Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers took a big risk in attempting to adapting Where the Wild Things Are, a classic picture book made up of only ten or so sentences, into a feature-length film. That's like trying to make a quarter tank of gas get you from Los Angeles to Vegas. Somehow (depending on who you ask) they pulled it off. So it made me wonder, what else can they grab from our collective childhood? Childrens' literature is, among many other things, different from adult literature because it's allowed to go weird places without being pigeonholed into a genre like “Magical Realism.” Fittingly enough, Spike Jonze loves to mess with the weird, so why not do so by adapting more kiddie classics?
The Story of Ferdinand
Great childrens' literature is a reflection of the society it's written in, and The Story of Ferdinand was controversial in its time for being exactly that. Ferdinand is a pacifist story, about a bull that doesn't want to fight and instead wants to sit under a tree and smell flowers, written just before the Spanish Civil War. Now imagine this: Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers teaming up to write film a highly symbolic children's story about American intervention. Spike could pull it off with the subtlety he has behind the camera, and if anyone has read Eggers' two latest books, What is the What and Zeitoun, they know he can most certainly pull off commenting on social catastrophes in a personal and sincere manner. This would be great material for any artist but especially artists of these guys' caliber.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Now here's a piece of work for Spike and Dave. There's a comforting mother. There's tension between siblings. And there's an interesting protagonist by the name of Alexander being pummeled by the worst day of his life. He has dreams to move to Australia where he imagines a better life, a life without worry. But where do these feelings come from? Eggers could find out. He could use flashbacks and dream sequences to show a normal day in the life of Alex, let us see what he imagines life would be like in Australia. Spike knows camera gimmicks, and these would definitely come in handy here. Maybe he could film it documentary-style, as if we're watching all of this happen to Alex from afar? The possibilities are endless.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School
Louis Sachar did some weird things with his Wayside School series about a school that accidentally got built up rather than horizontally and in turn, became the home of a ton of very odd teachers, students, and occurrences. There's Mrs. Gorf, the evil teacher who can turn kids into apples and ends up getting turned into one herself. There's Mrs. Jewls, the nice teacher at Wayside who replaces Mrs. Gorf and sees the kids as monkeys (literally). There's Calvin, who has to take a nonexistent not to a teacher that doesn't exist. I could go on and on about all the juicy things that Spike could use his splendid abilities on. Just the school alone would be amazing to see on screen, not necessarily a 30 story building as much as a 30 room school flipped on its side. Eggers could find meaning in the fact the janitor, Louis, is the guy that tells these stories. Is he hallucinating? Are the kids creating this world as an escape?
Green Eggs and Ham
Dr. Seuss is the king. And while his books don't always have the subtlety and depth of a book like The Story of Ferdinand, he never fails to mess around with odd ideas, odd word structures and odd worlds. Unfortunately, his work has yet to get a worthy adaptation. Horton Hears a Who was great and all, but there was still something missing. Imagine Spike Jonze having a go at creating the Who characters from Seuss' work. And what better place to go than Green Eggs and Ham, a classic story about stubbornness, discovery, and a persistent character named Sam I Am. Hell, maybe it could be a stalker movie or a horror flick about a Who monster haunting the dreams of a guy who hates moldy, weird looking food. Or Dave Eggers could mine the mind of the mulish character, delve into his past, explore his hatred for green eggs and ham. All set to a soundtrack by The Mountain Goats.
The Stinky Cheese Man
Here's an idea. How about Spike Jonze pulling off a movie of vignettes, vignettes that offer alternative views of old fairy tales and Mother Goose stories? The Stinky Cheese Man could help him with that. Not only is the book funny but Lane Smith's illustrations create a very richly textured world to complement Jon Scieszka's writing. Moreover, the book is very self-conscious and experiment. Remember a Spike Jonze movie called Adaptation. This could totally be the kids' version. And who better to adapt the words of Jon Scieszka than Dave Eggers, whose memoir was a self-conscious experiment that questioned everything about what a nonfiction book should and could be? And if all that isn't enough, the book has a story about an ugly duckling that never becomes a beautiful swan. He's just ugly. Take that, happy ending.
For those who don't know, David Wiesner is a 3-time Caldecott winning illustrator whose books often tell their stories through pictures and absolutely no words. Sector 7, a story about a boy who becomes friends with a cloud and is taken to the cloud depot, was made in this manner. What better starting point for two abstract artists like Eggers and Jonze? Jonze gets to work with these amazing, distinct images of beautiful clouds, a colorful depot, and a curious boy watching in wonder. Eggers gets to build a story from this odd material that, even without words, becomes very touching and sincere. In the story, the young clouds are disgruntled about their shape and it's the job of the boy to come up with new cloud shapes. Yet, the adult managers of the depot aren't happy with these changes. Oh man, doesn't this sound like a classic already?
Love You Forever
There aren't enough great movies that cover the span of a characters' life. These types of movies tend to be melodramatic and always end the same way: someone dying and people being bummed. Love You Forever, if handled sloppily, could easily turn into one of those movies. But in the right hands, this could be an Oscar contender. The story follows the life of a boy, from his birth to the birth of his little daughter, as well as his mother and her effect on him. Eggers has written plenty about his family (his parents both died within six months of each other when he was in his early 20s). And Jonze is great with makeup design. All he would need are great actors to play the mom (ahem, Amy Adams) and the son (at all ages). This would be a mother-son story like no other, and I'm more than eager to see it happen.
The Giving Tree
If Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers really have any intention of doing another kids' book together, it has to be The Giving Tree. Not many books come close to matching the influence and cultural impact that Where the Wild Things Are has had on children's literature; The Giving Tree is up there though. It tells the simple story of a man and a tree. The man takes and takes and takes from the tree, and the tree, lovingly and innocently, keeps giving, to the point that the tree eventually becomes only a stump, and the man is left to mourn it. The thing with this is, where could Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers take it? Where could they expand the story? How could they make it at least 80 minutes? Perhaps a story as classic as this one is best left unadapted, or even better, maybe they could make it into a short film. 20 minutes. DVD Special Feature for Where the Wild Things Are. Get on it, guys.