Directed by Spike Jonze
Where the Wild Things Are
Who knew that the classic book “Where the Wild Things Are” would be so scary to kids? My wife and I read it to all of them and now they won’t read it to their own children because it’s too scary. What’s going on here? And then Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers put together a whole screenplay (and novelization) of the book, taking it out of Max’s room and putting it and him overseas and onto the shores of Australia. Do I not understand the power of children’s tales? Particularly one by a man who never had children of his own? Sure Maurice Sendak is a genius, but if I love him blindly what does that make me? Probably just another film critic who likes to vent. Jones and Eggers have made fascinating changes, so much so that the film is completely unlike the book. First they’ve made Max (a wonderful newcomer named Max Records) nine years old instead of 5 or 6. For the film nine is exactly the right age for the boy to whom all manner of things will happen.
But let me be clear: The fact is that the movie of “Where the Wild Things Are” is both sad and scary, which is what the book is not – to me, any way -- and although the film is not quite what we parents expected – that is, you will cry as you watch it -- it is still well worth seeing – but please, not with your two-year-old. Where the book located everything that happened in Max’s room – when he wore his wolf suit and was sent upstairs because he had ‘caused mischief of one kind and another,’ first a jungle grew there, then he sailed in a ship ‘almost over a year’ until he got to where the wild things were. And then he silenced them and they danced their great rumpus, then they made him their king, then they didn’t want to let him go, but he knew that he wanted to be back home, and he was, ‘ and his dinner was still hot.’ The end.
But the film is different; we see Max’s life in greater detail than the book does, where the only time we hear about his mother is when she sends him to bed without his supper. But in the film, he has a whole family; though no father, including an older sister, whom he wishes he could make friends with, in the only way he knows, which is to start a snowball fight with her and her friends – a bad idea. And then he sees his divorced mother (Catherine Keener) nuzzling on the living room sofa with her boyfriend. No wonder he throws a tantrum. So he runs away down the street, and unlike the book, he finds a sailboat and sails away into the ocean until he gets to the land of the Wild Things.
And the Wild Things are a reflection of human life; there are good friends, small hatreds, little injustices, cliques, in a word all the things that make up human life and society. One of the wild things – Carol, voiced in a very smart switch by a male -- James Gandolfini – seems to be the center of the group. At first the group welcomes Max, and even makes him their king; but the tensions among them slowly come out and Max, who unlike the book has different relationships with each of them, cannot find a way to paper over those differences, so he does the very smart thing by getting back in his boat and sailing home.
So I was unexpectedly impressed with the way in which Jonze and Eggers took a classic that was complete in itself and made a whole new film out of it. And in spite of my suspicions that they would do a bad job by simply showing an animated version of the book, the “Wild Things” they have come up with are legitimate, fascinating creatures – as are the humans in the film – and completely convincing. Older children and adults should find the film well worth while.