“I really messed this place up, huh?” and “Will you keep all the sadness out?” are questions so far from Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, if you took a year-long boat ride across a vast ocean, you would still be miles away from
approaching them.

Yet these sentiments are a part of writer/director Spike Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers’ screenplay of “Where the Wild Things Are,” a magical little film that touches upon sadness, gives voices to Max’s beastly creations and still manages to let Mr. Sendak’s own voice reach the shore. 

Mr. Jonze has made a career out of intermingling the fantastical with the often harsh and depressing aspects of reality.  From the existentialist self-destruction (and hilarity) of “Being John Malkovich” to the self-doubt involved with the strangest book-to-film creation ever imagined (“Adaptation”), Jonze has a proven track record of juxtaposing the bizarre with
the banal. 

This time around, Jonze eschews collaboration with writer Charlie Kaufman for the first time, and instead looks to Mr. Sendak for source material.

“Where the Wild Things Are,” both film and book, tells the tale of a sweet but wild young boy named Max (played by Max Records), whose naughtiness gets him sent to bed without any dinner.  Max escapes, sailing to a magical island full of mischievous monsters, where Max is made king, free to make his own rules. 

However, the live-action film digs deeper, illuminating a creative, yet lonely, boy whose sister has grown too old for Max’s childish games, a mother (Catherine Keener of “Being John Malkovich”) who struggles to pay bills, take care of her family and even date.  We get the sense that the absence or death (the script leaves it open-ended) of Max’s father has fueled Max’s wildness and active imagination. 

Spike Jonze has created a film about the emotions of children, and somehow restrains it from being condescending, instead bringing us back to that wondrous age where digging a hole in some snow opened up another world. 

Rated PG, 101 min.
for mild thematic elements,
some adventure action
and brief language.