I must have read Where The Wild Things Are to my son hundreds of times when he was little. It was in heavy rotation with The Giving Tree, The Runaway Bunny, Fox in Socks, and others. I loved each of these books, but my favorite line above any other was “Let the wild rumpus start!”
A lot of people seem ambivalent about the movie or reluctant to see it because they didn’t want the book to be adapted into another form. I don’t think I ever felt strongly about it because I see the book and the film as fundamentally different things, though I do think the emotional authenticity of the film reflects major themes in the book. It expands on those themes but always feels true to the spirit of Maurice Sendak’s slim volume.
Maybe I was not disturbed about the prospect of the adaptation because director Spike Jonze was shepherding the project. Jonze has an interesting background that includes music videos and commercials, and he has a track record of making projects that might seem impossible to bring to the screen in a way that makes sense let alone in a way that succeeds.
Up until now, Jonze probably best-known for two collaborations with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, the movies Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. I have to say that I think Adaptation is brilliant – and I don’t use that word very often.
I probably wouldn’t use the word brilliant as an overall description for Where The Wild Things Are, but the film does have moments, mostly small moments, of brilliance. The scenes before and after Max’s dream journey are flawless, absolutely flawless. This is a movie about children not so much a movie for children, and the film captures perfectly the exploding emotions the little boy experiences as well as his inability to figure out what to do with those feelings.
It is his interactions among the wild things he encounters during his dream journey that give Max an opportunity to work through some of the things that are bothering him at home and at school. This is an atypical fantasy sequence involving a child. The palette in this dream world is filled with earth tones that give Max’s fantastic journey a curious sort of realism.
There are indelible moments to be appreciated throughout the film. So, yes, I say that a wild rumpus can be a very good thing. Let it start.