My eldest daughter has come into the age where she can enjoy Where the Wild Things Are. (Proud parent aside: she noted the other day that when Max is sailing on his boat, the wind is blowing into the sails from one direction but the flag is being blown in the other direction. She was confused. I still am.) Movie adaptations of books for kids have a long, storied history of completely ruining everything (everything!); maybe this one will get it right.
In transforming the 338-word story of Where the Wild Things Are into a 111-page screenplay, Eggers and Jonze have fleshed out the story not, unexpectedly, with wild plot developments, and not, thankfully, with densely packed pop-fiction references. Instead Where the Wild Things Are is filled with richly imagined psychological detail, and the screenplay for this live-action film simply becomes a longer and more moving version of what Maurice Sendak’s book has always been at heart: a book about a lonely boy leaving the emotional terrain of boyhood behind.
We certainly have our problems with Dave Eggers’s writing at times, but one thing he has always been able to do is to recall with great specificity the excitement, small joys, and great disappointments of childhood. In many ways, between his work at 826 Valencia and his most recent novel, What Is the What, his infatuation and identification with childhoods ordinary and extreme has remained at the center of his career. This ability to conjure up authentic moments of boyish emotion is combined, in Where the Wild Things Are, with Spike Jonze’s devilishly inventive visual sense to create something pretty amazing.
I don’t know, I’m still pretty dubious. Why does something wonderful need to be made bigger and better if it’s already wonderful? Do we need the psychological themes explored, or is it better to let it come up between the lines when you’re reading it to your kid? Does anyone question the idea anymore that a movie being made out of a book is a good thing? I assert that I would be asking these potentially curmudgeonly yet important questions were I not exhausted. I don’t want to see posters of Max holding a Big Mac. (Unless the Happy Meal toy is a "Dave Eggers: screenwriter" action figure, maybe on a small Grimace moped of some sort. In that case, full steam ahead, merchandisers! Realize your potential!)