Perhaps, like some, you nearly cried in childish delight when you saw the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are earlier this year. Perhaps you’ve sat through the crooning and crowing all year about Wolverine this, Terminator Salvation that, while impatiently awaiting for a certain book adaptation to finally be released. You will not be disappointed.
Where the Wild Things Are is the latest from the creative minds of director Spike Jonze (Being John Malcovich and producer of the Jackass movies) and Dave Eggers, the best-selling author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Additionally, the film was produced by Tom Hanks and Maurice Sendak, the author of the book, who also spent nearly every day on the set. With so many creative minds on the project, including an all-star cast and an innovative soundtrack from Karen O, vocalist for The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a proverbial stamp of approval from the author himself, Where the Wild Things Are seems sure to at least interest, if not completely enchant, audiences.
The film expands on Sendak’s famous protagonist, Max (Max Record), by bringing to the screen a turbulent family life. Max’s sister (Pepita Emmerichs) is distanced by her friends and his single working mother (Catherine Keener) has a new boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo in a small cameo role). In a fit of anger, frustration and sadness, Max runs away in a boat and finds a mysterious island where a small band of wild monsters first nearly eat him and then make him their king.
This movie certainly never sugarcoats its subject matter. Fans of Freud will make much of the wild things and their “symbolic” roles, but the movie never pushes itself into abstractions – it keeps things simple, instinctual and purely though Max’s eyes. While it isn’t inappropriate or incredibly terrifying, it certainly never underplays the fact that Max is a boy surrounded by monsters who could eat him, and thus there are certainly a few scary moments. But since this is one of the more remarkable aspects of the book – the fact that this is a story about a boy who’s in control of his monstrous fantasies – it shouldn’t be too worrisome. (It’s certainly far from anything children saw in Transformers 2.)
More importantly, this movie is uncannily honest about childhood; it goes beyond being true to a book and grows by being additionally true to the many untamed emotions and fears that most kids have. One of the biggest fears Max has in the film is coming to grips with the concept that everything ends. That things disappear, things die and people say goodbye. Whether it’s death or divorce, or simply moving away, it’s the most wild and scary thing you’d ever face as a kid – that sort of existential terror – and it can definitely nearly eat you up.
And ultimately, this is exactly what Where the Wild Things Are is about. It’s a loving letter to the kid still in you about that big scary wild thing, what it’s like dealing with it and living with it … and a chance to discover what in life doesn’t ever leave, or die, or say goodbye. When Max sails home at the end of the film, he has found out what that is. If you walk into the theater with no expectations but the sense of wonder, magic and rumpus you had as a kid, you might discover it, too.