Where are the Wild Things? They’re in your heart, they’re in your head, they’re in your unconscious, they’re in your closet, they’re in your worst fears and your wildest dreams. They’re there when you’re born and they’re there before you die. They’re the voices in your head, the unrelenting emotions, the pettiness, the wildness, the desire, the impatience. They are all of these if you choose to accept Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ magnificent interpretation of Maurice Sendak’s delightfully simple book.
Here, the story, which is disturbing without explaining why, is fleshed out to a living breathing thing, a moving piece of art that both celebrates the book, its imaginatively twisted writer and perhaps childhood itself. It isn’t an easy sit, this film, and it probably isn’t for kids under the age of ten. They are slightly older, who are able to see things realistically and abstractly, might find this film unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.
What are kids fed today but a steady stream of the same old thing? The technology changes, the thrills are bigger and better – there’s 3-D and IMAX and a countless array of games at their fingertips. They are given everything except challenging material. It is not their job anymore to discern art created by actual human beings. No, their entertainment is catered specifically towards satisfying their every need. Happy endings, overcoming obstacles – boy gets girl, boy saves the world, no one is hurt ever.
But Where the Wild Things Are, directed by Spike Jonze, stars Max Records as the boy who got into such bad trouble he was banished to his room where the “wild rumpus” was infamously started. This time, Max has some trouble at the beginning of the film. He’s a kid with apparently no friends. His sister, who watches him, is indifferent to his troubles and his loneliness. He resents her because he wants so badly to be a part of her world and all she wants to do is go off with her friends.
This is what starts off Max’s bad day. The next thing that happens is his mom wants him to keep quiet while she entertains a date (Mark Ruffalo in a cameo). But Max is still mad after his sister left him there. Wrecking her room didn’t help him feel better; it only got him in more trouble with his mom. This doesn’t get him sent to his room, instead, in full Wild Thing pajamas he runs out the front door and disappears to where the wild things are.
From there, the film turns into a waking dream. It is no longer in the realm of the real but on an island in a strange place and Max encounters the creatures we’ve long seen in the book but never seen with personalities. They are all bizarre embodiments of what is going on crazily in Max’s head. It is everything you would expect to see there – some of it can be explained — maybe it’s Max’s mother. Some of it can’t be explained, the way a kid will rattle off something strange to you and you kind of nod, pretending to understand.
Somehow in this odd little dream world Max grows up a little bit. Not a lot, but enough to make him see that the life he has is worth every painful misstep.
Where the Wild Things Are is a celebration of the imagination – not just in what Spike Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers did with the adaptation, but in what we can show kids we are capable of seeing. It will blow their minds that any adults are weird enough and brave enough to pull something like this off.