Five juvenile novelizations of anthro animated features – book reviews by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Minions CoverMinions: The Deluxe Junior Novel, Adapted by Sadie Chesterfield, Based on the Motion Picture Screenplay Written by Brian Lynch. Illustrated.
NYC, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, May 2015, hardcover $9.99 (131 pages), paperback $6.99.

Paddington: The Junior Novel, Adapted by Jeanne Willis, Based on the screenplay written by Paul King, Based on the Paddington Bear novels written and created by Michael Bond. Illustrated.
NYC, HarperCollinsBooks/HarperFestival, October 2014, trade paperback $5.99 (142 pages, Kindle $5.99.

Penguins of Madagascar: Movie Novelization, adapted by Tracey West. Illustrated.
NYC, Simon and Schuster/Simon Spotlight, October 2014, trade paperback $6.99 (142 pages), Kindle $6.49.

Planes: Fire & Rescue: The Junior Novelization, Adapted by Suzanne Francis. Illustrated.
NYC, Random House, June 2014, trade paperback $5.99 (122 pages).

Rio 2: The Junior Novel, Adapted by Christa Roberts. Illustrated.
NYC, HarperCollinsBooks/HarperFestival, February 2014, hardcover $14.40 (144 pages), trade PB $5.99, Kindle $5.99.

None of these juvenile novelizations would be worth reviewing alone, but they make a point for furry fandom: for about the last five years, there have been practically no anthropomorphic theatrical animated features, and a lot of animated features starring mostly real or fantasy humans like Pixar’s Brave and Inside Out, from major animation studios that have not had authorized juvenile novelizations of about 140 pages. (If it’s from Simon Spotlight, you can count on it having exactly 144 pages; a tipoff that all of its juvenile novelizations are written to a formula. But, in the case of Minions, those 144 pages include 131 pages of novel, plus 13 pages of color plates, black-&-white illustrations, and advertising.) Many VFX-heavy live-action features like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Guardians of the Galaxy and Tomorrowland have novelizations, too. I could have picked Blue Sky Studios’ Ice Age: Continental Drift or Epic; Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph or Tangled or Frozen or Big Hero 6; DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo or Mr. Peabody and Sherman or Home (despite Home being already based on a “real” book, Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday); LAIKA’s ParaNorman or The Boxtrolls; Sony Pictures Animation’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs or Hotel Transylvania 2; Warner Animation Group’s The Lego Movie (144 pages from Scholastic, Inc.) – almost any animated feature.

Planes Fire and Rescue CoverWhat are some that haven’t had a juvenile novelization? Well, the potty-mouthed Ted and Ted 2– but those are R-rated adult movies. You can buy a “Ted 16” Plush with Sound & Moving Mouth, R-Rated, 5 Phrases (Explicit Language)” that’s explicitly noted “The language may not be appropriate for young children”, but you can’t buy an authorized novelization. Nothing for the kiddie-friendly The Nut Job, but that was produced by an obscure Toronto animation studio with mostly South Korean financial backers (including the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism of the Republic of Korea). The dividing line is invisible; the apparently-minor The Book of Life has a novelization from Simon Spotlight (yep; 144 pages), but not the same animation studio’s Free Birds.

“They” are going back and juvenile-novelizing past animated features, too. Do you want one of Pixar’s 2001 Monsters, Inc.? Disney Publishing Worldwide novelized it in November 2012.

The five novelizations chosen here are all notable for featuring anthropomorphized animal casts (assuming that Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment’s minions are anthro animals), or at least an anthro-animal main star in the case of Paddington; and for showing that all of the major publishers are getting in on this.

Paddington CoverIf you’ve seen the movie and loved it so much that you bought the DVD, what are the advantages of having the novelization as well? Well, these are all bland and written down for children, but they’re carefully written from the movie’s script. At 100+ pages, you’ve got a detailed plot synopsis with every minor character name, including some that may have been named by the studio but cut from the sound track. Do you have a question about something that went by in the movie too fast to see? The novelization can “freeze” it for you. Do you have a favorite scene? The novelization may present it in more detail. Plus, these books are usually illustrated with stills or a poster.

