SDCC: Wild Things footage honors Sendak's original

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

As the first film previewed on Friday morning at San Diego Comic-Con's Hall H, Where the Wild Things Are offered an auspicious beginning for the day. Screening several minutes of footage following an introduction by star Max Records, Warner Brothers showed attendees what to expect from Spike Jonze's forthcoming adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book.

An introductory featurette opened the panel, in which Sendak and director Jonze spoke about their collaboration and their respective feelings about both the book and the movie. Describing his memories about the initial release of the book, Sendak remembered how the book was "banned and got terrible reviews." Meanwhile, Jonze admitted he was initially reluctant to take on the material: "I didn't want to do it unless Maurice was comfortable with it." Having seen the film, Sendak beamed with enthusiasm when describing it, saying "he did his without giving up mine" and "it enhances and enriches my book," while he called Jonze's cast and crew "crazy, goofy, tripped-out but remarkably gifted."

Looking at the footage, Where the Wild Things Are seems destined to be the saddest, most beautiful paean to childhood in a long time. In the first sequence, Max awakens to discover he's being carried by Karel, who leads him on an unofficial tour of his new kingdom, saying it's all his, then pointing out small exceptions like rocks, twigs and holes that his fellow monsters have bored into trees. The duo arrives at the edge of a vast desert, and Karel observes that this is the bad part of his kingdom; but as they cross an expanse of wavy sand, they see a gigantic dog, whom Max is curious about but Karel tells not to feed because "he'll just follow you around."

In the next sequence, a bit of roughhousing turns into an epic pile-on when the rest of the monsters see Max tickling one of them. Though initially overwhelmed by the size and weight of the creatures, Max finds an alcove amidst all of the settling fur and has a quiet conversation with a female monster named K.W. before settling in for a nap as the monsters themselves doze noisily. In the next scene Max offers instructions to the monsters as they playfully build him a kingdom, using their girth to smash rocks and bend nearby trees into a spherical shape. Max insists that the space used be "only seven Douglases across," referring to one of the creatures whose height is being used as a measuring device.

Finally, there's a montage of material from the film, which all has the same, organic, sun-dappled look as what's been shown in previews. Karel says of Max's imaginary kingdom, "it's a place where all of the things you want to happen happen." If the rest of the film lives up to the promise of this footage, Where the Wild Things Are could soon became a cinematic classic in addition to a literary one, but in any case Jonze's latest seems to understand and embody not just the look, but also the feel of Sendak's work.