For many adults, the highest compliment you can pay a children's book is that it's "not really a children's book." A few obvious examples: Lewis Carroll's freaky "Alice" novels, Kenneth Grahame's enervated "The Wind in the Willows" and Maurice Sendak's short but intense "Where the Wild Things Are," now a live-action film directed by Spike Jonze, who co-wrote with novelist Dave Eggers.

Sendak's book deals directly with a difficult subject, the rage of children, and Jonze's film captures this beautifully during its opening scenes. Young Max (played by Max Records, of "The Brothers Bloom") is a lonely, imaginative boy whose single mother (Catherine Keener) has little time to spare. Negative attention being better than none, Max screams, fights and finally bites, then runs away from home.

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What he finds is an island of enormous monsters (outfitted by Jim Henson's Creature Shop) who reflect aspects of Max himself: quiet Douglas (Chris Cooper), kindly Ira (Forest Whitaker), crabby Judith (an excellent Catherine O'Hara), overlooked Alexander (Paul Dano), a mother figure named KW (Lauren Ambrose) and hulking Carol (James Gandolfini), whose combination of anger and sensitivity strikes an obvious chord with Max.

Jonze and Eggers have a firm grasp on the way a child's joy can quickly turn to tears, but they squeeze hard and can't let go. The film is essentially a parade of negative emotions - sorrow, anger, jealousy, regret. And the choppy dialogue, at times so cryptic that it borders on Beckett, keeps the Wild Things from becoming full-fledged characters.

"Where the Wild Things Are" clearly wants to be a children's movie that isn't really a children's movie, and it succeeds. That's great news - if you're an adult.