…and it is really, really good.
In transforming the 338-word story of Where the Wild Things Are into a 111-page screenplay, Eggers and Jonze have fleshed out the story not, unexpectedly, with wild plot developments, and not, thankfully, with densely packed pop-fiction references. Instead Where the Wild Things Are is filled with richly imagined psychological detail, and the screenplay for this live-action film simply becomes a longer and more moving version of what Maurice Sendak's book has always been at heart: a book about a lonely boy leaving the emotional terrain of boyhood behind.
We certainly have our problems with Dave Eggers's writing at times, but one thing he has always been able to do is to recall with great specificity the excitement, small joys, and great disappointments of childhood. In many ways, between his work at 826 Valencia and his most recent novel, What Is the What, his infatuation and identification with childhoods ordinary and extreme has remained at the center of his career. This ability to conjure up authentic moments of boyish emotion is combined, in Where the Wild Things Are, with Spike Jonze's devilishly inventive visual sense to create something pretty amazing.
Max, the hero of Wild Things, is now an 8-year-old with an absent father, an older sister who's drifting away from him, a mother whose personal and job concerns leave her little time or energy for the rambunctious boy she dearly loves. Eggers and Jonze — mostly, we suspect, Eggers — touchingly sketch this troubled family unit and carefully track the rising frustration and alarm Max feels as his world becomes darker and more unhappy, until, on page 21, he runs away, climbs aboard a boat, and sails to the island of the Wild Things.
There Jonze's influence begins to be felt, as the enormous creatures — with names like Carol, Alexander, and K.W. — look to Max as their King, and in a series of marvelous adventures, wrestle tornadoes, eat mud, and tame hawks. Always, though, there's a subtle undercurrent of menace, and it becomes clear that while spinning a yarn, Jonze and Eggers are also taking us on a tour of Max's psyche, as he works out so many of the issues that plague his young life. But any time the drama threatens to overcome the story's wonder, along comes another visual cherry bomb to shake things up: a tiny model of a city with rivers for streets; a pile of Wild Things, wiggling and wet, with Max sleeping against them; Max's final hiding place, and how he gets out. We won't give too much more away, because the pleasures of this screenplay are in its moment-to-moment details and discoveries.
We were deeply nervous about anyone taking on a story this beloved yet difficult, even talents like Eggers and Jonze, but this screenplay — if it hasn't been changed too dramatically since October 2005, when it was turned in — goes a long way toward reassuring us that this movie, which is coming out in 2008, will be something special.