For whatever reason, Vice Magazine is totally in bed with director Spike Jonze, and last night they invited some people to an advance screening of Where the Wild Things Are. Before it started, we told a friend that we'd heard the film was "unwatchable" and, afterward, we heard a bewildered audience member gripe, "What the hell did I just watch?" But earlier our friend had declared, "I have faith in Spike Jonze," and he was absolutely right. We never doubted you Spike, and those suits at Warner Bros. can go play in traffic.

Jonze wrapped his last feature film, Adaptation, back in 2002, and before that he delivered the idiosyncratic gem Being John Malkovich. For at least the last six years he's been toiling on adapting Where the Wild Things Are, the spellbinding Maurice Sendak book that's seemingly impossible to dramatize on film; there's not much in the way of narrative or dialogue, and the movie it's inspired hardly adheres to the three act Hollywood formula. And that's a good thing, because it could have been so easily ruined.

Author Dave Eggers collaborated with Jonze on the screenplay, and the dialogue is at turns hilarious and achingly tender. The wild things are portrayed vocally by an ensemble of top shelf actors, led by James Gandolfini and Lauren Ambrose, and the performances are surprisingly naturalistic for such a fantastic conceit. Part of what makes the film fascinating is the way the human voices counterbalance the wild things' lumbering physicality; the Hollywood machine would have preferred to digitally create them with soulless CG, but Jonze knows better than that, and the handcrafted quality of his film is delicately enhanced with CG only when necessary, mostly to make the monsters' faces articulate.

But back to the criticisms cited earlier. Audience members who walk into the movie unaware of the book's skimpy narrative are excused for feeling a little let down. But is there anyone who didn't fall for Where the Wild Things Are as a child? The book casts a hell of a spell, and Jonze and Eggers miraculously succeed in recreating its elusive essence. Let's put it this way: This is a movie that makes you want to call your mother, and that's not something you can say about most studio pictures. Not even Dr. Dolittle 2.

Ultimately, Where the Wild Things Are stays interesting, despite its subdued narrative arc, because it's an unabashedly heartfelt meditation on the primal emotions that overwhelm us in childhood. It floats along on the strength of its raw sincerity and sharp wits, and if at times it verges on sentimentality, the sentiment is not unearned. It's rare for a big-budget movie to dare to be this melancholy without any bullshit, cloying contrivances.

Because of Eggers's involvement, and because the trailer featured a boy and furry animals running around to the strains of Arcade Fire (a song that, oddly, is not in the film) some, ourselves included, expected this to be a little too twee-rrific. You can expect that word to pop up again in reviews when the movie's released on October 16th. But, defying expectations, it's not affectedly precious—it's an exuberant, proudly earnest, and sweet but not saccharine tribute to the feral forces inside people. But don't take our word for it; Chicagoist loved it too, and their post-screening Q&A with Jonze is good for a chuckle.

(For more, Vice asked 24 of artists to tap into their earliest memories of how Maurice Sendak's book affected their youth and interpret these recollections via pen, pencil, and brush; check out the work here. And Jonze's production designer K.K. Barrett talks about the film in this video.)