Spike Jonze's live-action version of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are led the box office this weekend, grossing over $32 million. Last month, another children's book adaptation, Sony Pictures' version of Judi and Ron Barrett's Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, scored similar numbers for its first three days.
WTWTA has earned mixed reviews so far, with most critics praising the impressive visuals while also pointing out the issues arising from expanding the sparse narrative into a feature film. Cloudy received better notices, which signifies little except that people are perhaps more forgiving of entertainment aimed at those without real buying power.
Both movies will break the magical $100-million blockbuster mark (Cloudy already has), proving that strip-mining our childhoods for profit remains an easy proposition. What's harder, and therefore less desirable from Hollywood's perspective, is using those same sources to make a movie worth watching. In the unlikely event any filmmaker out there wants to film a children's book adaptation that'll stand the test of time and not just score some quick bank and be forgotten, may I humbly offer the following suggestions:
1. Leave Dr. Seuss Alone -- The late Theodor Geisel is our most beloved children's author, as a quick gander at just about any five-year-old's bookshelves will confirm. His most celebrated books (How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, The Cat in the Hat) were converted quite ably into animated form by the early 1970s, not that this stopped an idea-strapped Tinseltown from going back to the well by making atrocious live-action versions of both (in 2000 and 2003, respectively). Seuss' whimsy and gentle humor are more than satisfying on their own, and require no further embellishment, whether in the form of the Grinch's tormented childhood or Mike Myers' poop jokes.
2. Matrix Jokes Are No Longer Funny -- Watched Shrek lately? How about Aladdin? No? Go ahead, I'll wait...pretty bad, huh? I know, I was as surprised as you. I mean, who could've predicted that Smash Mouth and Arsenio Hall would ever go out of style?
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3. You Can't Stretch 30 Pages into 100 Minutes -- You'd think it was obvious, but Where the Wild Things Are is only the latest in a long line of movies made from books meant to be read -- and enjoyed -- in a quarter-hour. I eagerly await the future adaptation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar wherein we learn of the caterpillar's brave struggle against illiteracy and Vicodin addiction.
4. Jim Carrey is Not Your Friend -- See #1.
5. The "C" in CGI Stands For "Creepy" -- In stand-alone movies, computer animation can work. But when taking an existing literary property, traditional animation (Charlotte's Web) or a combination of the two (The Iron Giant) works best. That is, unless you prefer your beloved childhood characters rendered as dead-eyed automatons who'd just as soon devour your living soul as whisk you away to Santa's Village (The Polar Express).
And that's the last I have to say on the subject. At least until Jim Carrey's A Christmas Carol (opens everywhere November 6th!).