Chicken Soup for the Soul has in 20 years grown from a single book to become an empire of schmaltz worth billions. Now Hollywood has woken up to a global appetite with plans to reheat Chicken Soup for the cinema screen.
Warner Bros is backing a film “inspired by a variety of characters and stories” from the franchise, which has sold 110 million books under 200 titles in 40 countries, as well as more than £1.3bn of merchandise including actual chicken soup.
Never heard of it? Don’t worry. Despite its global reach, Chicken Soup is more American than Hollywood itself, with a side salad of Disney thrown in – a homespun basket of hokey sentiment and can-do stories that a hard-hearted Brit might find tough to stomach (UK sales are a fraction of the total).
A publishing giant was born in 1993 when mega-bucks motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen compiled 101 of their own and their fans’ uplifting tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The book, named in honour of Canfield’s mother’s comforting chicken soup, was a word-of-mouth hit in suburban America, establishing a highly lucrative formula.
Chicken Soup HQ, in a small neighbourhood of Greenwich, Connecticut, has a staff of just 20, led by chairman Bill Rouhana. Amy Newmark, the publisher, thinks of titles and invites readers to submit stories, which are edited and whittled down to 101 per book. Published writers receive small fees.
Among more conventional titles, books include: Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Cat’s Life: 101 Stories about All the Ages and Stages of Our Feline Family Members; Chicken Soup for the Woman Golfer’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Back Pain.
Rouhana admits that European sales are low but says his books are a hit among optimists in Asia. “The same anxieties seem to drive people wherever they are,” he explains. The film, he adds, will follow the Love Actually model of multiple, layered storylines.
The series has been ripe for imitation and parody. Peace to All Beings: Veggie Soup for the Chicken’s Soul is a straight-faced “reference for animal activists who wish to explore the interconnectedness of animal rights, ecology, world peace and social justice”. In Beavis and Butt-Head: Chicken Soup for the Butt, the cartoon duo, offer “essential information on such topics as how to be a better person (Step One: find someone you’re better than).”