is a movie based on the classic children’s picture book of the same name by Maurice Sendak.
The book is short, running only 338 words, and tells the story of a young boy named Max with an overactive imagination who loves being wild and adventurous.
One night he goes too far and his mother sends him to his room with no dinner. There he allows his imagination to roam free, and imagines he travels by boat to a far off island where he meets wild things who make him their king. He eventually misses his mother and travels back to his room, where he finds dinner waiting.
The movie is a bit different. While it does have the boisterous young boy Max, played by Max Records and his frazzled mother played by Catherine Keener, his problems seem to run deeper than just a young boy being too rambunctious. His sporadic mood swings from happiness to sadness to fury make it appear that he needs some real therapy. These erratic mood shifts most likely spring from feelings of neglect and resentment he feels toward his mother and sister, who don’t really pay much attention to him.
His mother is divorced and single while his sister is indifferent to him. Max’s struggles early in the movie with both of these characters make it clear that this is not a light-hearted children’s movie, like most of the previews portrayed. Instead it is one full of childhood angst.
To escape from his problems at home, Max sails away to an island of monsters. These wild things themselves also have a lot of issues. Unlike in the book, where they are simply wild creatures, in Spike Jonze’s adaptation they come off as whiny, with their own personal issues and conflicts amongst each other. They are constantly fighting, and it gets tiresome as the movie goes on.
Max is able to convince the monsters to make him king instead of consuming him. They look to him as someone who can bring happiness to them, and are upset when he can’t. Max grows tired of trying to control them and misses his mother, so he journeys back home.
While some parts are a bit slow because of tedious conflicts and continuous outbursts of fighting, it is interesting to note how this alternate universe seems to parallel Max’s world at home. The monsters enjoy doing the same things he does for fun, on a much larger scale.
He enjoys building forts and having snowball fights, and on the island they all decide to build a huge fort together and also have mud-clod fights.
Some of their relationships also mirror his at home, such as the character of KW, voiced by Lauren Ambrose, who is distancing herself from the group of wild things in favor of new friends she has made, much like his own sister back at home.
Additionally, each wild thing seems to represent a part of Max’s own personality, with Carol, voiced by James Gandolfini, being Max’s own basic self without any cultural restraints.
What makes up for this movie’s slow depressing moments are its wonderful cinematography and scenery, as well as the few moments of complete elation. There are several moments where he is having so much fun that you can’t help but smile, such as when he is throwing snowballs at his sister and her friends, or when he and the wild things are running wildly through the woods.
Unfortunately, they are too quickly followed by moments of unhappiness and discord. Another wonderful aspect of this movie is the amazing soundtrack. All of the songs were carefully chosen by Jones to accurately convey the whimsical nature of childhood.
Overall, this movie does a decent job of bringing Maurice Sendak’s classic to life. The acting, cinematography and soundtrack are all commendable. Jonze is able to accurately portray what childhood is, from the quick emotions to tantrums to imagination.
Despite the marketing campaign aimed towards young audiences, this movie is undeniably more of an adult movie than a children’s movie. Adults will be able to use it as a means to reflect on their own childhoods, whereas children will just be bored in its depressing parts and scared in the more frightening parts.
What bogs this movie down are its tedious conflicts and long periods of staring that directors often add to deepen the effect of an emotional scene, but in the case of this movie, it just makes it more dull.