Where The Wild Things Are
by George Sax
Director Spike Jonze spent the better part of six years working to turn Maurice Sendak’s famous illustrated children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are, into a motion picture, encountering and overcoming design problems, financial delays, and the skepticism and objections of studio executives. Wild Things’ lengthy and difficult gestation has been extensively covered. But the primary obstacle to its transfer to the screen was probably more basic: the original material.
Jonze himself reportedly questioned the feasibility of adapting the much-loved picture story when he was first urged by Sendak to accept the assignment. He’s been described by Saki Kuafo in a New York Times Magazine article as telling Sendak that he couldn’t think of a way to adapt a 10-sentence picture book as a feature film.
Eventually he relented and what he and writer Dave Eggers came up with is nothing if not interesting. Whether it’s successful, especially in appealing to nine-year-olds like its protagonist Max, is another, quite different question. As in the original, Max (Max Records) angrily escapes from a difficult home situation and sails off to an island inhabited by big, upright “monsters” who pronounce him their king.
One of the filmmakers’ thematic emphases is the similarity of an unruly, id-driven nine-year-old boy and these monsters, who are childlike but capable of terrifying violence (almost none of which occurs on-screen).
This may have been implicit in Sendak’s work, but it’s much more palpable in the movie, which also has increasingly ominous overtones. Max’s chief relationship on the island is with Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), a giant panda-like creature whose conflicted emotions swing between communal yearnings and angry resentments.
Jonze has found and skillfully showcased one splendid resource, young Records, who gives one of the most sensitive performances by a child in recent memory, subtle yet vibrant.
Jonze and Eggers have tried to balance their film’s tense, dark tenor with a sentimental strain. They’re not entirely successful. My guess is that Wild Things is more likely to appeal to the kind of young adults so much in evidence at this week’s local preview than the children who loved the book.
Watch the trailer for Where The Wild Things Are
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