Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dahl Week Day 5: The Finale

Well, we've had 5 days, 5 days to pay tribute to one of the world's finest storytellers. We've looked at Willy Wonka, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and even Gremlins, but there are still quite a few Dahl stories remaining that deserve a mention. So, let's conclude Dahl Week with a bang and have a look at these stories as well as some of the other works Dahl has incepted and touched upon. This is Dahl Week: The Finale! Let's dive right into this chocolate river!

I should start off by mentioning that Roald Dahl was not only a children's storybook writer, but a writer of short stories and adult novels. Some of his short stories include Over To You: Ten Stories About Flyers and Flyings, Someone Like You, Kiss Kiss and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More. His adult novels are Sometime Never: A Fable of Supermen and My Uncle Oswald, which is quite a grotesque story about a womanizer who collects the bodily fluids of famous men, selling them off the women who wish to be impregnated by the famous men. Some of the celebrities in the novel include Pablo Picasso, H.G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Albert Einstein and even the French painter Claude Monet and the famous Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. It's an odd yet interesting tale that one has to look into greatly to fully grasp and understand. I think it goes to show that Dahl not only understand the perspectives and imagination of children, but the mysterious and debatable ways of adults and how they go about doing certain tasks. Dahl also wrote two autobiographies, his first being Boy-Tale of Childhoods and his last being Going Solo. These awesome recollections speak of Dahl's childhood in Britain and his perspectives of the public school system of that time period. Dahl also talks about his journeys to Norway, his love of confections, his adventures as an Air Force pilot and the many jobs he had throughout his life. We also find out where he got the inspiration to become a writer. I think these are some of the finest autobiographies ever penned and they perfectly showcase Dahl's twisted and magnificent points of view. He seems like the guy that would always have a story to tell and whatever story it was, you could also be pulled into it and never get bored. I know some people that are very much like Roald Dahl, always recalling moments of pastime and showing what they think of certain topics.

Of course, Dahl has so many other works, I've barely cracked the peanut. He's written a cook book with his wife Felicity called Memories of Food At Gypsy House, he's written a play called The Honeys, he's written episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales of the Unexpected and he's even written several film scripts. As I said in my analysis of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he wrote the script for the original 1971 classic and the constant revisions and rewrites of his script led him to despise the film all together. But Dahl has had his hand in several other films, including a famous musical based on a novel by Ian Fleming. 1968's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang had a script written by Dahl and Ken Hughes and featured Dick Van Dyke, 4 years after he played Bert in Mary Poppins. The movie is also known for it's musical numbers written by Richard and Robert Sherman, the famous duo who wrote the music for films like Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Charlotte's Web, Little Nemo in Slumberland and The Aristocats. It also has one of the creepiest, if not THE creepiest movie villain of all time, the long nosed Child Catcher, portrayed by Robert Helpmann. His whacky performance is one of the reasons why I refused to watch the film when I was younger, and why I deeply feared eccentric gentlemen who sold lollipops and treacle tarts. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a wicked good movie nonetheless and I consider it up there with other musicals like The Sound of Music and of course, Mary Poppins. Dahl also wrote the scripts for movies like You Only Live Twice starring Sean Connery and the British thriller film, The Night Digger. I have never seen either of these films, but I will surely express my thoughts when I get the chance to sit down and give them a watch.

Now let's talk about some more of Dahl's children stories. We've already covered the most famous of his works for the young ones, so why don't we talk about the runners up. Of course, we have not talked about The Witches and Fantastic Mr. Fox, two of Dahl's stories that have also been adapted into motion pictures. The Witches, published in 1983 is an interesting little tale about witches who want to turn all the little boys on Earth into mice. These hideous witches disguise themselves as average ordinary women but when they're together in private, they strip their disguises and show off their ghastly forms. This carries on well into the 1990 Warner Bros. film starring Anjelica Huston and Rowan Atkinson. I think the film is good for what it has to offer. The filmmakers knew the story was kind of ridiculous, but they made it work and delivered a film that is just good popcorn fun, silly in a good way. This is one of those movies I would love to watch at Halloween each year and it's creepy makeup, puppetry and special effects really make this stand out from all other films based on Dahl works. It was not very successful upon it's original release, but like Return to Oz and even Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory before it, it has gathered quite a following of admirers. Unfortunately, this was the last film to be based on one of Dahl's works before his death in November 1990 and the last film the great Jim Henson worked on before his death in May 1990.

