One month after its general release to theaters I finally got out to see a movie that I had feared perhaps as much or more than I had anticipated.
The film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are had been stuck in development hell since the early 1980's before finding itself a director in Spike Jonze. After a misstep with Universal Studios, the film landed at Warner Bros. and a script was produced. Filming began in early 2006, but it would not be the end of the film's troubles. Leaked footage to the Internet threatened the entire project in 2008 and rumors that the studio planned to re shoot the entire movie surfaced. It seemed that Where the Wild Things Are was doomed to fail. However, the studio issued statements that they fully backed Jonzes' vision for the movie and that time and budgetary concerns would not hinder that vision. Thus, the film adaptation of Maurice Sendak's children's book was released to audiences on October 16th, 2009.
Like so many other adults I grew up with this book, and its pages are responsible for many fond memories that I feared would be damaged by the mishandling of a film adaptation. And honestly, what is there to adapt? The book contains ten lines of text scattered amongst some very odd art. It's hard to put a finger on what is so attractive about this book to children, but it was and still is. I thought that this would be another Hollywood disaster.
I was wrong.
The film Where the Wild Things Are stands on its own two cloven feet, and it has to. The source material is just not dense enough to fill the space of a feature length film. But where the film has been expanded to fill the space feels less like filler and more like... the makings of a great movie. The Max (the main character) in the film is a more complicated child than the Max of the book. He lives in a more complicated time, has a more complicated home life, and therefore, has more complicated problems. Little Max, the boy that was sent to bed without supper for being a bit of a brat, has issues. And for the very same reasons that I thought this film would be a mess, I enjoyed it.
Max's complicated and updated situation is handled well here. Jonze doesn't hit us over the head with heavy duty messages about the dissolution of the American nuclear family, or the sad lives that parents suffer through as a result of failed marriages. These issues are hinted at, of course, but the audience is allowed to draw their own conclusions, and in a way, the film retains a vagueness that is present in the book.
Where the Wild Things Are isn't perfect. And maybe it isn't even a film that will appeal to small children the way the book does. But it is a very good film, and it is a film that reflects every ounce of love and attention that went into its making. It is a film that was cared for, and that translates to the audience--at least it did for me. As my wife and I drove home, and we reflected quietly on the film, I couldn't bring myself to talk about it immediately. It seemed all I could do to fight the melancholy from overcoming my sense of pride (later I would find out that my wife felt an overwhelming urge to cry her eyes out as the film came to a close). Some of this was probably due in part to the realization of a time gone by, a childhood that lives only in memory. Perhaps it was a sadness for children that are victims of situations that they didn't have a part in creating.
But more than likely it was simply grief for lost innocence.