Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish in Bright Star (2009)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Hollywood pushes out a seemingly endless supply of movies based on novels, comic books, old TV shows, and previously released movies. Every so often, however, studios try their hand at adapting poems for the big screen. In honor of National Poetry Month, here are 11 examples.
1. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000)
Joel and Ethan Coen released a comedy about a trio of convicts trying to escape a Mississippi chain gang only to stumble into a series of misadventures and misfortune. With George Clooney playing Ulysses Everett McGill, the Odysseus surrogate, O Brother, Where Art Thou? took ancient Greek poet Homer’s episodic structure of The Odyssey and married it with absurd comedy and old-timey bluegrass music from T-Bone Burnett. The Coens didn’t read the epic poem while making the movie and actor Tim Blake Nelson was reportedly the only person on set who was familiar with Homer’s work (he holds a degree in Classics from Brown University).
2. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
While working as an animator for the Walt Disney Company in the early 1980s, Tim Burton wrote and developed a poem entitled “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Rudolph The Red-NosedReindeer and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! animated TV specials, along with the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," inspired Burton's spooky poem. In 1982, he pitched it to Disney after the success of his short film Vincent. The Mouse House was interested in making The Nightmare Before Christmas into a short film or TV special, but left the project to gestate for the next decade until Burton produced the feature film in 1993.
3. TROY (2004)
Director Wolfgang Petersen and screenwriter David Benioff took on Homer’s Iliad for the action-adventure film adaptation Troy. With Brad Pitt as Achilles and Eric Bana as Hector, Troy saw moderate success at the box office and a mixed critical response when it was released during the summer of 2004. Many critics slammed the film for not being faithful to Homer’s original epic poem.
4. BRIGHT STAR (2009)
Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jane Campion made the romance Bright Star in 2009. Based on thepoem “Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art,” the film followed the last three years of poet John Keats’s (Ben Whishaw) life and his steamy relationship with Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). Bright Star premiered at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival, with some critics dubbing the film Jane Campion’s best work since 1993's The Piano.
5. MULAN (1998)
In 1998, the Walt Disney Company released their 36th animated feature film, Mulan, which was based on the ancient Chinese poem “Ballad of Mulan.” The film and poem told the story of Hua Mulan, a young woman who takes her elderly father's place in the army during the Northern Wei Dynasty.
6. SHORT CUTS
Based on the work of writer Raymond Carver, the Academy Award-nominated film Short Cuts took its inspiration from nine short stories and a poem titled “Lemonade” from the minimalist author. While director Robert Altman connected Carver’s stories into one cohesive film, he also cleverly peppered images from and references to the poem throughout Short Cuts. The poem also informs the viewer on the film’s bittersweet tone and themes.
7. FOR COLORED GIRLS
In 2010, Tyler Perry adapted Ntozake Shange’s Tony Award-nominated experimental choreopoem (poetry and dance) “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” for the big screen. While there was some Oscar buzz surrounding the film before it was released, Perry’s penchant for melodrama got in the way of Shange’s prose. The film version of For Colored Girls saw moderate box office success and lukewarm critical response.
8. BRAVEHEART (1995)
Mel Gibson’s Braveheart was based on a 15th-century Scottish epic poem titled “The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace” or simply, “The Wallace.” While the film received heavy criticism for being historically inaccurate, Braveheart won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography, in 1996.
9. JABBERWOCKY (1977)
Terry Gilliam’s solo directorial debut Jabberwocky was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical poem of the same name from Through the Looking-Glass. While the adaptation received mixed reviews, Jabberwocky has grown to become a cult classic over the years. The fantasy film featured Gilliam’s trademark dark and satirical humor while showcasing his vast imagination as an artist and a director.
10. BEOWULF (2007)
Beowulf, the second film in director Robert Zemeckis’s motion capture 3D trilogy, was based on the Old English epic poem of the same name. With the help of screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, Zemeckis adapted the poem into an action-adventure visual spectacle.
11. HOWL (2010)
James Franco starred as American poet Allen Ginsberg in Howl, which follows the poet’s life as he was writing the poem “Howl” at the start of the Beat Generation. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman structured the film as if it were a poem and Howl made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010.
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Kristen Bell is one of those household names that brings to mind a seemingly endless list of outstanding performances in both TV and film. She is Veronica Mars. She is the very memorable Sarah Marshall. She's the voice of Gossip Girl. She just recently wrapped up her NBC series The Good Place. Your nieces and nephews likely know her as Princess Anna from the Frozen films. She also has one of the most uplifting and positive presences on social media.
