Spike 'Being John Malkovich' Jonze adapts Maurice Sendak's classic children 1963 story in which Max, a mischievous little boy, creates his own world - a forest inhabited by fabulous wild creatures who crown him as their ruler. Jonze ditches iPods, X-Boxes and other kid-trapping mod-cons for an original take on children's cinema that should bring out the little monster in everyone.
The book contains 338 words and was deemed unfilmable. Spike Jonze began filming in 2005, but the original May 2008 release was re-scheduled (and re-re-scheduled) after reports of terrified tykes fleeing early test screenings began circulating.
Although Jonze and Warner Bros reached a reshoot agreement, Where The Wild Things Are is not all sweetness and light, recommended only for kids 8 and up.
But, it is a kids' movie to its tantrummy core; a wonderful evocation of a time when coping with the big, scary world required the creation of even bigger (and sometimes scarier) ones.
The imagination behind these worlds is the lonely, fatherless Max (the coincidentally named and charismatic Max Records), a wild child first seen chasing his dog with a fork, awestruck and unnerved by his big sister's bigger mates, and wrestling with his teacher's revelation that everything dies. Including the sun. And us.
His put-upon mum and her bothersome boyfriend (a micro-cameoing Ruffalo) are no help, so Max bails and boards a sailboat, navigating treacherous waters to the island of the Wild Things.
Here he encounters living, breathing, howling, embodiments of Maurice Sendak's drawings, stunningly brought to life through massive puppet suits, subtle CGI facial trickery, and a voice cast as offbeat as any Pixar (Gandolfini, Cooper, Whitaker, O'Hara).
Max rules over these outlandish extensions of himself, but while the anarchy is glorious, the wilder aspects of the wild things threaten to devour the boy... literally.
From the graffitied Warner Bros logos, to the kinetic handheld camerawork and Karen O soundtrack, and moments of genuine darkness, Where The Wild Things Are is without calculated kid cuteness or adult-friendly wry funnies.
Scripted by Jonze and novelist Dave Eggers with the same breathless momentum of a child telling a story, it works best when everyone is kept active - the sea crossing, a tour of a model city, a Jackass style dirt-clod battle, and the construction of a huge fort are all dazzling flights of fancy.
The film also scores in its coastal Melbourne locations lending monster island an autumnal, muddy realism far more satisfying than another fuzzy, GGI wonderland.
But, when the wildness stops, so does the film, grinding to a halt midway for a good ten minutes, before the misbehaviour resumes.
And the moving climax is to be commended for sidestepping cloying sentiment or hammer-on-the-head lessons learnt.
Not as easy or airbrushed as Potter, Ice Age, or Narnia then, but with its darkness, loneliness, and wonder, it might be the most honest kids' film of the year.