Next to the table of contents in the new book Heads On and Then We Shoot: The Making of Where the Wild Things Are, there's a list of songs that Spike Jonze says were influential and inspirational in the making of his adaptation of Maurice Sendak's children's classic. Among them are plenty of melancholy mood pieces, including The Smiths' "Cemetry Gates," "Maps" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, whose lead singer composed original tunes for the film, and perhaps most obviously, Arcade Fire's "Wake Up," which ultimately appeared in Wild Things' theatrical trailer. But in my opinion, the most telling track included on that list was Langley Schools Music Project's devastating cover of The Beach Boys "God Only Knows" sung by a chorus of Canadian schoolchildren in the late 1970s, it captures the deeper sentiment of desperation and loneliness in Brian Wilson's lyrics even as it reverberates with the naïve, wholesome enthusiasm of voices unfamiliar with real heartbreak.
In the best possible way, Jonze's film also harnesses that contradiction: it feels like a grown-up story told by kids, where all of its emotional weight is buried in the story or otherwise ignored because nobody seems to know better than to emphasize it. Bereft of nostalgia, much less a cinematic style that lends itself easily to conventional spectacle, Spike Jonze brings Where the Wild Things Are to life in a way that no one could have possibly expected, but thankfully in one better than they could have ever imagined.