Now, adding to her long list of accomplishments, Kristen Bell is the published author of a new children’s book called The World Needs More Purple People. Born out of seeing how cultural conversations were skewing more toward the things that divide us, the new picture book—which Bell co-authored with Benjamin Hart—encourages kids to see what unites us all as humans.
We spoke with Kristen Bell about what it means to be a purple person, her new animated series Central Park, and becoming a foster failure. We also put her knowledge of sloths to the test.
How did The World Needs More Purple People book come to be?
Basically my genius buddy, Ben Hart, and I were looking around and sort of seeing how our children were watching us debate healthily at the dinner table, which is fine. But it occurred to us that everything they were seeing was a disagreement. And that’s because that can be fun for adults, but it’s not a good basis for kids to start out on. We realized we were not really giving our kids a ton of examples of us, as adults, talking about the things that bring us together. So The World Needs More Purple People was born.
We decided to create a roadmap of similarities to give kids a jumping off point of how to look for similarities ... [because] if you can see similarities, you’re more likely to walk through the world with an open mind. But if you walk into a conversation seeing only differences, your mind is going to think differently of that person’s opinion and you just never know when you’re going to hear an opinion that might enlighten you. So we wanted to give kids this roadmap to follow to basically say, “Here are some great features that no one can argue with. Have these features and you’ll have similarities with almost everyone on the planet.”
Part of the reason I love the book so much is because it encourages kids to ask questions, even if they're silly. What are some silly questions you’ve had to answer for your kids?
Oh my god. How much time do you have? Once she asked in rapid fire: Is Santa Claus real? Why is Earth? Who made dogs?
How do you even answer that?
It was too much; I had to walk away. Kids have a ton of questions, and as they get older and more verbal, the funny thing that happens is they get more insecure. So we wanted to encourage the question-asking, and also encourage the uniqueness of every child. Which is why Dan Wiseman, who did our illustrations, really captured this middle point between Ben and I. Ben is very sincere, and I am very quirky. And I feel like the illustrations were captured brilliantly because we also wanted a ton of diversity because that is what the book is about.
The book is about seeing different things and finding similarities. Each kid in the book looks a little bit different, but also a little bit the same. The message at the end of the book is with all these features that you can point out and recognize in other people—loving to laugh, working really hard, asking great questions ... also know that being a purple person means being uniquely you in the hopes that kids will recognize that purple people come in every color.
What was it like behind-the-scenes of writing a children’s book with two little girls at home? Were they tough critics?
Shockingly, no. They did not have much interest in the fact that I was writing a children’s book until there were pictures. Then they were like, “Oh now I get it.” But prior to that, when I’d run the ideas by them, they were not as interested. But I did read it to them. They gave me the two thumbs up. Ben has two kids as well, and all our kids are different ages. Once we got the thumbs up from the 5-year-old, the 7-year-old, the 8-year-old, and the 11-year-old, we thought, “OK, this is good to go.”
I hope that people, and kids especially, really do apply this as a concept. We would love to see this as a curriculum going into schools if they wanted to use it to ask: What happened today in your life that was purple? What could you do to make tomorrow more purple? Like as a concept of a way of living.
Weirdly, writing a children’s book was a way of getting to the adults. If it’s a children’s book, there is a high probability an adult is going to either be reading it to you or be there while you’re reading it—which means you’re getting two demographics. If we had just written a novel about this kind of concept, we’d never reach the kids. But by writing a kid's book, we also access the adults.
Your new show Central Park looks so incredible. What can you tell us about the show and your character Molly?
I am so excited for the show to come out. I’ve seen it and it is exceptional. It is so, so, so funny and so much fun. I signed on because I got a phone call from my friend Josh Gad, who said, “I’m going to try to put together a cartoon for us to work on.” And I said, “Yes. Goodbye.” And he and Loren Bochard, who created Bob’s Burgers, took basically all of our friends—Leslie Odom Jr., Stanley Tucci, Kathryn Hahn, Tituss Burgess, Daveed Diggs, and myself—and created a family who lives in the middle of Central Park.
I play a teenager named Molly who is very socially awkward but has this incredible, relentlessly creative, vivacious personality going on only inside her head … and it’s a musical! So, she's awkward on the outside but when she sings her songs she really comes to life. And she's a comic book artist, so the cartoon often switches to what she's seeing in her head.
It's so funny and Josh Gad plays this busker who lives in Central Park, who is the narrator. Stanley Tucci plays this older woman named Bitsy who is trying to build a shopping mall in the center of Central Park, and the family’s job is to basically save Central Park. But the music is so incredible. We’ve got two music writers, Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel, who write the majority of the music, but we also have guest writers that come in every episode. So Sara Bareilles wrote some music and Cyndi Lauper wrote some music. It is such a fun show.
