GAMBLE: This wild child has high hopes

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Molly“Where the Wild Things Are” may be an exception to an unflinching rule. The rule that a book is always better than the movie.

That’s what I thought when I first saw the trailer for Spike Jonze’s cinematic adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s book. In the trailer, Arcade Fire’s catchy “Wake Up” plays as Max, wearing a monster suit and golden crown, dashes around a forest. He jumps and runs, dirt flies and fires blaze and waves crash while larger-than-life Wild Things do their wild thing.

The trailer has been played on YouTube a couple million times. Comments prove people, myself included, don’t take this adaptation lightly. The bar is set good and high for this one.

“This movie better make me cry,” one comment read.

“My mom used to read this book to me every night as a little kid so it better be like the book,” said another.

That’s a lot of pressure for poor Spike, even with hits like “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” under his belt. These aren’t just the childhoods of our generation on the line — if this movie flops, it could potentially destroy a classic people have grown up with since 1963. If it bombs, it’d be like kids finding out Santa isn’t real. A chunk of childhood would be tarnished forever.

I’d imagine that would be a pretty bad sort of guilt to live with as a filmmaker.

To add to the pressure, the book isn’t exactly verbose, composed of a mere 10 sentences. Luckily, acclaimed author Dave Eggers collaborated with Jonze on the screenplay. They hung out with Sendak in his Connecticut home and brainstormed about how to make the fantastical, imaginative children’s story go from page to screen.

Australian puppeteers acted out the scenes inside the gigantic handmade Wild Things costumes. Actors, including James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano), gave voice to the monsters. Lastly, the Wild Things’ faces were created with computers and synchronized with the dialogue.

Another curveball for Jonze, it’s hard to be genuinely scared of an animated face. To garner natural reactions from Max, played by 12-year-old child actor Max Records, Jonze performed tricks he thought would scare the kid.

More specifically, he’d stand behind the camera and swallow flames.

That’s right — Jonze had members of a sideshow teach him how to swallow fire to get a genuine reaction from the boy on film. Guess he picked up on how high the bar is set for this movie.

In a press release, Records said the tricks worked.

“The fire-swallowing thing really worked because he wasn’t very good at it,” Records said. “Spike’s tricks really did make me feel scared at times. The only drawback was that I wasn’t scared I was going to get eaten by the Wild Things; I was scared Spike was going to burn up his tongue.”

The release also affirms that Sendak digs the flick.

“I love the movie,” he said. “It’s original. It has an entire emotional, spiritual, visual life which is as valid as the book. They are two very different works of art and I like them both.”

For a movie adaptation that could go terribly wrong, this one is looking pretty right. Maybe we can rest easy that a childhood favorite won’t tank as a movie, and hopefully the fire swallowing was worth it.

“Where the Wild Things Are” hits theaters tomorrow.

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