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Children's Books Come to Life on Video

6 Apr, 2005 By: Meryl Schoenbaum

Once upon a time, there was the storybook. Children were captivated by the tales of fantasy and adventure that filled its pages. Then the stories appeared larger than life on the big screen at the movie theater. Now, of course, kids can see their favorite books come to life in their own home on video.

DVDs based on children's books are among the best-selling titles for video suppliers, and there is a wealth of new literary adaptations that stores can offer their young patrons.

A company synonymous with adapting children's books to film over the years has been The Walt Disney Co. While a complete list of its adaptations is too extensive to mention, Lori MacPherson, VP of brand marketing and product management for Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE), discussed some of the company's most successful transitions.

“Notable films with a literary heritage include Bambi, Old Yeller, Mary Poppins and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh,” MacPherson said. “We tried to continue that success by distributing successful made-for-DVD titles based on classic books. Some of our biggest sellers have been Summer of the Monkeys and Where the Red Fern Grows.”

Other recent Disney book-to-film adaptations available on video include Holes ($29.99 DVD, $22.99 VHS), a $62 million hit at the box office, based on a book by Louis Sachar; A Wrinkle in Time ($24.99 DVD, $19.99 VHS), based on Madeleine L'Engle's sci-fi classic; and Around the World in 80 Days, based on the popular Jules Verne novel ($29.99 DVD, $24.99 VHS).

The theatrical release Finding Neverland, starring Johnny Depp, tells the story of the inspiration for J.M. Barrie's classic play Peter Pan. BVHE brought Finding Neverland to video in March ($29.99 DVD, $24.99 VHS).

MacPherson also discussed some upcoming book-based videos BVHE will be promoting during the next few months.

“In May, we're releasing Heidi on DVD for the first time, as well as Pooh's Heffalump Movie, which will be supported by national TV advertising and tie-in promotions with Fisher-Price, Huggies [and other brands],” she said. “In June, we're releasing Johnny Tremain.”

BVHE will be providing stores with freestanding and point-of-purchase displays for the titles, MacPherson said.

Another successful distributor of children's book adaptations is New Video, which has placement in major retailers such as Target and Best Buy, as well as smaller independent stores. Some of its most well-known titles are supplied by Scholastic Entertainment and A&E Home Video.

Susan Margolin, COO of New Video, said book adaptations have been among the distributor's best-selling titles.

“Some of our most successful titles, such as Where the Wild Things Are, Harold and the Purple Crayon and Curious George, have sold significant units — in some cases even surpassing videos with well-known TV characters,” Margolin said. “These titles are so popular because parents are looking for high-quality programs for their kids to watch, and these stories have stood the test of time.”

Does the distributor think it's important to stay true to the original story or to give it a more contemporary feel for kids today?

“With the ‘Weston Woods' titles from Scholastic, we focus on staying true to the original, reflecting the period and not making it contemporary. They are classics. They have lessons that will always be relevant to kids,” Margolin said.

Book-to-video titles on New Video's roster include The Wind in the Willows: The Complete First Series from A&E Home Video ($29.99 two-DVD set), released for the first time on DVD in March (25 million copies of the book have been sold, Margolin noted). It will be released in complete-season sets — an unusual distribution move for children's programming.

New Video supplies stores with tools such as endcap merchandising for its Scholastic Video titles during peak selling periods. Offering multipacks (six videos in a jumbo pack) for titles has been a successful marketing tool.

“Multipacks make great gifts,” Margolin said. “They're an instant library of classic literary adaptations.”

Recent book-to-video offerings from the Scholastic Video Collection include The Emperor's New Clothes … and More Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales and Swimmy … and More Classic Leo Lionni Stories ($14.95 DVD each, $9.95 VHS each).

A beloved literary classic popular with children from both its book and TV formats is “Little House on the Prairie,” based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. NBC Universal Television, Imavision and Goldhil Home Media have released all 18 seventh-season episodes in a six-DVD gift set ($49.95).

Warner Home Video (WHV) made fans of the “American Girl” books, dolls and film happy with the release of Samantha: An American Girl Holiday, recently released on video for the first time ($19.97 DVD, $14.94 VHS).

Samantha: An American Girl Holiday captures the essence, warmth and timelessness of the original story, which ... gives it the potential to become a children's holiday classic,” said Christine Martinez, VP, nontheatrical franchise marketing, at WHV.

Koch Vision just released the first installments in Shelley Duvall's “Tall Tales & Legends”: John Henry, Johnny Appleseed and Darlin' Clementine ($14.98 DVD each, $12.98 VHS each).

BFS Entertainment has author Louisa May Alcott's Little Women sequel, Little Men, on DVD in two sets ($29.98 for each two-disc set).

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