Then there's Fantastic Mr. Fox, a story about determined fox who goes out each evening to retrieve food for his wife and four children. Like Willy Wonka and Giant Peach before it, Fantastic Mr. Fox has some of the most memorable characters you will ever read about in a fantasy tale. There's of course Mr. Fox himself, Boggis, Bunce, Bean, the four children, Mrs. Fox as well as the other underground critters who assist Mr. Fox in his endeavors. It's one of Dahl's finest stories and it shows just how relentless wildlife can be to get food for their offspring and all the limits they must overcome to get to the other side. The story caught the attention of The Royal Tenenbaums director Wes Anderson, who turned the book into a movie in 2009. Anderson obviously took lessons from Selick's Giant Peach and gave the world what is often considered one of the greatest stop motion animated films ever made. This is certainly one of the nicest looking stop motion animated films with a fuzzy, colorful and often lifelike atmosphere. The characters move in such a realistic manner and the way the character's mouths match up with the voice acting is also something to be praised.  The voice acting itself should also be admired. I've always liked George Clooney, even when he was playing doctors and men dressed in rubber Bat suits. His performance as Mr. Fox in this film adds a bit of casualty and contemporary nature to the character. In other words, he makes it seem like Mr. Fox could fit into our everyday real world despite being, well, an anthropomorphic fox. There's also Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox, Bill Murray as Clive Badger, William Dafoe as the Rat, Jason Schwartzman as Ash Fox and even Wes Anderson himself as the Weasel. They all have their moments to shine, but Murray and Clooney steal the show, at least in my opinion. This is one I undeniably recommend for any Dahl fan and it's perhaps one of the funniest stop motion films I have ever seen. Some of the scenes are so humorous, you will wet your pants or roll over on the floor in a laugh attack. I think Dahl would be pleased with this film, for it showcases his trademarks like dark humor and perfectly timed sarcasm. It also has the stylized imagination Dahl was known for.

But Dahl's children stories don't end there. There are so many that I could be here until next Christmas talking about them. So let's have a look at a few more and see what makes them so grandiose.

The Magic Finger- An oddball of a tale about a little girl who has magical powers in her finger. When someone is nasty to her or gives her a hard time, she can use her finger to inflict permanent damage on that person. For example, she turns her mean teacher into a cat and turns her family into bird like creatures, forcing them to leave their duck infested house to build a nest in a tree. Just imagine how whimsical a film adaptation of this would be. If it were done in the similar style to Giant Peach and Fox, I think I would be blown away by this film and all it had to offer. Nevertheless, the book is great for it's twisting and turning nature and outlandish dark humor.

The Enormous Crocodile- Gee, I wonder what this story could be about? Well, if you guessed an enormous crocodile, you would obviously be 100% right.  The crocodile attempts to eat the nearby  children only to be foiled each time by the benevolent forest animals. It's like something straight out of Looney Tunes or an old Disney cartoon. It's a hilarious tale to feast upon and it's quite funny to see what crap the crocodile has to go through each time he attempts to make Pop Tarts out of the city younglings. If you like laughable literature, this one is for you.

The Twits- This is the story about two lovers, the Twits, who live in a desolate brick house with their pet monkeys, the Muggle-Wumps (is that where J.K. Rowling got the word "Muggle" from?). It's very much like a reality TV show about a husband and wife who like to play tricks on one another. Mrs. Twit feeds her husband worms, claiming it to be a new kind of spaghetti. Mr. Twit constantly expands his wife's cane and chair, convincing her that she needs to be stretched out with helium balloons. The book also documents the Twits' mistreatment towards others. They are very abusive and inattentive to the Muggle-Wumps and Mr. Twit puts glue on tree branches in attempts to catch birds to make into pies. To get revenge on the Twits, the Muggle-Wumps glue the Twits' furniture to the ceiling and trick them into thinking that they are upside down and that they will contract "Terrible Shrinks". It's a story about madness and once again showcases Dahl's gift for dark humor and satire. It also shows how the story's most villainous characters can also be the story's most dim witted and oblivious numbskulls.

