Why is it that Hollywood has such a hard time adapting popular middle-grade books? Young adult literature like The Hunger Games seems to survive the process unscathed, but too many books for tweens and young teens end up being disasters.
Artemis Fowl was destroyed by Disney and then dumped it on their streaming platform. And poor Percy Jackson got such a terrible adaptation that Riordan himself described it as watching “my life’s work going through a meat grinder.”
It’s almost like the people making these movies have no idea why readers love these books so much.
But Rick Riordan is getting another chance to see his mega-popular Percy Jackson books onscreen, In addition, he just announced a movie deal with Netflix to adapt The Kane Chronicles.
Fans of these snarky, modern-day Greek myth adventures know that the movies got everything wrong. Especially the casting of Annabeth Chase! The beloved, brainy daughter of Athena was 12 years old in the books.
In the 2013 movie version of The Lightning Thief, she was played by Alexandra Daddario. The actress, now known for her steamy topless scene in True Detective, was 26 or 27 at the time of filming. Even if she was supposed to be seventeen in the film, that’s still ridiculous!
Yes, I’m still salty about that.
Hollywood loves to “age up” middle-grade heroes. It makes them more palatable to an older audience and widens the box office appeal. However, it also ignores the importance of quality programming for middle schoolers. That age is unlike any other, and there simply aren’t enough mainstream movies and TV shows made specifically for them.
Now that Riordan is more involved in the forthcoming TV series with Disney+, he’ll hopefully be able to course correct. Riordan has more clout now than he did ten years ago, thanks in part to a publishing empire similar to that of James Patterson.
While he is still writing, he’s also amplifying the work of other authors who want to explore their own cultural heritages. Riordan described the imprint, which is released under the Disney/Hyperion banner, as a chance to give back for his success.
Although Riordan has an existing relationship with Disney, he’s also working with Netflix these days. This week, he released a short video announcement about the feature film deal for The Kane Chronicles.
I warned you it was a short video!
The books are set in the same shared universe as the Percy Jackson saga, but there won’t be any overlap because of the competing studios. That’s a small sacrifice, though, to see these books get their chance at a quality adaptation.
The three books in the series (The Red Pyramid, The Throne of Fire, and The Serpent’s Shadow) follow the adventures of multiracial siblings Carter and Sadie Kane. While Percy Jackson is immersed in Greek mythology, the Kanes are avatars of Egyptian gods.
Egyptian mythology is a little more opaque to modern audiences than Greek or even Norse myths. However, many of the gods are familiar to names. The main message of the books–multiracial kids fighting against the forces of evil and chaos–is particularly relevant today.
Netflix seems to be interested in developing middle-grade lit for modern audiences. They did an amazing job with the reboot of The Baby-Sitters Club, and Enola Holmes has proven to be a winner this month.
HBO Max is also mining childhood classics with the recently announced adaptation of The Westing Game. Could this be a sign that middle-grade is the new YA?