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When the Child Wasn’t a Child: Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are”

When the Child Wasn't a Child: Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are"

It’s tempting to see Spike Jonze’s last film, Adaptation, about a screenwriter’s inability to find his footing in translating Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, as a sort of anticipation of his missteps with Maurice Sendak’s ten-sentence bedtime classic Where the Wild Things Are. In adapting a literary work, particularly one that so eludes natural one-to-one transpositions, the choices are endless and hard, and some will inevitably not be the “right” ones. Sendak’s 1963 picture book follows a rambunctious boy, sent up to his room without dinner, who finds himself transported to a land of savage beasts. There he indulges his unruliness by taking part in a primitive revel—a “wild rumpus,” he calls it. Sendak’s book of course ends on a safe, no-place-like-home note, with lesson duly learned, but what distinguishes the story is its element of ferocity. The most striking, and ultimately off-putting, decision that Jonze and cowriter Dave Eggers make in the necessary amplification of this brief tale is to turn the wild rumpus into a pity party. The big-screen wild things’ displays of strength are impressive, but the only real harm they threaten is to their own psyches. The closest view of their sharp claws comes when one of them is fast asleep, writhing and moaning during a nightmare. Click here to read the rest of Benjamin Mercer’s review of Where the Wild Things Are.

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