If a successful movie adaptation of Donald J. Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown series—which first debuted in 1963—was going to be made, its legion of fans would probably assume that would've already happened. But it hasn't, and now Warner Bros. is going to try to turn Brown into a full-on moneymaking franchise now that Sobol has passed away. The mid-transition studio is currently in "final negotiations" to acquire rights to the 28 books chock full of garage-based investigation, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and in an effort to hook your children, Warners and a legacy producer who fought with the author might destroy your own childhood memories.
As THS Borys Kit explains, the struggle to produce a movie version about Sobol's kid detective Leroy Brown over the years, well, let's just say it hasn't been for lack of trying. In the 80s Warner Bros. tried to get a film together with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase; names like Ridley Scott, Robert Luketic, and Anthony Hopkins have been connected to the project. There was a 1989 HBO TV series, but that's as far as the Encyclopedia Brown screen legacy goes. In fact, Sobol—who died last year—was not happy about bringing Encyclopedia Brown to the big screen when the idea was raised in 2005. Howard Deutsch, who would go on to produce this year's newfangled attempt, was also on board that time, having controlled the rights since 1979. "The book's author, however, was not pleased about the prospect," Sharon Waxman wrote for the New York Times. "Reached in Miami, Donald J. Sobol, the creator of Encyclopedia Brown, said he knew nothing of plans to bring his books to the big screen and wanted nothing to do with Mr. Deutsch." Deutsch and Sobol had fought over the rights.
It's an understandably tricky thing to adapt. The books also encourage reader participation in solving those mysteries. That doesn't exactly go hand-in-hand with the distinctly non-participatory venue of a movie. (Unless you're talking futuristic franchises that turn audiences into "players," but that's a ways off.) Mind you, Fox is also trying to adapt the Choose Your Own Adventure franchise. But aside from that, refreshing Encyclopedia Brown means the necessity of playing on nostalgia and also attracting a young audience. That hasn't always worked so well. The 2007 adaptation of Nancy Drew starring Emma Roberts floundered, and the Y.A. market seems to have a constant supply of next big things based on current or soon-to-be popular literature (take, for example, Divergent) as opposed to, you know, the last best thing. But Encylopedia Brown is still pretty great, so here's hoping this one doesn't burn up under the magnifying glass.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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