Spike Jonze's attempt to turn Maurice Sendak's small, wonderful book into a feature worked for me.
The book has fewer than 400 words, many amazing illustrations, and themes relevant to kids and adults. Jonze's feature-ization expands without padding and captures the care-free, anarchic spirit of Sendak.
The realization of the monsters (by the Jim Henson company) is faithful and fascinating. The Wild Things feel like denizens of the H.R. Pufnstuf galaxy gene-spliced to The Dark Crystal and Jim Henson's The Storyteller (one of my favorite series ever). The Sid and Marty Kroft Pufnstuf connection is pertinent because it got to the screen first in terms of realizing live action characters of this nature. Of course, Pufnstuf arrived six years after Sendak's tale was written in '63, so we know who really got there first.
One of the most admirable parts of this movie is its lack of exposition and verbal clutter. Like Jimmy in Pufnstuf, Max takes a boat to a distant land of wild things. Here, that land is represented by rugged, Victorian (Australia) coastline -- in fact, it's an area I know so well and love so much because I've visited it (and shot there) frequently over a period of thirty years.
I love how Max gets there quickly and without fuss; he's carried there by a pre-ordained vessel of fate . When he washes up, he introduces himself to the wild things by immediately participating in a destructive game.
Before too long, he becomes their King because they need a King. Who's he to argue.
Most Hollywood films would explain and justify and make Max's entrance a big deal. This doesn't. It is a big deal that he's discovered an amazing new world, but Jones doesn't feel the need to underline and punctuate the weight of that fact.
When Max returns home, Jones makes another great decision that ends the story on a perfect note.
As a monster lover and a lover of the book, I was carried away by the techniques employed to give the monsters life and breath. They are more human than most humans, and certainly more human than the movie humans usually found in noisy, ADD-ridden kiddie flicks.
In so many ways, the experience of watching Where The Wild Things Are feels akin to reading a great book.
Just as children don't stop to reflect on and analyze their lives in mid-flight, neither does this powerful movie, and that's why it's so damn good.