Spike Jonze takes "Where the Wild Things Are" from book to film

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Here's the hardest thing to understand about Spike Jonze's film adaptation of Maurice Sendak's children's classic "Where the Wild Things Are": How do you make a feature-length film out of nine sentences of text and a bunch of awesome drawings?

One way not to go is the route taken by the 2003 film adaptation of Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat." "Easily the very worst of the children’s-book films," pronounces Alonso Duralde, film critic and msnbc contributor. The film turned "Dr. Seuss’ witty tale of mischief and mayhem" into " a bloated orgy of creepy innuendo, overwrought slapstick and general no-boundaries chaos," writes Duralde. "Parents who took their children found themselves shocked by the unfaithful adaptation."

But everyone's first clue that "Where the Wild Things Are" would not suffer a similar fate should have been the fact that Sendak himself likes this movie. And sure enough, the early reviews are proving him right.

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That doesn't mean, of course, that everyone's going to love this movie. Even the book has both its detractors and defenders. Talk to people raised in the 1960s and 70s who encountered this book as children, says critic Leslie Gray Streeter and you'll find that, "They either loved it, hated it or were freaked out by it."

And it goes without saying that there will be loyal readers who will find any film adaptation to be an expensive disappointment. But one way or another, whatever happens to the movie, it's going to be very, very good for the book.

The film doesn't even open till tomorrow but that hasn't prevented reader enthusiasm from driving an early sales frenzy. At Bearly Read Books in Sudbury, Mass., owner Betty Ann Sharp told her local paper that she always sees healthy sales for the perpetually popular book. But right now, she says, "I can't keep [a copy] in the store."

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