away to a far-off land. It isn't until she is released from her blanketed confines that Sophie meets her captor- the old, lanky, yet incredibly Big Friendly Giant (or BFG as he likes to be known as).

One of ten giants living in Giant Country, the BFG is the exception in that he doesn't eat 'human beans', and instead works as a dream-blower, depositing lovely dreams into the bedrooms of sleeping children. Sophie, relieved that she will not be eaten, is horrified to learn however, that the other giants eat children every night. When she overhears the giants planning to attack some London boarding schools, she enlists the help of the BFG, and together, with some help from the English monarchy, puts a plan into action to stop the giants once and for all…

Roald Dahl is responsible for inventing hundreds of new and unusual words, often playing around with existing words to make them sound like a different language altogether. Nowhere is this more apparent than in The BFG, where the namesake of the novel speaks in a strange language that somehow makes sense when you read it aloud. Perhaps one of Dahl's best-loved novels, The BFG has captured the imaginations of children all around the world.

The novel uses a great deal of humour and wordplay, which somehow push the story one step further than others that were written for children at the same time. Some examples of this include the different tastes of 'human beans'- where children from Panama taste like hats, children from Jersey taste like cardigans, Turks taste like turkey, Greeks are greasy and the children of Wellington taste like boots.

He also introduces an interesting take on dirty humour, where passing gas is considered complimentary but burping is foul. Roald Dahl was famous for subscribing to the notion that children are children and so should act like children, even if adults could sometimes construe this as rude. But despite their flaws, all of Dahl's main characters are good-hearted, well intentioned and caring towards others- attributes he must have also felt strongly about.

The BFG has all of these characteristics and more, which is probably why Roald Dahl implies that he is the Big Friendly Giant at the end of the novel.

The BFG – The Film

Roald Dahl Books That Have Been Made Into Films

Although this animated film is aimed at children, there are some scenes that could be considered too scary for the younger ones. The giants, in all their disgusting glory, are portrayed similarly to the horrible creatures that are featured in the novel, and cast big shadows over Sophie and her gigantic saviour.

The BFG looks exactly as Roald Dahl describes in the book, and Sophie, while small and defenceless, provides a definite spark to the narrative with her determination for justice and her ability to make even the Queen of England do as she wants. The animator's portrayal of the Queen is also of a very similar likeness to that of a younger Queen Elizabeth, which brings a touch of realism to the absurdity of the story.

Interestingly, illustrator Quentin Blake, who shares a long history with Roald Dahl, was not approached to provide the animation for the film, with an independent animating company providing the pictures needed to tell the story- I suppose it was enough that they were adapting Roald Dahl's story for the big screen. With regards to the scenery, the mystical backdrop of Dream Country is displayed as a magical place in comparison to the desert-bleakness of Giant Country, or the busy yet ordinary streets of London, while the Queen's Palace is drawn to look exactly like the real thing.

This film was made in 1989, and while it is certainly dated, it doesn't pander to the cotton-wool kids of today. The themes in The BFG were meant to be scary for children (while also entertaining), and the animators of this movie haven't attempted to Disney-fy the story and make it all sugar and sweetness for viewers. However, that said, there is still an aspect of innocence to the film and that is why it is so good- no CGI, no cute characters- just typical 80s-style animation, telling the events of the story in almost exactly the same way as the book.

Fantastic Mr Fox

Fantastic Mr Fox – The Book

Mr Fox loves nothing more than stealing from three grumpy farmers- Bean, Boggis and Bunce- in order to feed his family. But one day, sick of having their plump chickens, geese and turkeys stolen, the farmers decide to attack Mr Fox and stop him for good. After failed attempts to shoot him, they decide to dig him out of the home that he shares with Mrs Fox and his children, the small foxes.

All hope looks lost, as the farmers attempt to eradicate Mr Fox and his family. Their plan not only makes life difficult for the foxes, but also every other animal that lives underground, including the badgers, moles, rabbits and weasels.
But Mr Fox has a fantastic plan of his own…

This is one of Roald Dahl's shorter novels, and is aimed at a much younger age group than some of his more popular works, such as Charlie and The Chocolate Factory or The BFG, yet for some reason, it resounds strongly with his younger audiences. Perhaps this is because it is one of the few stories he has written that feature a cast of animals as the lead players.