George's Marvellous Medicine- This is a story about a little boy who wants to cure his grandmother's grumpiness. He creates a medicine out of stuff lying around the house, only instead of curing his grandmother of her bitterness, it makes her bigger than the house. George and his family try to shrink the grandmother down to normal size and at the very end, they shrink her down to nothing. At first, they are deeply saddened, but they come to realize that the grandmother's absence is a chip off their shoulders. Although this is quite a unique story that Dahl has incepted, I can't help but feel sorry for the grandmother. She was a cold hearted crone but she was also a goofball, humorous character in the story, showing that the story's villains can also be the story's clowns.

Esio Trot- This one follows Mr. Hoppy, a shy old man who has a crush on the woman who lives right below his apartment. After the woman, Mrs. Silver tells Hoppy that her turtle will not grow into a dignified tortoise, Mr. Hoppy goes to elaborate measures to create the illusion that her turtle, Alfie is growing and in the process, win Silver's heart. He writes a spell down on a piece of paper and tells Silver to recite it to Alfie three times a day. He then buys several big turtles from the pet store and after swiping Alfie with a slighter bigger turtle, he repeats the same process for the next few weeks, tricking Mrs. Silver into thinking that her turtle is growing to maximum proportions. I think this is a marvelous little story that shows just how far someone can go to get a certain someone to like them and reminds me just how much I like turtles, for I have two of my own.

The Vicar of Nibbleswicke- Robert Lee, a reverend suffers from Back-To-Front dyslexia, which causes him to switch the first and last letters of words. Because of this, he is ridiculed and hated by the citizens of Nibbleswicke, but he is eventually cured of his dyslexia by the book's conclusion. What's quite touching about this book is that it was written to benefit the Dyslexia Institute of London, showing that Dahl was not only a master storyteller, but a kind hearted philanthropist.

THE BFG- Now we come to the story that is the favorite Dahl tale of many. The BFG stands for Big Friendly Giant and revolves around a little girl named Sophie who befriends an amiable giant who is the subject of bully and torment by bigger, nastier giants. This funny duck of a storybook involves giants devouring children at nighttime, the Queen of England, the King of Sweden, cruel orphanage mistresses, nightmare catching, frobscottle (a drink that makes you cut the cheese), helicopters chasing down the giants and even a Sultan from Baghdad. This one has become one of the most admired of Dahl's brainchildren and several plays have been made to showcase the book's quirkiness and demented goodness.

There is also a 1989 animated television special directed by Brian Cosgrove and from what I have heard, Dreamworks is planning on making a film with the great Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy producing. Whatever the case is, I think we are in need of a grand film adaptation of The BFG that carries on in the style of other films based on Dahl works. I think it would bring in a lot of big green Benjamins and be acclaimed by today's movie analyzing critics.

I think all of Dahl's stories would make for some pretty stellar movies, but it has been said that Dahl's widow, Felicity is very strict when it comes to adapting her late husband's works into motion pictures. But then again, we don't have to have movies based on his stories to enjoy the stories and all that they stand for. We can always read the books and savor the nonsense and tomfoolery Dahl conjured up in his convoluted head. Dahl himself said at one point

"Two hours of writing fiction leaves this writer completely drained. For those two hours he has been in a different place with totally different people. "

That couldn't be further from the truth. Whenever you read one of Dahl's stories or any story in general, you are taken out of your normal life and put into another reality, another land often inhabited funky creatures and foreign imagery, imagery we can interpret in different ways and understand in different ways. We can also see a lot of ourselves in the story's main players and when we experience the main character's development and transformation throughout the tale, we can develop and transform ourselves, learning lessons we can take to heart and cherish every moment of every day of every year of our lives. We can do whatever we want to do and accomplish the unaccomplished. We can also have fun during these quests and learn that (as Dahl said himself), a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men. Sometimes, the world's wisest men are the world's biggest troublemakers and they take part in wacky, off the wall rituals and acts. But that doesn't make them bad people, it makes them relatable people, it makes them glow, it makes them stand as the individuals they truly are. In many ways, we are all children at heart and even in the darkest trials of our lifespans, we can always have a little foolishness and erratic activity commence. That's what Roald Dahl had taught us, that fun can happen any time of any day and always brighten a day. He also taught us that anyone can be a storyteller and speak of gibberish and nonsensical words, making the gibberish and nonsensical words delightful to read and understandable to the one reading it. He taught us that many things can happen, unexpected things can happen, but only if you dive deep into the very heart of "pure imagination".

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