Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's Not Easy Being King

Yesterday, as I was shopping for my Godson's 7th birthday, I stood in the children's book section and read Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are. I was anticipating seeing Spike Jonze's new film version and, while I was familiar with the iconic artwork of the book, I couldn't remember reading it as a child. Only 10 lines long, the book is a two minute read about boyhood angst and imagination. I headed on over to my godson's party and got a good dose of 7 year-olds gone wild. [I'm single and and have no children and while this scene is par for the course for my married friends with families, I'm really not used to it.] So by the time I went to the movie, everything was very much in perspective.

[Note: Some spoilers ahead.]

One may wonder how much you can do with a 10-line book, but I think the sparseness of the source material gave Jonze a free range to fill out the story while staying true to the basic plot and sensibility. Max is a boy with a lot of energy. He yells, screams, chases the dog, builds forts, starts snow ball fights, and wrecks his sister's room in a fit. One night, Max has it out with his single mother who is perplexed by all his angst. Max runs off into the night. He winds up in a far off land and meets beings--big monsters with big heads and yellow eyes--who seem to be like-minded in spirit. In lieu of eating him, they decide to make Max their king and ask him to guard them from sadness and loneliness. As adults, we know that request is a tall order if not impossible, particularly for a child. But Max agrees to be king and they run, jump, destroy things, have dirt fights, sleep in a pile, build a fort, and howl. When Max finds he loves these creatures, but can't fix all their problems, he decides to go back home where his mother is waiting with a hug.

Jonze and Dave Eggers, who together wrote the screenplay, do a good job of depicting Max with much soul and depth. Max is a child who has strong feelings, even if he can't articulate them with words, and he is very aware of the adults around him. This comes through with his relationship with his mother, even with only a minimal amount of screen time, and also with his interactions with the wild things who have names and adult-type archetypes. Carol is the leader of the group, but can't get anyone to follow him; KW wants to explore beyond the group making new friends with Bob and Terry (who are a real hoot) and is at odds with Carol because of it; Judith is a kill joy; and Alexander can't get the others to listen to him. But as in all families, sometimes you don't understand each other and at times you don't get a long. But the constant is L-O-V-E.

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