October 27, 2009

The Nation’s Third Oldest College Newspaper

Volume 80, Issue 5

Classic book comes to life on big screen

Looking back on childhood memories, many can recall reading Where the Wild Things Are, the picture book by Maurice Sendak. The book focused on the misbehaving Max, who, after being sent to his room without his supper, went on a fantastic imaginary adventure.

The film adaptation, written and directed by Spike Jonze, also follows Max, but offers more of a back story for the character. Max is a lonely boy who does not seem to have many friends. He desperately tries to share his adventures with people including who seem to have more important things to do (his older sister and her friends; his mother).

Being a young boy, when he does not get his way, he throws a temper tantrum. One night, when his mother wants to spend some time with her boyfriend - as opposed to playing pretend with Max - his jealousy causes him to act out. Creating quite a scene, his mother chases him around, and Max ends up biting her. He then runs out of the house, where he eventually finds a boat.

After sailing for a few days, he comes across the island where the Wild Things live. Unfortunately, they are having problems of their own, and do not greet him by roaring their terrible roars or gnashing their terrible teeth. Rather, Max stumbles upon these creatures trying to stop one of their own, Carol, from destroying their huts during a meltdown.

After witnessing the others yelling at Carol, Max steps in to join in the destruction. Clearly irritated, the Wild Things threaten to eat Max, prompting him to say that he is a king, with great powers, and cannot be eaten. Max, then, embellishes his powers and says that his powers are unlimited, to the point where he promises that he can make such things as loneliness disappear - a very bold statement.

The Wild Things accept him as their king. The first order of business: Let the wild rumpus start. Of course, the fun and games quickly die down when jealousy, suspicion, and feelings of betrayal soon plague the community.

Don't remember those themes from the book? The problem with making a short children's book into a full length movie is that more material, such as character development, plot lines and dialog, have to be added. While it may bring more depth to a story, sometimes simplicity is the best route to take. The book creates this image of freedom. Max imagines a world where he is the one who is in charge and can tell others what to do for a change. He tames the Wild Things, tells them to have a wild rumpus, and sends them to bed. The movie, however, takes a different approach, giving Max a dose of reality even in his own imagination. Max has to deal with rough issues (such as trust and anger), which are probably more serious than in his actual life (since nobody threatens to eat him there).

In the end, Max returns home, not because he wants to be where someone loved him most of all, but rather because his welcome has been overstayed and decides it's better if he leaves.

In an interview, Jonze notes that the creatures actually represent Max's different emotions. An interesting approach, to be sure, but for those looking for simplistic childhood memories, it may be overlooked. It is hard to distinguish who this movie is meant for, as the thematic elements are probably not intended for children. Likewise adults, who are familiar with the story, may be disappointed. Perhaps, Jonze and Sendak wanted adults to relive their childhood with a more sophisticated outlook on the original tale? Adapting such a small book to the big screen is no easy task, and in retrospect, Jonze did a decent job.

However, Where the Wild Things Are, which won the Caldecott medal for most distinguished picture book in 1964, is a classic that is not comparable to any fi lm.

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