Popcorn and a Book (5): Where the Wild Things Are

The Book: 1963

Written and Illustrated by Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins)

The Film: 2009

Directed by Spike Jonze (Warner Bros. Pictures)

This week Maurice Sendak, a revolutionary in the world of children’s literature, passed away. In memory of his passing, I would like to devote this week’s Popcorn and a Book to an examination of perhaps his most recognizable work, Where the Wild Things Are.

For me the book Where the Wild Things Are is one of the most excellent examples of how text and illustration work together in a picture book. They build on one another, creating an experience that would be very different if you were to take one of them away. Whoever’s idea it was to have the pictures grow and the forest expand beyond the limits of the frame, it was a stroke of pure genius. I love the way the illustrations become so wild that by the time of the wild rumpus the text is gone and there are several full spreads of just pictures. And then the way the illustrations decrease as Max returns home. It is no wonder that this book won the Caldecott Medal and is still sought after years later.

When I watched the film adaptation of the Where the Wild Things Are, I liked that we were given a back story to Max and that we get introduced to the Wild Things as separate characters. Max’s character was developed really well, showing that he has a wonderful imagination that he just wants to share with those he loves. The world he imagines in the film in beautiful and very creative. I especially liked the fort and the model world that Carol built. Yet I found the film incredibly depressing. Even though there are several moments of fun, it is filled with incredible loneliness and hurt.

I’m not really sure that I understood the film. It left me feeling somewhat puzzled. I’m interested to know if children who have seen the film enjoyed it, as it does bring a child’s imagination to life. Or if they too are confused by it. Even though the film was interesting, the expansion of the original plot left gaps in the story that I had trouble filling in, like Carol and K.W.’s relationship. I’m not sure I would watch the film again.

In comparison, the book is a complete story that still allows the reader’s imagination to run wild. In this Popcorn and a Book, there is no contest: Sendak’s book reigns supreme.

Share your thoughts on Where the Wild Things Are in comments.

“Popcorn and a Book” is a bi-weekly meme I host where I will compare one book with its adapted film, looking at the content, the way it has been visualized, the experience, etc. If you would like to participate in this meme, please visit the “Popcorn and a Book” main page for details.

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