Where the Wild Things Are

For a certain breed of monster-obsessed kid, there is no better children’s book than Maurice Sendak’s 1963 classic, Where the Wild Things Are. The story of an angry kid named Max who travels to a world full of beasts, Sendak’s simple tale and wonderfully distinctive illustrations stick with anyone who sees them.

It’s also the kind of book that doesn’t seem easy to adapt to film. Hollywood would obviously try — the film industry has always seen dollar signs in childhood nostalgia — but folks who cherish the book have been justifiably apprehensive. There’s already been an animated version (all of seven minutes long), but stretching Sendak’s 10-sentence story to feature length and still retaining the magic of the book seemed an impossible task. Naturally, fans have been preparing for the worst since a film was inevitably announced.

Not that the announcement wasn’t intriguing. Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovitch, Adaptation) would direct — not exactly an obvious choice for a kids’ movie. David Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, would co-write the script — his first time writing for a film. At the very least, it’d be unconventional.

Now, the trailer is out. Playing at screenings of Monsters vs. Aliens (and, more importantly, widely available on the Internet), it’s a remarkable piece of work. There’s only one line of dialogue — a James Gandolfini-voiced Wild Thing saying to Max “I didn’t want to wake you up, but I really want to show you something” — but the book was never about the words, anyway. The visuals are bang-on — Jonze and company have chosen to use real people in giant, nine-foot-tall costumes for the Wild Things, with CGI to make the faces more expressive, and it looks like it’s paid off. Arcade Fire’s über-triumphant “Wake Up” plays in the background, and the combination of music and imagery is enough to make tears well up, even in folks who haven’t read the book.

Granted, a two-minute trailer isn’t a full movie, but for anyone who wants to believe that a cherished part of their childhood can be handled with care by Hollywood, this trailer is a damned good sign.

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