Like a whole lotta people I read “Where The Wild Things Are“. It was a staple in my childhood library. The story was pretty simple but the concept of a boy escaping to a fantasy island (no Ricardo Montalban wasn’t there) inhabited by big and cool looking beasties was the stuff of kiddie dreams. Now Spike Jonze and his crew have taken it upon themselves to expand the illustrated little book into a full-length feature with backstories, additional characters and a definite moral at the core.
Max (Max Records) longs for the attention of his older sister, Claire (Pepita Emmerichs), but she’s too busy with her own friends to play make-believe with her kid bro. Max’s mother (Catherine Keener) tries to give her son the attention he craves but between work and her longings for a personal life she can only spare so much time. Fed up with feeling ignored Max finds a boat and travels to a mysterious island. Who lives on this island? Big shaggy monsters, that’s who. Max is able to convince the beasts that he is not only inedible but also worthy to be their king. The monsters follow “King Max” as he leads them to fun times and wild rumpus-es. No rules, no supervision and no vegetables. It’s a great set-up but y’know that old adage about too much of a good thing can be bad for you? Well, Max is going to learn that the hard way.
The Goat Just Gets No Respect: Max (Max Records) and Alexander (Paul Dano, voice)
The movie follows the book pretty closely. Even the book ending is essentially kept intact with a slight tweak that fits better with the screen version. The film version of “Where The Wild Things Are” was well done. It’s not sappy or corny or devoid of intellectual stimulation.
Okay, in “regular people speak”, Where The Wild Things Are was like an independent film for kids. It was edgy and quirky and had a really nifty soundtrack. It delivers the moral about how important it is for kids to learn self control without being too preachy but there’s more to it the plot than that.
The book version of Max was simplistic. He was a kid, he was bored, he goes to an island, he hangs with monsters and then he goes back home. In the film, Max is alone or at least he feels alone. His older sister has got her posse of hip and older friends. Mom is cool but she is a working woman and has a boyfriend that makes her feel special in that way only boyfriends can. Max is still at that age where he wants to build blanket forts and have snowball fights. He acts out because he feels unnoticed and behaving like a rabies-inflicted hyena seems the most effective way to get his people to look at him. The island is his refuge because he’s surrounded by like-minded beings that also like to be wild and crazy and build forts and fling dirt at each other. Why would Max even have a passing thought about leaving such a place? Like I said before, sometimes having too much of a good thing can leave you with a bad tummy-ache and perhaps a mild case of “the runs”.
King Max Gets The Party Started.
So, that’s Max. Yay. But we know who you really want to hear about. You wanna hear about the big wooly creatures that Max runs around with. First off, I would love a poll of people who saw this movie and immediately had flashbacks of H.R. Puff N’ Stuff, The Banana Splits or any other Sid & Marty Krofft creation. My mom and I both clicked on that while watching the true “Wild Things” bounding around thanks to some beautifully crafted creature suits that made me kinda misty eyed. Remember the fun old days of Muppets and The Dark Crystal and Return To Oz when CG was still in infancy so most of the effects had to be real? Real props, real suits and real people in those suits. I’m sure the “Wild Things” had some digital manipulation done like with their facial contortions but 90% of the time when Max is hugging Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) he’s really hugging Carol, not a boulder draped in green screen or thin air that will be filled in by some technician later. All that shaggy fur is Carol.
If you think the physical aspects of the monsters is impressive just wait until you hear them talk. The filmmakers literally took the monsters from the book and gave them real bodies and real souls. Carol gets most of the attention as Max’s best bud on the isle. The two have a lot in common so they get along pretty quickly. Douglas (Chris Cooper) is pretty level headed while Alexander (Paul Dano, though I coulda sworn it was Seth Green) is constantly overlooked because of his short stature. Ira and Judith (Forest Whitaker and Catherine O’ Hara) are the odd married couple in the group. Ira is a beast of few words but is very thoughtful and takes pride in his tree holes (don’t ask). Judith, however, is a bit….no, she is the resident “downer” that has a tongue as sharp as her claws. It’s a funny case of opposites attracting each other. K.W. (Lauren Ambrose) is the wanderer in the clan. She has an open mind to new things and new people so she comes and goes depending on her mood. And Bull (Michael Berry, Jr.) is the strong and silent type. I know their profiles on paper sound pretty boring but when you see them in action, ah, that’s when you’ll want to purchase a ticket to “Wild Thing Island”.
Hello, parents. If you’re worried about if this will keep your kids awake I can tell you that when I saw the film the theater was filled with little tykes. I don’t hear any snoring or crying or loud yawns. They even applauded at the end and they don’t even do that at the Harry Potter movies anymore. Though the movie has indie film sensibilities the concepts aren’t placed too far above the heads of those under 13. I was probably more tensed than the kids like in the scenes where Max is in rough play with the beasts. I was just waiting for someone to squash him or give him whiplash. All the youngsters were just giggling away or in awe to see these giant-sized freaky bears jumping around.
This Is The Last Time I Sail “Economy Class”: Max (Max Records)
If I was Maurice Sendak right now I would be on “Cloud Nine” because this could have been some vapid effects show with no depth but a vibrant toy line. Instead, Mr. Sendak had his book transformed into an amazing butterfly of a movie that challenges the mind and imagination of the viewer no matter the age bracket.
I would also be very happy to be Mr. Sendak right now because his book is probably flying off the shelves thanks to this film adaptation. Lexie Darling says, “Ker-ching, ker-chi-ing”. Aubrey says, “Where The Wild Things Are was imaginative, clever and thrilled my “child side” as well as my “wild side”.
Watch the Trailer below :