The original author of “Where the Wild Things Are” , Maurice Sendak, passed away earlier this month on May 8. Sendak’s original message of coping with anger not only continues to resonate with audiences since its 1963 release, but was also told on a greater scale in the 2009 film adaptation of the same name.
It was hard for many fans of the book to predict how producers were going to successfully transform a ten sentence story into a film that lasts for almost two hours. But the film’s director, Spike Jonze, knew he could achieve this by simply having respect for the work of Sendak, as well as Sendak himself, and respect for the already established audience.
Respect for the Author
Jonze told “Vanity Fair” ,in 2009 that “[the] reason I’m involved is because of Maurice, not anyone else.” Jonze and Sendak became friends 15 years prior, when they were working on a film that didn’t ever end up happening.
It is essential that film adaptations of books have a director who honors the author. Otherwise, you could wind up with a film like the 2003 adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat,” which wound up with an uneven tone, surprisingly racy adult jokes, and, as Charles Taylor of Salon.com called it, “[t]he best argument yet made for extending artists’ rights beyond the grave.”
The same thing could have happened with “Where the Wild Things Are.” Luckily, Jonze avoided that. He respected the work of Sendak and put in the time and work to create the best product he could.
Respect for the Material
Before Jonze was ever friends with Sendak, he was a fan of his work.
“[T]hat’s the stuff I loved from when I was a kid,” Jonze told “Vanity Fair.” “Maurice’s stuff, Shel Silverstein’s stuff, ‘The Little Prince,’ the movie of ‘The Red Balloon.’ All of it was so deeply ingrained in my consciousness. Especially ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’”
Because of his affinity for the book, Jonze wanted to make this film the best it could be while staying true to the original.
“I was thinking that you had to invent something, some goal, or something that happened on the island,” he said. “And I kept thinking that it all felt added on. Like, why should that exist in this world? Why should that exist in this book?”
After speaking with Sendak a third time, Jonze realized that figuring out who the Wild Things are themselves would be the key to getting a read on the basis of the storyline, which is how a child deals with anger, existentialism and what he thinks is the crumbling of the world he knows.
The challenge of creating a film based on “Where the Wild Things Are” would lead some writers and directors to create unneeded fluff. One example is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
It was never truly pertinent to the audience to know why the Grinch hates Christmas. However, director Ron Howard and screenwriters Jeffery Price and Peter S. Seaman felt it necessary to add a bogged-down history to the Grinch’s life, making the film less enjoyable and strangely political.
The same can also be said for a film that’s considered a classic–1971’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” based on the Roald Dahl book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Even though many loved the film, Dahl himself hated it, according to the BBC, publicly disowning the film and despising the revised plot by David Seltzer, which Dahl felt focused less on Charlie and more on Wonka.
Respect for the Audience
No audience likes being disrespected. In fact, many films fail due to the audience feeling insulted. Sadly, audiences for children’s and family films are insulted far too much by today’s film industry. “Where the Wild Things Are” combats that trend through savvy storytelling, unlike other children’s films, such as “Happily N’ever After.”
“Happily N’ever After” is probably one of the best examples of a children’s film that disrespects its audience. The film has many symptoms of the horrible children’s movie: pseudo post-modernism thanks to the success of “Shrek,” obvious storylines, terrible songs and even worse plotting. “Happily N’ever After” is a film that, like too many children’s films, is bloated with special effects and listless jokes.
In contrast, “Where the Wild Things Are” embraces the idea of telling a good story.
Similar to Sendak’s writing and illustrating style, the film adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are” holds nothing back. The film expertly shows the good and ugly sides to life. The audience felt real, human emotion and real emotion is the true core of a great children’s film.
“Where the Wild Things Are” is a fantastic companion to its book counterpart. Like the book, the film successfully explains the complexities of human emotion in as few words as possible. Sendak’s message about childhood rang clear in 1963, and that message is even clearer in the film.
This guest post is by Edwin who regularly writes about celebrities, TV, and movies for the Celebutaunt blog on USDish.