Saturday, April 11, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are: Book to Film Discussion

One of the most imaginative and cherished children's stories ever told is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. The book was a triumph when it was first published in 1963 and it won the Caldecott Medal in 1964 for Sendak's artful and original illustrations. The book was a favorite of mine as a child, in fact the tattered copy that belonged to my older brother and I has made it through nearly 30 years of use and appreciation since my family first purchased a copy in the late 1970's. As such, it has a permanent place on my personal bookshelf.

One of the great things about this story is that you can re-read it many times and see it from a different perspective or appreciate it on a new level each time. This is true for young and old alike. The story itself has the power to awaken a whole plethora of emotions: freedom, love, fear, determination, pride, anger, etc. When I read this book, I am Max. I am Wild Thing. We all are. Beyond the text alone, the dynamic relationship between the text and the ebb and flow of the illustrations takes on significant meaning. What readers are able to take away from Where the Wild Things Are, from front cover to back cover, is a very personal journey. Yet there are reactions and feelings that take place among readers of this story that are universal, or at least that can be universally understood and reflected upon. In essence, that is what makes a story a classic.

With that, I wonder what happens to such a classic story when it is taken from its original format and put into a different kind of media. On October 16, 2009, the film version of Where the Wild Things Are will have its major theatrical release. When a short, picture book story is adapted to fill the space of a feature length film, it is clear the screenwriters have to add elements to elongate the storyline. This often means taking liberties to fill in that which is not said on the page in a book to explain how we get from beginning to end.

While I appreciate film as a form of artistic expression, I personally find it rare when a film that has been adapted from a book lives up to or surpasses the quality of the originally printed story. When the film being created is based on such a glorious and beloved book, I am all the more skeptical. Don't get me wrong, the trailer is amazing and I am hopeful the film will live up to expectations, but that is yet to be seen.

Here are some starting points for discussion. Take the time to leave a comment and join the discussion!

What are your thoughts on this?
Have you read Where the Wild Things Are? Did you know about the upcoming film?
Does it take away or enhance your appreciation for a great piece of literature, children's or adult, when you see that story adapted for the big screen?
What do you like/dislike about each respective medium?
What are the advantages/disadvantages of a picture book vs. a feature length film?
Can a film ever truly live up to or surpass the quality of the book which it is based upon? Do you have an example?


  1. I'm a little skeptical about the film myself. If Spike Jonze weren't directing it, I'd probably assume the movie would suck based on what I've seen from the trailer. But Jonze has impressed me so far, so I'll definitely give it a chance. Nice site.

  2. Thanks for the comment man. I'm typically pretty skeptical when it comes to screen adaptations of very popular books, no matter what genre they come from. Time will tell what this film is like.

    I hope all is well at MTP! Tell everyone I said hello.