Written by Pollo Misterioso
It was over forty years ago that Maurice Sendak’s story of a rambunctious child named Max visited the land of the Wild Things. Over four decades, this story has been brought to the bedrooms of children everywhere and now director Spike Jonze has brought it to the silver screen. Staying true to the book, Where the Wild Things Are beautifully captures what it means to be a child, but it may not be as universally fulfilling as the children’s book.
This is the first time that director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers have partnered together. Eggers is an interesting choice, being that he is new to screenwriting but is a famous novelist and the founder of the publishing house McSweeney’s. Together they took on the difficult task of making a feature-length film from a loved, simple story. Credit must be given to Eggers for staying true to the book, only expanding on the ideas that were given. But herein lies the problem; the book does not give much text to work with. Within the world of the children’s story it is simple and compelling for both children and parents but the film takes on the larger theme leaving it only for the adults to understand.
Max is introduced as a creative and emotional child. He can make up stories on the spot but cries when things do not go his way. It is when his mother, played by the lovely Katherine Keener, scolds him that he lashes out by biting her and then running away. After running through a forest, he comes to a boat that he boards and sets sail to anywhere. He arrives at the land of the Wild Things and watches as Carol, one of the beasts, breaks houses in rage. To avoid being eaten, Max tells them that he is a king and they make him king of the Wild Things. The fun begins as they sleep in piles together and throw dirt clods at one another. But when Max is unable to fix all the problems of the Wild Things, it is discovered that he is not a king and he needs to return to his mother.
There are six Wild Things, all with their own personality that grow on you slowly, like a good friend. Carol (James Gandolfini) takes Max under his wing because he believes that Max can keep away the sadness and loneliness that has settled on the Wild Things. Carol has the idea of building a place where everyone is happy and Max decides that they should build it. But the different personalities of the Wild Things create friction within the group. Judith (Catherine O’Hara) is always negative and KW (Lauren Ambrose) does not want to be a part of the arguing any longer. The imperfections of the group start to chip away at their idea of happiness.
But this is a film about being a child and so often children do not know how to handle or even describe the emotions that they are feeling. In the beginning of the film, Max experiences such an emotional rage that he storms in his sister’s room and destroys a piece of artwork he made for her, then sadly reflects on what he had just done. Much like Carol, who in rage tears down houses and destroys his handmade city. He is often so overwhelmed by these feelings that he cries, unable to understand why he cannot get what he wants.
Visually, Where the Wild Things captures the awesomeness that is a child’s imagination. Everything that they play with and the spaces that they inhabit are all very natural and tactile, always handling sticks, dirt and stones. The island itself has different mediums of nature including forest, desert and mountains that make it seem so large, but never dangerous. The Wild Things provide the contrast. They stand out on the island so much, always filmed within a large landscape, making the natural seem unnatural and special.
There is nothing to resolve in Where the Wild Things Are because the conflict is simply growing up. You cannot always get what you want, or more importantly do we really want that? As a child there is always a sense of adventure and new experiences bring up new emotions that one must react to. Unfortunately, it is not always as playful and lighthearted as we would like it to be.
Where the Wild Things Are reminisces on growing up and where the fine line of playful childhood blurs with harsh reactionary emotions. When the beasts don’t know how to describe something, or they cannot put it into words they howl. Perhaps we should take a cue from them and not reflect too much on the film, but simply enjoy it and howl because we can.