Raising children in this modern world where Attention Deficit Disorder diagnoses and Ritalin prescriptions seem to be the only answer for hyperactive kids, it’s hard to keep in mind the complexities that make up our children and their personalities. When our kids are acting out it’s difficult for us not to settle for just dealing with the crying or yelling rather than with the real problem or problems that may be buried deep down. Where the Wild Things Are is less a kids' movie than a how-to guide for parents who are trying to understand their rambunctious kids.
Max appears, on the outside, to be a deeply troubled child. At one point he’s as happy as he’s ever been, having a snowball fight with some neighborhood kids, but then he becomes uncontrollable when one of those kids wrecks his homemade igloo. In the kid world there’s a fine line between fun and tears, that much is for sure.
When Max sees that his Mom would rather spend time with her date than see his newly made fort in his room, he flies into a rage. He bites her, then flees out of the house, down the street, into a boat, across what seems like an ocean, and then to an island where he finds a number of strange monsters. Where reality ends and Max’s imagination begins is never clearly defined and it doesn’t have to be. Since when do children separate fantasy from reality? To them it’s all the same thing, until they grow older and lose that part of their imaginations.
Each one of the monsters Max meets embodies a certain part of Max’s personality. Carol (James Gandolfini) is the wild one of the bunch. He’s easily offended and doesn’t understand anything but raw emotion. He easily accepts Max as the king of the group, but his mistrust for Max soon grows. Alexander (Paul Dano), who has a goat-shaped head, is constantly insecure with himself. Judith (Catherine O’Hara), who has a sharp horn at the end of her nose, is mean and frequently picks on people. There are half a dozen other creatures too, each embodying some feeling or personality trait of Max's. The question is, how do you make them all work together?
Spike Jonze creates a masterful imaginative world. His combination of Jim Henson-like puppets and CGI faces for them works splendidly to create a realistic depiction of the outlandish creatures. Jonze, however, suffers from an inability to leave his music video directing style at the door. Some of the chase scenes and montages feel more like a music video than a feature film, with a little too much shaky-cam here and there. At times the soundtrack is deafening, which will most likely annoy some of the littler ones.
One thing that needs to be made very clear about this film is that parents shouldn’t expect to be taking their kids to a light-hearted romp. This is a deep, often dark film. I wouldn’t recommend it for children younger than ten. Older children will be able to discuss with their parents the themes presented in the film. It’s also a learning tool for parents. Sometimes we may forget how complex the personalities of our children really are. This film reminds us that children have layers of emotions, just like everyone else. It’s important to recognize that.