My husband, who does not like cartoons or musicals, watched the first couple of episodes, and he looked at me and said, “You’ve got something really special in your hands.” And he doesn’t like anything. It made me so happy. I cannot wait until this show comes out, I am so proud of it.
What was it like to reunite with Josh Gad on another musical animated series that isn't Frozen?
Josh and I talk a lot, and we had a lot of behind-the-scenes conversations about how we can work together again, just because we adore each other. And part of it is because we get along socially, and part of it is because we trust each other comedically. He's a creator and writer more so than I am, so I usually leave it up to him and say, "What’s our next project?" We have other things in the pipeline we would love to do together, but [Central Park] was an immediate yes because I trust how he writes. Josh is at every single one of my recording sessions; he is very hands-on with the shows that he does or produces or creates. I trust him as much as I trust my husband, creatively, and that’s saying a lot.
Given your well-documented love of sloths, we do have to throw out a few true or false questions about sloths and put your knowledge to the test …
Oh my gosh. OK, now I'm nervous. Hit me.
True or false: Sloths fart more than humans.
Fart more than humans?
I’m going to say it's true.
It’s actually false. Sloths don’t fart at all. They might be the only mammal on the planet that does not fart.
You’re kidding. Another reason to love them. You know, I was trying to think medically about it. I know they only poop once a week and that if you only go poop once a week ... I thought, “Well in order to keep your GI healthy, perhaps you have to have some sort of flow from the top to the bottom during the seven-day waiting period until you release.”
True or false: Sloths are so slow that algae sometimes grows on them.
One hundred percent true. In the wild, they’re always covered in algae and it helps their fur, all those microorganisms. But in zoos, they don’t have it.
Nice. OK, last one. True or false: Sloths poop from trees.
No way. They go down to the ground, and they rub their little tushies on the ground, and then they go back up.
You are correct.
I know a fair amount about sloths but the farting thing was new. My kids will be excited to hear that.
We heard recently that you are a part of the “foster failure” club. What went wrong? Er—right?
Well, what I learned from Veronica Mars is you root for and cherish and uplift the underdog always. And my first foster failure was in 2018; I found the most undesirable dog that existed on the planet. She is made of toothpicks, it is impossible for her to gain weight. She has one eye. She looks like a walking piece of garbage. Her name is Barbara. She's 11 years old. And I saw a picture of her online and I said, “Yes. I just want to bring her over. I don’t even need to know anything else about her other than this picture," which was the most hideous picture. I mean it looks like a Rorschach painting or something. It was so awful. I was like, “She’s mine. I’ll take care of her. I’ve got this.” And it turns out she is quite lovely even though she can be pretty annoying. But she is our Barbara Biscuit, and she is one of the most charismatic dogs I have ever met. She piddles wherever she damn well pleases. So that is a bummer, because she is untrainable, but we love her.
That was our first failure. Then last year, we genuinely attempted to just foster a dog named Frank. And about two weeks in, I realized Frank was in love with me—like in a human way. He thought he was my boyfriend.
Oh no …
I just felt like … I didn’t even want a new dog—well I shouldn’t say that, because I always want all the dogs—but we weren’t planning on getting a new dog. But I had to have a conversation with my family and I said, “I think it’s going to be like child separation if I separate him. We have to keep him.” And sure enough, he can’t be more than two feet from me at any time during the day.
Does he still give you “the eyes”?
Oh my gosh. Bedroom eyes all day long. I can’t sit down without him like … not even just sitting comfortably in my lap. He has to have my arm in his mouth or part of my hair in his mouth. He’s trying to get back in my womb or something.
Yeah, I said, “What am I going to do? The guy is in love with me. He can live here.” So there is foster failure number two.
Wow, so it’s Frank and Barbara.
Frank and Barbara. And we also have Lola, a 17-year-old corgi-chow chow mix. Who I have had since she was one-and-a-half, who was also a pound puppy. She is our queen bee.
Before you go, we do this thing on Twitter called #HappyHour, where we ask our followers some get-to-know-you questions. If you could change one rule in any board game, what would it be?
I am obviously going to Catan ... oh I know exactly what I would do. In Catan, I would allow participants to buy a city without buying a settlement first. In Catan, you have to upgrade from a settlement to a city first, which is a waste of cards. If you have the cards for a city, you should be able to buy a city.
What was your favorite book as a child?
My favorite book as a child was Are You My Mother?
Aw, I love that one. I forgot about Are You My Mother?