In-Flight Entertainment:
Where the Wild Things Are
By Jason Lee
March 22, 2010

If Michael Bay had directed...

Stale pretzels and lukewarm sodas aside, in-flight movies provide a great opportunity for you to catch up on some of films that you didn't get to see while they were in theaters. Besides, what else are you going to do during your flight? Stare at the seat in front of you?

In-Flight Entertainment brings you the movies now playing at a cruising altitude of 30,000 miles in the air. So put your tray table up, buckle your safety belt, and let's go.

Now Playing on American Airline flights in March: Where The Wild Things Are

I don't think it's a stretch to say that the book, Where The Wild Things Are, has been a part of the childhood of most every adult American. The imagery from the book is iconic, even if the story itself may be a little fuzzy in most people's memory. There are some beloved books that cry out for film adaptation (the Harry Potter series jumps quickly to mind) and there are some beloved books that should never be adapted lest they lose their magic (does anyone remember Goodnight Moon?). Prior to watching Spike Jonze's latest film I would have said unhesitatingly that Maurice Sendak's classic book belongs in the latter category.

The book, after all, is a mere 48 pages long, and each page only contains a few sentences. The glory of the book comes in the highly imaginative and evocative artwork, which plunge the reader into a weird and fantastical world where Wild Things roam freely in a spooky forest.

But enough about the book, let's talk about the film. I was understandably skeptical of the film prior to its release. How on earth do you fashion a film plot out of a book that reads like a child's stream of consciousness? How do you re-create a sense of magic that seems inexorably bound to the written word and the hand-drawn image?

Somehow, this movie succeeds. A great deal of credit has to go Jim Henson's Creature Shop, which created all of the animatronics suits. The creatures look and move exactly how any reader would imagine them to. Lose this battle, and the film is a disaster. Suffice to say, this film does not lose.

Director Spike Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers expand upon the rather light plot of Sendak's book, using it as a loose outline by which to bring alive a story about a nine-year old boy named Max, who's struggling with feelings of isolation and unrest. His sister has entered teenagerhood and her attentions are focused on her adolescent social circle. His mother, though always caring and understanding towards Max, has a new boyfriend, and this new male presence is clearly threatening to Max, though we are not sure why (Is he worried about a replacement father-figure? Is he diverting his mother's attention from Max?)

All of this background is subtly suggested by Jonze, and though the details feel distant, Max's enormous sense of discontent is palpable. During one rude and thoroughly uncalled for outburst by Max, he runs from the house and finds himself transported to the world of the Wild Things.

While I will not ruin the movie for you by recounting the many adventures, challenges, discoveries, and problems that Max encounters in this strange environment with his newfound playmates, I will say that Max is forced to consider the implications of his actions (and the actions of others) from many different points of view. You get the sense that for the first time in his life, Max realizes how easy it is to accidentally hurt the feelings of someone else. He also learns the importance of forgiveness – forgiving others because they didn't mean to hurt you, and forgiving yourself for making someone unhappy.

None of this is preachy. None of this is heavy-handed. I was genuinely surprised by the deft touch that Spike Jonze wields as his eccentric story unfolds. The adventures are fun and the discoveries are organic to the plot. The film doesn't have a structure that follows typical cinematic plot development, and yet, the dreamlike quality of the story keeps you engaged the whole way through. And of course, Sendak's visuals are replicated with astonishing beauty.

My only wish is that the TV screens on my American Airline flight could have been larger. The movie is such a visual feast that to see it on a darkened airplane on a small screen really limited my overall immersion into the world of the film. It's a bit like watching Avatar on your iPod.

Still, this is a wonderful movie. It's a perfect diversion from the monotony of the inside of an airplane, and a great bedtime story before you take a nap for the rest of your flight.

Rating: 3 ½ stars.