MOVIE REVIEW: Where the Wild Things Are – Let the Wild Rumpus Begin!

Spike Jonez’s Where the Wild Things Are does what was thought to be impossible: it turns a forty page book with barely ten sentences [fifty-nine words] into a lovely, scary, fun film. Maurice Sendak’s children’s book treats children as though they are intelligent, perceptive and enjoy a good scare. He doesn’t underestimate kids – and neither does Spike Jonez.

Where The Wild Things Are

The story – Max gets sent to bed without dinner and imagines himself journeying to a land of fierce creatures who make him their king – is hardly one that should support a one hundred minute movie. Jonez, and co-writer Dave Eggers, make a few additions – mostly a brief look at Max’s life, where we see how even occasional moments of fun turn sour on him.

Max [Max Records] is a wild thing – as are all children, before most of them are turned into mild things as adults – even before he makes his epic journey. Instead of going to his room, as in the book, Max – in his wolf costume replete with wolf-eared hood, whiskers and tail – dashes out of the house and runs until he comes to the river, where a boat sits as if awaiting his arrival.

After he arrives in the strange land of the Wild Things, he persuades the gigantic creatures there that he’s a king and promises to always make them happy. All the creatures from the book are here – bodies by Henson’s Creature Shop and facial movements by CG – Carol [voiced by James Gandolfini], given to impulsive acts of destruction; Douglas [Chris Cooper], the eagle-like wise man of the group; Judith [Catherine O’Hara], the group’s pessimist; Ira [Forrest Whitaker], melancholy and laconic; K.W. [Lauren Ambrose], the rebellious one who has friends outside the group, and Alexander [Paul Dano], barely taller than Max, and to whom no one pays any attention.

Alas, just like in real life, his fun eventually turns sour – as though his imagination, as wild and unfettered as it is – can’t quite overcome his real life.

What makes Where the Wild Things work, for me at least, is that it’s not a parable or fable. Sendak’s book accepted that kids are kids – not mini-adults – and that they are wild and, for a time, untamed. They love adventure and a good scare. They grow at their own pace – no two alike. Jonez’s film does the same – there are no overt morals; Max doesn’t act out because his mom [Catherine Keener] has a new boyfriend [Mark Ruffalo]. No, Max is just a kid. A real kid with an untamed side and a big imagination.

Where the Wild Things Are is a good, occasionally scary film that captures Sendak’s attitude perfectly. It may be Jonez’s masterpiece. Let the wild rumpus begin, indeed!

Final Grade: A+

9 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW: Where the Wild Things Are – Let the Wild Rumpus Begin!”

  1. i didn't like the movie at all. i've never read the book, and maybe that's why i was so confused during the entire movie. nothing made sense, and the narrative was not helping me out at all.

  2. one of the best movies iv ever seen. you have to watch it with child's eyes. the last scene could not have been any more perfect. spike captured a child's heart for all of us to see. incredible.

  3. R U kidding me? On Sooo many levels–not appropriatefor kids. (The ones in the theater around me were bored or confused). It came across to me like someone straight out of film school trying too hard to be "deep" and artistic with symbolism. What was the whole "child birth" symbolism & why in the heck does it belong in Sendak"s KID movie? Moral? Max runs away after a tantrum, then returns to dinner and a big slice of cake (very different to book)–GREAT values. Oh! The bird with the twig arm–R U kidding me? It was 2 hours of my life I'll never get back!

    1. I 100% agree…. I had 4 kids with me a 8, 10, and two 12 year old and the 8 and 10 got scared and the 12 year olds even said it was to dark. Where is the Bedroom that turns into a Jungle….. it could have been an fun fantasy kind of movie. It was very dissapointing.

  4. This has got to be one of the worst films for children that I have ever seen. It did hold my children's attention only because they were unsure of what might happen next. What the kids got out of it…hum…to totally disrespect their parents – to run away with the expectation to be greeted back home with chocolate cake – to have no respect for anyone's personnal property – to destroy everything in sight – to steal (theboat) and finally that it is ok to be an all around spoiled brat. I will not be recommending this movie to anyone and I had such high hopes for it.

    1. So Cinderella taught them to steal from their siblings to make a dress and Snow White taught them that one young woman living with 7 men is ok as long as she cooks and cleans for them, right? Max is escaping a frustrating accumulation of emotions (missing his father, adjusting to mom's new boyfriend, feeling a bit neglected by his mom and teenage sister) and eventually begins processing them during his imaginary trip, at the end of which he realizes how much his family cares for him. Great opportunity to discuss anger management and coping mechanisms with your children if you ask me…

  5. i loved this movie. it was beautifully filmed and had many simply captured moments of joy and of sadness. To me this whole film was about Max learning one of the golden rules of life that your parents are not any more extraordinary than the rest of us, they are just real people. Not sure this is a top pick of mine for my 4 and 7 year old but they sat through it and i thought it was brilliant. Great sound track too.

  6. I just went with 3 kids – 7 – 9 – and 9.
    I fell asleep, was awakened by my 7 yr old who wanted to leave very early. Told the other two we would be in lobby playing video games. The girls showed up in 10 minutes.
    I loved the book. The movie was horrid.

  7. it wasn't the book. it wasn't the fun. You can say this was the perfect movie in the world, but- see this, Were you there or even awake to see where douglas' arm get's ripped off by carol? Did you see K.W. hit the bird who were her friends? i was really disappointed….. when you see a movie, you want to say," I love it! i want to see it again!" but it was so deep it brought me down, on top of how boring it was it almost made me cry on how sad it was. if you ask me, i would say:

    Best book.

    Bad Movie. worst movie. Plain old Horrid.

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