Maurice Sendak’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” has remained a classic in children’s bookshelves since its publication in the 1960s. Yet, when Oscar-nominated director Spike Jonze (“Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich”) grabbed a hold of the beloved story, this children’s book transformed into a dark, introspective film that is made less for children and more for the child buried inside all of us.
The opening of the film features spastic, shaky camera movements of Max (Max Records) behaving rambunctiously and full of energy. He tackles the family dog. He eats snow. He acts like how a 9-year-old would act when he only has his imagination to keep him company.
A snowball fight between Max and his older sister’s friends goes awry when they smash his makeshift igloo with Max still inside. It’s not the fact that his igloo was destroyed that bothered Max, but that his sister didn’t care to help him. She merely watched from a distance – disinterested. Feeling neglected, he trashes his sister’s room in retaliation.
A wolf-suited Max later upsets his single mother (Catherine Keener) while on a date with her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo), when he screams from atop the kitchen counter, “Feed me, woman!” Further complicating matters during the confrontation with his mother, he runs away from home. The wild rumpus would soon begin.
Max finds himself in a distant land far away from reality – in his own mind. This land is populated by the wild things. Among them are seemingly bi-polar Carol (James Gandolfini, “The Sopranos”), insecure and attention-seeking Alexander (Paul Dano, “Little Miss Sunshine”), carefree KW (Lauren Ambrose, “That 70’s Show”), rational, calm Douglas (Chris Cooper), and irritable Judith and her unbothered husband, Ira.
After convincing the wild things that he wields dangerous power, the creatures proclaim Max their king. One character, in an unexpected moment, asks Max, “Will you keep out all the sadness?” It’s a touching moment that allows for an instant emotional connection to these characters. Thanks to strong performances and amazing CGI advancements, they are just as lifelike as Max. It’s as simple as when they laugh, you laugh. When they feel sad, you feel sad. Max promises to keep the sadness out with a sadness shield. If only it were that easy.
The wild rumpus of epic proportions continues with intermittent howling, dirt clod fights, a building of an enormous fort and even an occasional dismemberment, all set to acoustic, innocent-sounding songs provided by Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and the Kids.
The film’s strength lies in the relationships of the characters and the resulting complexities and complications of life. These creatures are much more than just a bunch of wild things. It’s a raw, bittersweet and unintentionally funny film that leaves you feeling a little more reflective than most other PG-rated movies.
Where are the wild things exactly? It’s not a place. It’s right here – in the place that goes thump-thump. It’s inside all of us.