If there’s one critique I could never get behind in the realm of book-to-film adaptation it’s the kind I hear a great deal surrounding the transition of Where the Wild Things Are from beloved children’s classic to film property. Many found it odd, confounding even, that a 20-page book with scarcely any prose and mostly illustrations would be suitable for film treatment. I personally like the possibilities of expansion over contraction more times than not.
Stephen King when discussing rewriting in On Writing confesses to being more of a putter-inner than a taker-outer, which is to say he’d love to expand on a narrative rather than omit any time. The wisdom to know when to edit as opposed to over-embroider makes a skilled writer. However, a literal adaptation of something as sparse as Alexander… would not only be un-artful, but also far too short for a feature film. Therefore, expansion is necessary.
Furthermore, taking a short story and making it a feature is far less embellishment than taking a single volume and making it two or three films. Therefore, in the over-analytical film news cycle of today it’s a far less worrisome leap.
In fact, expanding on the book diminishes the over-analytical complaint that Alexander is whiny. By turning the film into a narrative with many prongs wherein everyone has a calamitous day it allows the protagonist to come to a realization on his own with minimal wallowing in self-pity and maximizing comedic moments.
However, it is another successful adaptation of a children’s tale that is well-liked in the Disney realm. The only truly bothersome moments are the very Disney realm of it all, which is double-edged sword. For example, the Peter Pan musical the daughter rehearses are with songs from the film not the musical; and the principal’s reference to Wreck-It Ralph seem somewhat extraneous. It would also be a bit odd if this family was being created in a supposedly real world that pretended Disney was not a thing. Furthermore, the viral sensation that Dick Van Dyke is involved in creating is a highlight of the film for sure.
A completely appreciated wrinkle was building in a fully healthy obsession for Alexander that rounds out his character (his obsession with all things Australian). It’s happy accident that Ed Oxenbould is also Australian, but it adds good dimension, sets up a great gag and introduces cool animals – and once again shows off the knack actors of all ages have adapting to American dialects.
Ultimately, the warmth and humor of the tale and the talent of the cast win out and deliver on the promise of a well-thought out expansive adaptation.