Most of Dahl's main characters are humans who embark on fantastic magical journeys, but in Fantastic Mr Fox, the protagonist is a wily animal whose main goal is to feed his family, while teaching a lesson to the horrible humans that are making his life difficult. In a similar vein to his other stories, however, is the main theme of the novel, which involves the underdog triumphing over the bully.

Fantastic Mr Fox – The Film

Roald Dahl Books That Have Been Made Into Films

Featuring the vocal talents of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and a host of other Hollywood stars, Fantastic Mr Fox is probably the most loosely-based of all of Roald Dahl's book to film adaptations. While the main storyline is there, the film is aimed primarily at an older audience than the book, and many of the references made throughout the film would only be recognised by adults.

There are also a lot of differences between the characters of the book and the characters of the film. In the book, the Foxes have three obedient children, none of whom are named. In the film, the Foxes have one child, an emo young fox named Ash, whose difference from the other kids at school is especially obvious when his popular, cool, multitalented yet friendly cousin Kristofferson comes to stay.

Along with these two younger foxes is the opossum Kylie (the super of Mr Fox's house), who injects dumb humour into the story and acts as the dimwitted but loveable sidekick. While the premise of stealing Bean, Boggis and Bunce's stock is there, the film extends on Dahl's story, providing a background before Mr Fox's great robberies and giving each of the characters involved a more detailed role in the narrative.

This film was nothing like I expected. The stop-motion animation of the story is unusual yet effective (and very different to the animation styles we're used to nowadays), and the retro soundtrack gives the film a much more nostalgic feel. The fact that the renowned Wes Anderson directed this film will probably have some bearing in the utter strangeness (and quirky humour) of Fantastic Mr Fox.

James And The Giant Peach

James And The Giant Peach – The Book

James Henry Trotter is only four years old when he is suddenly orphaned- his parents, on a shopping trip in London, are suddenly eaten up by an angry rhinoceros that has escaped from the zoo. Sent to live with his two horrible Aunties- Sponge and Spiker- the young boy is both verbally and physically abused, and treated as though he is a slave.

One day, James is approached by a small old man who offers him a little white bag containing magic that can turn his life around for the better- instead of feeling miserable, he will experience the most marvellous of all things! James takes the bag, planning to follow the old man's instructions but on his way back to the house, he trips and accidentally scatters the magic all over the ground. Bitterly disappointed in himself, he tries to scoop up the magic but is discovered by his aunties, who accuse him of slacking off.

Just as James thinks he's going to be beaten, his aunties notice that a peach is growing on the tree above their heads, and they instruct James to go up and pick it for them. But then they notice that it is growing larger and larger (right before their eyes) and decide to turn it into a moneymaking venture, charging people to come and see the amazing and gigantic piece of fruit.
James is locked in his bedroom and is only let out that night when his aunties demand that he go outside and clean up the mess that the crowds have left behind.

Terribly hungry, James can't help but have a nibble of the peach, and it isn't long before he discovers a large tunnel in the bottom of the fruit. He decides to climb up it to see where it leads, and is astonished to discover a group of human-sized insects living inside the peach.

He soon befriends the unusual bunch- Old Green Grasshopper, Centipede, Miss Spider, Silkworm, Ladybird, Glowworm and Earthworm- and detaching the peach from the tree, they set off on a wild adventure to escape from James' dastardly relatives.

This story has been considered by some to be troubling, especially with its macabre deaths and aspects of child abuse, but it also contains many magical elements, which help to bring the story to life. Notwithstanding the fact that a herbivorous creature ate James' parents, there is also the fact that magical crocodile tongues (prepared in a certain way, of course) made a gigantic peach grow from a previously barren tree, a host of insects were enlarged to human size, a flock of seagulls managed to fly the peach and its occupants over the Pacific Ocean and that Cloud-men were creating all aspects of the weather.

These extraordinary events not only give the negative elements less clout, but they also help to broaden children's imaginations as they try to picture all of these different and magical scenarios.

James And The Giant Peach – The Film

Roald Dahl Books That Have Been Made Into Films

Created using a unique mix of live action and stop-motion animation, this Disney adaptation of James And The Giant Peach was revolutionary on its release in 1996. Produced by the extraordinary Tim Burton (and Denise Di Novi) and narrated by the late Pete Postlethwaite, the film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, and delighted its audiences and critics alike.

