I went into Where The Wild Things Are with high hopes after watching the trailer numerous times and hearing from a lot of people that the book, written by Maurice Sendak and published in 1963, was one of their favourite childhood stories.
Also, the movie was directed by Spike Jonze, who worked with writer Charlie Kaufman on two of my favourite movies of all time, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Besides that, Jonze mainly directs music videos and TV commercials, for which he has received numerous awards.
I have only the vaguest recollection of reading the book when I was young, and as such, went into the movie hardly knowing anything about the plotline or the characters, which was probably a good thing as the original children’s book was only 48 pages long and thus had to be expanded and changed considerably to make up the 100-odd minute screenplay.
Sadly, I found the movie didn’t live up to my expectations. The feeling I got from watching the trailer (which features the epic Arcade Fire song ‘Wake Up’) was that this was a deep and significant piece of filmmaking that was guaranteed to pull at the heartstrings and was loaded with meaning and profundity.
The actual experience of watching the film was very far from being meaningful or profound and I left the cinema feeling like I’d missed something, some kind of vital clue to help unlock this movie for me, because I found it disjointed and largely inaccessible.
Where The Wild Things Are tells the story of Max (played by Max Records), a troubled young boy who’s parents have divorced and who lives with his mother and sister, both of whom he has a difficult relationship with. After a huge fight erupts with his mother one night, during which Max dons his wolf suit and bites her, he ends up running away from home and finding a small boat, which he sails to a distant land, inhabited by the large, oafish Wild Things of the story’s title.
At first, the Wild Things want to eat Max and in a scene that takes a nightmarish turn, they surround him and are on the verge of devouring him when he convinces them that he has magical powers and can explode their heads at will. They then decide to make him their king after which he leads the Wild Things on a ‘rumpus’ through the woods that consists of them smashing trees and rocks, tackling one another and laughing all the while.
Yeah, just wait, it gets weirder.
After the rumpus, the Wild Things all collapse in a huge pile on top of one another and go to sleep, happy and content with their new king, who was sworn in on the condition that he would keep all sadness away forever.
The next day Max goes on a tour of the Wild Thing’s island with Carol (the Wild Thing in all the movie posters, voiced by James Gandolfini). Max is shown a model of the island that Carol has built in a secret cave where Carol likes to be alone. This inspires Max to command the Wild Things to build a massive fort, something that brings them all together as they unite toward a common purpose.
However, before the fort can be completed, Carol’s ‘love interest’ KW brings her friends Bob and Terry (who are owls) to the fort which causes Carol to become angry and overwhelmed with jealousy.
Without explaining the entire plot, let’s just say that relations degenerate even further from this point and eventually force Max to board his tiny ship again and leave the island. Back at home, he finds his mother waiting up for him with his supper, which he eats ravenously while his mother falls asleep watching him with a happy smile on her face.
My biggest problem with Where The Wild Things Are is the dialogue in the movie. The Wild Things all speak like children, which is understandable as the implication throughout is that the island Max has discovered is based purely on his imagination, however it makes all of the interactions between the characters in the movie really bizarre to the point where you’re never sure what to take seriously or what to dismiss as inconsequential banter.
This becomes a problem when the story approaches its major turning points because for me, none of them felt very significant. For example, Max decides to initiate a big ‘dirt clod war’ in an effort to bring the Wild Things together and encourage them to have fun, which ends in even more in-fighting when KW accidently steps on Carol’s head.
Watching the scene unfold all I thought was, ‘OK, so she stepped on his head and now he’s furious. Huh. Is this supposed to be important?’
At this point I can almost hear you all shouting ‘But it’s supposed to be a kid’s movie! Stop analysing it like an adult!’ to which I have only the following to say, the story of Where The Wild Things Are that Spike Jonze tells is far too laden with sadness, loneliness and melancholy to appeal to most children, trust me, most of the kids in the audience looked like they were about to fall asleep.
I strongly suspect that Where The Wild Things Are is a film that takes on a much greater significance the second time you watch it, or at least I hope so, because the first time I confess that I think I missed the point entirely.
Max Records’ acting can’t be faulted however and damn! That kid’s gonna grow up to be some kind of tri-athlete – he runs everywhere in the movie and is filled with a kind of wild energy that suits the film’s theme well.
All in all, I would recommend watching this film because it’s so different from other films in its genre, but definitely don’t shell out your hard earned bucks to go and see it at the movies because honestly, I don’t think it’s worth it. Oh, and the awesome Arcade Fire song in the trailer? It’s not in the movie, or even the movie soundtrack. Fail.
Final Verdict: 6/10