As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to.
There is a noticeable lack of the kind of imaginative children’s movies that echo the tone and style of Labyrinth, The NeverEnding Story or even The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. There are great family films out there these days, but many that set sail for the boundaries of imagination to meet fantastical characters along the way to a lesson.
The Narnia movies come to mind, but they really fell flat. It’s time that we all went on another adventure together. I’m proposing that someone readies the Basset to set a course for somewhere we’ve never been before.
Voyage of The Basset
By James C. Christensen
With Renwick St. James and Alan Dean Foster
“One evening late in April 1850, the Aisling family’s world got turned upside down. Not just a little bit tilted, mind you, but wholly, truly and topsy-turvily tangled and tumbled into something that sensible folk wouldn’t believe for a second.”
With three different types of illustrations ranging from clever sketches to gorgeously detailed, full-page works of art, “Voyage of the Basset” is the kind of children’s book that’s read at an odd angle so that a child (or anyone else around) can see the artwork and read along.
It’s a glorious book that tells the story of a Professor specializing in mythology (in 19th century England) who is taunted at work for his studies being unimportant. His oldest daughter Miranda has lost faith in the unbelievable since her mother died, but his youngest daughter Cassandra is still brimming with wonder at the ripe old age of almost-ten.
As they’re walking one night, and Professor Aisling is commenting about the strength of his beliefs in the face of cold, hard, unimaginative science, a ship appears on the dock crewed by dwarfs that’s ready to take the family where it needs to go. They hop on board, spin the mystical Wunterlabe to get a heading, and go exploring through the world of imagination.
They encounter all sorts of mythical creatures from harpies to mermaids to Medusa to the minotaur to gremlins and trolls. Most are good. The trolls are not.
Most of the book is a joyous, uncomplicated discovery of the magic from familiar stories, but it does get dark. The seas get rough, belief wavers, and a ship with murderous/kidnapp-y intentions follows them closely.
The book is laid out so simply that it translates easily to film. Sadly, the artwork would be lost (unless utilized in a creative way), but for the most part everything from the book could find its way into the film.
The one question is a matter of design. Animation is not right for this at all. It would make for a great movie, but the wonder here is in seeing live actors interact with fantastical creatures. Unfortunately, making them too CGI-heavy would make for something completely ruined. Thus, the best answer is to use practical effects with CGI clean-up (much in the same way Where The Wild Things Are did). Although, this would be a true test of the technology and stretch the imaginations of the creative team.
Having Jim Henson’s Creature Shop do the designs harks back to the nostalgia of earlier fantasy films while keeping it updated for a modern audience.
Directing: There are a few names that stand out. Terry Gilliam is an obvious one. Steven Spielberg might be another. Kirk Jones might be another. Spike Jonze might still be another. What name, especially coupled with team Henson, gets my pulse racing about the thought of this actually being announced? Guillermo del Toro. It’s an epic adventure filled with creatures of myth. Who else could you ask for?
Writing: Someone who can combine the vibrant nature of childhood with an epic sense of purpose (and work closely with del Toro)? Neil Gaiman. Bring it on.
An Unknown as Cassandra Aisling: This is the role of the movie. Much of the attention is on Professor Aisling, but that’s because it’s a book told through Cassandra’s eyes. She is a constant of hope and imagination that has to see her sister apathetic about anything childish and her father get caught up in proving himself to his peers. Out there, somewhere, is a 10-year-old actress ready to deliver on this part. It would be a challenge to find a child to carry the weight of the role (because child actors are so often terrible at what they’re doing), but a thorough casting director would be able to sift through the children trying to be children and find a young presence that can handle the material.
David Thewlis as Professor Aisling: A fantastic presence in the Harry Potter films, Thewlis would be able to bring the lighthearted nature of the Professor to life while also delivering the downright scary version of him when he loses he way later on.
Saoirse Ronan as Miranda Aisling: Maybe it’s because she’s been cast in a lot recently, but Ronan at one point was the young actor that some casting director found for Atonement. Now, she’s the right age to play a disillusioned teenager trying to be older than she really is.
Cate Blanchett as Medusa: Medusa has a very different role to play here than how she’s normally portrayed. The snakes are there. The stone-glare is there, but she’s ultimately lonely. Fortunately, she’s brought aboard The Basett and plays a crucial role at least three times in their voyage.
Peter Dinklage as Sebastian: Sebastian isn’t the captain of The Basset, but he connects with young Cassandra. He’s also incredibly old, and the thought of a gray-bearded, bespectacled Dinklage in a really compassionate role is perfect.
Doug Jones as Skotos: This veteran of cinematic make-up and CGI-suits usually plays someone thin and lithe. Because he’s pretty much both. Skotos is the lead troll – the bad ass that gets irritated instantly with the Aisling family (and who wants very much to kidnap the little yellow-haired girl to keep as a servant). He’s bulkier and bigger than Jones’s other characters, but that’s part of the reason why it’s a good choice.
Who Owns It:
Rights are currently with the author.
This could be the type of family-friendly adventure that the world has been missing out on. It would need to do a lot of work to steer clear of seeming like one of the Narnia pictures, but adding in some heart and an excited sense of the voyage would help to separate it.
It has incredible potential to fill a void where “children’s films” seem to be edging more and more toward an older audience and the other brand of films focused on kids seems to be getting sleeker and more soulless by the year.