At least for the first 15 minutes of Where the Wild Things Are, you could believe that Spike Jonze had nailed the irreverent tone of Maurice Sendak’s beloved book. Max was appropriately surly, prone to tantrums and destruction. But then he ran away from home (wasn’t the forest supposed to invade his bedroom?) and the movie spun off into psychobabble and weepy reconciliations. You felt a little betrayed.
Tell Them Anything You Want, a profile of Sendak cocreated by Jonze and frequent collaborator Lance Bangs during the making of Wild Things, is a keen corrective—mainly because it delivers the feisty persona of the 81-year-old Sendak in full rant. “I don’t believe in childhood,” offers the author, wickedly enjoying his toppling of expectations. He reveals himself as a Brooklyn-born realist, never married, loath to spend time with family. Still, a compassionate soul emerges, one absorbed by the Lindbergh kidnapping and the tougher realities of unfortunate lives.
Of course, we also get anecdotes about the 1963 book that would immortalize Sendak and inflame the establishment. Famed psychologist Bruno Bettelheim hated it. Libraries banned it. Yet Sendak would have the last laugh as the wider world caught up to his urbanity. Movingly, we see him make a gift of it to the gentle Jonze, allowing the director to transform the story into his own therapy. The disc includes a brief essay by playwright Tony Kushner, probing the collaboration.—Joshua Rothkopf
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