Release date: October 16th, 2009
Director: Spike Jones
Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Forrest Whitaker, Catherine O’hara, Chris Cooper, Mark Ruffalo

As a fan of children’s literature, I was excited and terrified when I learned that the children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are, was being made into a film. I was excited because of who was working on it – Spike Jonze of Being John Malkovich, Dave Eggers, a best-selling author, and the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O. I was terrified because I love this book and the work of those involved, and I didn’t want to think about the negatives of a bad adaptation. Thankfully, however, I breathed a sigh of relief after viewing the (hopefully) new children’s movie classic.

Dave Eggers’ adaptation of the book is carefully done and well executed. The few actual characters’ lines in the book are included in the movie, even though sometimes the context of them has been slightly altered. The movie opens with nine-year old Max in his wolf costume chasing his dog around the house while growling and snarling at him, a live-action adaptation of an illustration from the beginning of the book. The film proceeds to set up his life, showing us his strained relationship with an older sister becoming increasingly distant, and his mother’s stress of trying to raise a family as a single mom. After a fight with his mom, Max runs out of the house in his wolf costume and eventually ends up at a river where there is a little boat tied up. He gets in and sails for a few days until he is washed upon the shores of an island. Here he meets 6 huge monsters – Carol, Douglas, Alexander, Judith, Ira and the Bull – who all have pointy teeth and sharp claws. He convinces them he is a king, and they decide not to eat him. Each monster’s personality and their interactions all mirror parts of Max’s life and emotions in a very different manner than seen in previous children’s films. Instead of one monster constantly representing one aspect of Max’s life, the personalities and relationships he is projecting shift between the monsters, creating an interesting complexity and depth to the movie. As this plays out, we see Max begin to understand his life back home and what love really means. This is done without any explanation of what happened before we joined the life of Max and, later, the monsters. While some might wish for specific explanation and solid morals and lessons, I find that this method encapsulates the spirit of the book, where pictures say more than words.

The film is visually and audibly stunning. The onscreen and voice actors could not have been better cast. Karen O’s music enhances the film and effectively brings each scene to its full potential. The design of the homes the monsters live in and the design of the monsters themselves is uniquely impressive, completely believable as reality. For parents, this might be something to consider before bringing your child to see it. Like most wild things, the monsters can be friendly and playful at times, but when provoked their demeanor can quickly change. Though sporadically placed, these moments have the potential to scare or upset some children. That said, at the screening I attended there were many children of varying ages and none had to leave or seemed very upset.

All in all, Where the Wild Things Are is a beautifully crafted film that should be as loved as the book by its true fans. It has been a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait.

Rebecca Ruiz