So, for a while now rumors have been plaguing Spike Jonze’s film adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, a children’s book beloved by me and countless others for years and years. The idea of adapting this mischievous, dark, and wonderful book is a little daft to begin with, and it sounds like it’s been no easy task. Filmed in 2006, it started making the rounds to test audiences last winter. First I read that no one liked the boy cast as Max (too mean-spirited and unlikeable). Then I read that children in a December screening actually left the theater crying and terrified. I also read that the actual Wild Things were giving the F/X crews serious problems. Then in June it was confirmed that Jonze was spending the month reshooting a significant amount of the film. The release date’s been pushed back from fall of this year to fall of 2009. A few weeks ago the LA Times published this article giving a full account of the movie’s troubled history and where it currently stands. I hope they can pull it all together. It has the potential to be an amazing film, but I worry about too much interference from a marketing department looking for a huggable kids’ holiday movie.

This reminds me of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. I remember sitting in the theater, watching this movie marketed as a children’s film, and many of the children in the room were taken out in hysterical tears early in the movie. It terrified them, and that left an impression on me. Was Burton’s film genius? Absolutely. Was it a “children’s” movie in the traditional way parents imagine? Nope. But, why does it have to be? I think movies like that, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and various others succeed as dark fairy tales even if they’re scary for small children. And let’s not forget how often Maurice Sendak’s books have been challenged and banned over the decades. But they’re still loved by generations of kids and adults who remember them. Yes, some of these stories scare children. But not all children’s literature, or films, need to be whitewashed with pleasantness. Even Disney gave kids a sense of that darkness when they killed Bambi’s mom. It might not be great for a three-year-old, but older kids get it and appreciate the story.