Taking from much of the original story, and adding other parts in, there are only a few big differences between the book and the film. In the film, James has been dreaming of visiting New York ever since his dad first gave him a travel pamphlet about the city, and he makes it his goal to reach the place as an escape from his aunties. Whereas in the book, there is no mention made of New York until the group ends up there at the end.

The novel is also less wary about sensitivities, almost revelling in the fact that both of James' aunties are killed when the peach squashes them flat- in the film, they survive the peach (although this is a Disney film, so they do still get their comeuppance). There is also no mention of the Cloud-men in the film, even though they play a fairly significant role in the novel.

Regardless, this film appeals to both adults and children, and is well-worth watching for a little bit of entertainment.

The Witches

The Witches – The Book

When a young English-Norwegian boy is suddenly orphaned, his grandmother takes on the role of his guardian. The teller of magnificent stories, Grandmamma teaches the boy all about witches, the horrible things that they do to eradicate children from the world, and, most importantly, how to spot and avoid them.

When the will of the boy's father states that they must move to England to continue the boy's education, the pair pack up and leave their familiar village, and head by boat to Great Britain, where, luckily, there are far less witches than in Norway.

Soon the young boy begins to adapt to life in England, and besides one encounter with a witch who fails to snatch him, life seems to be going okay. But then Grandmamma gets a bout of pneumonia, and the pair have to postpone their holiday plans to head back to Norway for a visit. As a sort of consolation prize, the doctor suggests that they head to a seaside resort in Bournemouth to enjoy the scenery and experience the salty sea air, which they grudgingly do. But they are soon enjoying themselves, and with his new pet mice (William and Mary), the boy is happy to muck around in the grand hotel, setting up circus tricks so the little white mice can perform.

While playing with his mice, the young boy runs into some trouble with the hotel manager, who places restrictions on him. But the boy is determined to train his circus mice to the highest level possible, and so locates an empty room in the building, which just happens to be where the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (RSPCC) is having their annual meeting. Seeing the sign, and assuming that he will be safe, the young boy is horrified when the room fills up with women, who then reveal themselves to be witches! Hidden from sight, he watches as they turn a fellow child guest at the hotel into a mouse, and listens in as they plan to get rid of all the children in England.

Unfortunately, it isn't long before the witches realise he is in the room, and he is transformed into a little rodent. Escaping from the room, he seeks out his grandmother and together they hatch a plan to save England's children from all of the witches. But will they succeed against the Grand High Witch's master plan?

This is one of the only novels that Roald Dahl wrote where the narrative is told from a first-person perspective, and where the name of the main character is never known. Throughout the entire novel, the young orphan boy is never named, with his grandmamma constantly calling him 'my darling' or 'my grandson'.

This novel is also one of the only ones where the main protagonist and his grandmother continue onwards past the obligatory happy ending, aiming to eradicate the rest of the witches all across the world. The young boy never finds a cure but he's still happy- sending us the message that we should be happy with ourselves despite whatever life throws at us- and it seems that Roald Dahl was content for us to be satisfied with this fact of life.

The Witches – The Film

Roald Dahl Books That Have Been Made Into Films

You wouldn't think it would be so difficult to obtain a copy of The Witches on DVD- especially considering it stars Anjelica Huston and Rowan Atkinson- yet this film was extremely hard to come by in Australia. Unless you have a DVD player that can play multi-region discs, or you've already got the film on tape (and your VCR still works) you may have a little bit of trouble watching this one. But if you get the chance, you should try and put The Witches onto your film list.

Not straying too far from the novel, this film was the final one that Jim Henson (of The Muppets fame) personally worked on before his death. In it, he uses a variety of puppetry and hideous masks to make the story come to life. Unlike in the novel, both the boy and his grandmother are given names (Luke and Helga respectively), and although most of the events in the novel and the book are similar, the film ends much differently to how the book ends.

This was the last of Roald Dahl's books to be turned into a film before his death in 1990, and unfortunately, he was unhappy with the alternate ending given to the movie.

While they may look quite primitive now, the special effects in The Witches were quite advanced for the time that the film was released (1990), and I remember my classmates and I got extremely scared when we first saw some of the characters getting turned into mice back in our primary school days.

While it may not be that scary now in comparison to some of the films that children see, it might be a good idea to exercise caution if showing this film to a younger audience. That said, this is one of Roald Dahl's more serious narratives, with a lot less humour and a lot more magic and 'horror' so it's well worth checking out The Witches for a different view from the grand master of children's storytelling.
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