Four Beloved Movies Based on Unhinged Books

The rare cases when artistic liberties were very much for the best
Four Beloved Movies Based on Unhinged Books

Hollywood loves cribbing ideas from the fiction shelves of Barnes & Noble because thinking is hard, but all those words just can’t make it to the big screen. Sometimes, only little tweaks are needed — drop a character here, a plot line there, update it for a modern setting, and boom, you’ve got Clueless. Other times, screenwriters have to essentially start from scratch anyway because their source material is completely bonkerballs. For example…

‘The Iron Giant’ Fights a ‘Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon’

Those who grew up adoring/grieving The Iron Giant could reasonably believe that the Wikipedia plot description of The Iron Man, the 1968 Ted Hughes novel on which the 1999 movie is based, is some kind of prank. “Wait, Ted Hughes?” a very specific kind of person will say. “Best known today as Sylvia Plath’s awful husband? That guy had the tenderness to write such a touching tale of sacrifice as The Iron Giant?”

He did not. Instead of the nefarious government, the antagonist of Hughes’ novel is an alien space-bat-angel-dragon the size of Australia. That’s not our humorous description of the creature — that’s what it’s actually called in the book. When all the king’s horses and all the king’s men prove completely unequipped to fend off a space-bat-angel-dragon, the Iron Man steps in, but he doesn’t fight the creature so much as challenge it to a burn-off, meaning whoever can withstand the most heat wins. Kind of like the opposite of how dudes in cold climates insist on wearing competitively skimpy clothing, except instead of bragging rights, it’s for the future of all humankind.

Unlike the heroic Vin Diesel bot, however, the Iron Man is almost completely unharmed by this battle, making the space-bat-angel-dragon his slave. Upon learning the creature is actually a singer whose music brings balance to the universe corrupted by humanity’s violence, he orders it to fly around the Earth singing every night, ushering in eternal world peace. So it still managed to be an anti-war story — it might have been illegal in 1968 for any story not to be — just in the dumbest way possible.

‘Who Censored Roger Rabbit?’ Killed Its Title Character

If you thought Who Framed Roger Rabbit was dark (and anyone who claims they weren’t traumatized by Judge Doom and his deadly dip simply has intimacy issues), get ready to bash yourself in the head with a hammer and spew steam from your ears and otherwise cartoonishly express distress. Gary K. Wolf’s 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? is a satire of hardboiled detective stories set in a world of toons, but it’s less Dick Tracy and more Fargo.

One of the biggest differences is that Roger isn’t funny — his lack of talent is actually a crucial plot point — and oh, yeah, also dead for much of the novel. The murder Eddie Valiant is working to solve is Roger’s, not his boss’, although his boss also ends up dead and, spoiler alert, Roger did it. The whole point of the movie is how much of a murderer Roger is not, but the book made him both a murderer and murderee. In further character pre-assassination, Jessica Rabbit never loved Roger, is a former porn star and blatantly offers up her tempera poon to get what she wants. It turns out she wasn’t just drawn that way.

In the end, Valiant discovers Roger had been unwittingly summoning a genie who granted his wishes of toon stardom and human husbandry before finally killing him. Valiant threatens the genie into granting him the wish of fabricated evidence to frame someone else for Roger’s boss’ murder and then kills the genie anyway. Alas, ACAB includes Eddie Valiant.

The Original Elle Woods Is a Trash Monster

Legally Blonde became a Y2K classic after the world discovered just how impossible it was not to like Reese Witherspoon. In fact, it was a requirement for the story — as a seemingly ditzy rich girl at Harvard Law, Elle Woods had to be unimpeachably hardworking, upstanding and big-hearted to win over her classmates and professors. Which is exactly why the Elle Woods of the novel Legally Blonde doesn’t.

Unlike the movie Elle, who gives up everything fun about being a college senior to study for the LSATs and never wavers in her commitment to the law save for a brief moment of doubt when her obstacles seem too great, the Elle Woods of Amanda Brown’s 2001 book reads fashion magazines during lectures and skips class to get her nails done. She’s outraged to learn that rules apply to her, like when she’s evicted from the dorms for smuggling in that adorable but very prohibited dog, and she looks down on everyone, from the “Trekkies” and “lefties” she’s horrified to find in abundance on campus to her own friends and even the ex-boyfriend who she came there for. She doesn’t bend, and forget about snapping.

Incidentally, Legally Blonde wasn’t published until after it became a movie. Brown initially pitched it as a collection of essays based on her own experience at Stanford Law (where she spent class time ripping on fellow students in letters to her friends back home before dropping out), but Hollywood bit before the publishing industry did. Thankfully, they changed everything about the protagonist except her favorite color.

‘Stuart Little’ Is Not a Mouse

Looking back, the charismatic vocal stylings of Michael J. Fox allowed us to overlook a lot of troubling elements of the Stuart Little universe. It’s a place where cats are pets but mice can be adopted siblings and birds can be Dakota Johnson’s mom, but we cannot emphasize enough that, according to E.B. White’s 1945 children’s book, Stuart Little is not a mouse. He’s a human child who happens to be mouse-size and looks exactly like a mouse. Mrs. Little gave birth to him as surely as she gave birth to her normal children, if presumably quite a bit less painfully but with a lot of explaining to do afterward. 

Let that sink in. A children’s book begins with some kind of unholy mouse-human hybrid emerging from a woman’s vagina, and someone read that and went, “Get Hugh Laurie on the phone.”

Naturally, much of the plot of the 1999 movie, such as all that business with Stuart’s “real” parents, had to be invented after the filmmakers wisely concluded that moviegoing audiences of the late 1990s simply weren’t ready for vagina mice. Some of the book’s plot was shifted to Stuart Little 2, like Stuart’s infatuation with the talking bird that only raises more depraved questions, but others, like his work as a teacher of other humans and his date with a human girl his own size who also somehow exists, were deemed timelessly weird. 

Then again, we did unquestioningly accept the BoJack Horseman-ass nightmare alternative offered to us, so maybe they should give it a shot after all. Is Hugh Laurie still available?

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