These juvenile novelizations today are usually published a month or two before the movie is released. Minions: The Deluxe Junior Novel was published on May 19, 2015; the movie was released on July 10. Be aware that the movie and the novel may not be exactly the same. An online Rio 2 Wikia lists 18 minor differences between the movie and the novelization. These are more likely the result of last-minute script changes after the script has been given to the writer for the novelization, or a voice actor ad-libbing rather than speaking the scripted line and the director liking it better, than of the writer not following the script carefully.

Rio_2_the_Junior_Novel CoverMinions: The Deluxe Junior Novel, it says on the cover. But it only says Minions: The Junior Novel on the title page. What’s the difference? Probably the hard covers. I suspect that the hardcover is just the $6.99 paperback (on cheap paper; after all, nobody expects these books to really last) bound in hard covers.

All these novels are illustrated.  Minions contains 34 large black-&-white illustrations that look created by Illumination’s art department from the movie, as well as 8 glossy full-color plates of stills from the movie in the center of the book (unnumbered, between pages 72 and 73), plus a fold-out double-sided color poster.  “Keep Calm and Eat a Banana”.  Yes.  Paddington has 8 full-color plates of stills between pages 64 and 65.  In Penguins of Madagascar, it’s 8 plates between pages 78 and 79, and the stills don’t have captions.  In Planes: Fire & Rescue, it’s 8 plates between pages 60 and 61. In Rio 2, it’s 8 plates between pages 64 and 65.

The novelizations answer some questions but raise others – or make plot holes in their movies more evident. Who are the tourist family in Minions going to Orlando who pick up the hitch-hiking Kevin, Stuart, and Bob? Walter Nelson, wife Madge, children Walter Jr., Tina, and Binky the baby. Paddington says, as do the movie and the original children’s novel by Michael Bond in 1958, that the little bear cub is named Paddington by Mrs. Brown after the London train station where they meet him. But I always wondered why he didn’t have a name before the Browns met him. The movie answers that; he had a growly bear name. And the novelization shows how it’s spelled:

“‘My name is Grrngk,’ he answered, spraying Henry [Mr. Brown] with scalding Earl Gray.

‘I beg your pardon?’

Grrngk,’ repeated the bear.

‘Right,’ said Mr. Brown, staring out of the window.

‘You have to say it in the back of your throat,’ explained the bear.’” (p. 36)

Penguins of Madagascar CoverIn Penguins of Madagascar, who are the villainous Dave the octopus’ minions henchoctopi? Anthony, Michael, and Nicolas. And Elijah, Drew, Barry, and Brutus. In Planes: Fire & Rescue, who and what are Dusty Crophopper’s friends and neighbors in Propwash Junction? Chug the fuel truck, Dottie the forklift, Skipper the retired World War II fighter, Sparky the mechanic, Mayday the fire truck, and Leadbottom the old biplane. Who are the new planes that Dusty meets at Piston Peak Air Attack Base when he goes there to get himself certified as an aerial firefighter? Blade Ranger the helicopter chief of Fire and Rescue, Patch the female tug, Windlifter the heavy-lifting helicopter, Dipper the super-scooper plane, Maru the forklift mechanic, Cabbie the cargo plane, and the ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) Drip, Dynamite, Blackout, Avalanche, and Pinecone. In Rio 2, what kinds of toucans are Blu & Jewel’s friends Raphael & Eva? Raffi is a Toco toucan, and Eva is a keel-billed toucan.

(Actually, the Paddington novelization contains several Briticisms that may puzzle young American readers. Is it clear enough that Earl Gray is a brand of English tea? And shouldn’t that be Earl Grey? “Hiding in a mail sack, the cub peered through the holes in the hessian.” (p. 25) “The clock ticked by and a tannoy announced that any unattended baggage would be taken away and destroyed.” (p. 28) “BANG!!! The manhole [cover] shattered like a poppadom.” (p. 124) If the book’s purpose was to encourage young Americans to use an unabridged dictionary, it couldn’t do any better.)

You may shrug and not be interested in such junior novelizations generally, but many furry fans will want to remember this when Disney’s Zootopia is released next March. For the novelization, check on during February.

– Fred Patten