Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

I was uncertain whether I would like the screen adaptation to Where The Wild Things Are. It seemed like a stretch to make a feature-length film from a picture book that could easily be read in just two or three minutes. It is difficult for me to segregate the book from the film in order to evaluate it, so I won't. The two are inter-twined, with my interest in the film stemming from my love of Maurice Sendak's original. When I wrote my review for the book nearly ten years ago, my enthusiasm was evident.

Maurice Sendak was acknowledged in the closing credits, but I was unable to tell what role he had (if any) in producing the film. Spike Jonze directed Where The Wild Things Are as well as co-writing the screenplay with Dave Eggers. The writing in this film really needed to be precise to win me over. I was curious what direction the film would take to create enough filler to draw the movie out to the advertised length of 101 minutes. Jonze did an adequate job of adding content and dialogue without drastically altering the original.

My biggest complaint with the screenplay would be the alteration of the actual story. The filler was fine with me. The back-story leading up to Max's banishment was also tolerable. In the book, Max is sent to his room, which slowly evolves into his fantasy world, only to awaken to the smell of dinner at his bedside following his fantastic journey. The film handles this transition very differently and misses an opportunity at some interesting CGI. I won't discuss the changes and risk spoiling the film, but I thought it was an attempt at adding some dramatic elements at the expense of tracking the original story. A decision left to the Director, but one that I found a bit irritating.

For the uninitiated, Max (Max Records) is a troubled boy with an abundance of energy. In today's world, he would be diagnosed with ADHD and doped up with Ritalin. In this story, Max expresses himself through unacceptable antics while dressed in a white wolf costume. Max pushes his mother (Catherine Keener) too far with his behavior and ends up sent to bed without dinner (maybe). While in exile from dinner, Max journeys by boat to a far away land where he encounters a tribe of monsters with humongous owlish eyes and dagger teeth.

In fear of being eaten, Max uses his guile to convince the monsters that he is a king that has conquered other worlds. Max threatens the creatures with his incredible mind-power than destroy with a thought. The creatures take a liking to Max and make him their King. Max introduces the clan to a variety of games like dirt-wad war. He also encourages them to build a fortress for their kingdom where they can all be safe and sleep in a big pile. But things don't stay Utopian for the young King and the dynamic amongst the monsters changes. Max must decide if he is better off staying with his new found friends or returning to his own home.

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