It has become something of a nightmare for readers when we hear that our favourite books are due to be cut up and remade into a movie.
Who didn’t spend hours of their childhood pouring over the words of their favourite story, as the characters and scenes took form in their imagination? Who couldn’t hear the voice of their favourite hero, or picture each leaf and twig in the dark forest, or feel the furry body of their new best friend curled up beside them as they drifted of to sleep, book still in hand? How many of those wonderful memories were shattered into a million pieces when we saw a famous actor playing a character who we felt we knew personally, or found that the end of our most treasured book had been changed to a more suitable Hollywood ending?
So I think it was with a combination of glee and fear that most of us breathlessly awaited the release of The Wild Things. Sure it looked pretty, and sure the soundtrack was wonderfully whimsical, but would it really live up to the iconic story that we had all come to love as we grew up with Sendak’s original picture book?
I re-read the picture book. I read the other two picture books in the series (Outside Over There, and In The Night Kitchen). I discovered that one of my favourite films as a child (and as an adult if we’re being honest) The Labyrinth, was based on one of these other stories. I read the new book, based on the picture book and the film by Dave Eggers. I discovered that Dave Eggers had been asked by Maurice Sendak to write the book and that during his seven years working on the script with Spike Jonze they had each discovered their own Max, who came out uniquely in each adaptation of the story.
And then finally I was seated in the cinema watching the opening credits. Over the next two hours I fell in love with the giant creatures who rumbled over the barren landscape looking for a leader. I cried for the young boy who didn’t know how to be their king. I laughed as they threw themselves at each other, completely unaware of danger or consequence. And as the film drew to a close, I felt the loss of my childhood as suddenly as if it had happened yesterday.
This film succeeded where so many others failed, because it allowed itself the freedom to be different from the original, but had such a clear understanding of the truth, the fear and the imagination of the original story. It was a film that took me on a journey back through my own childhood and reminded me that once upon a time, building a fort was the most important thing in the world. And surely that’s what this story is all about…