If you're like me, Where the Wild Things Are was one of the few books you could stomach early in life, maybe for no other reason than it was a first glimpse at illustrated monsters (creepy yet oddly realistic-looking) in school. Maybe it was because library trips usually meant being forced to read about old English women, Jesus, or even a dead bird once. This was the first book I enjoyed, though isn't exactly a tough read, even when you're 6.
So how do you turn 10 sentences into 101 minutes? Kudos to the suits at Warner Bros. for staying true to the themes of the book, while also giving the film some substance. This very easily could've been another Christmas-Season-Toy-Marketing movie (something that your pals at Disney tried/failed to do 20 years ago), but it is probably the polar opposite. Spike Jonze and company add layer upon layer to this Max's story, and each character adds a different dynamic to the kid's psyche. Max's life isn't roses, and he's surrounded by modern social dysfunction like ADD, a fractured family, and (gasp!) environmental concern. When he finally snaps, he imagines himself off to a mysterious island full of giant Wild Things. It starts well, but Max eventually realizes that the monsters on the island are even more dysfunctional than the monsters in his household. Like LOST meets The Office.
And to me, pain was the underlying essence of the movie. While Hook, for example, was a children's tale re-imagined with a magical Spielberg environment, Wild Things hits us with a solid dose of fear and insecurity. At times, it's is so hell-bent on storytelling from a confused 9-year old perspective, we are often left with frustrating, confused scenes. I don't remember the actual Wild Things being so whiny and childish in the book, but what else would a child know? I don't remember them being so relentlessly unhappy, but I suppose that's how frightened/lonely/insecure children would see it. There are a few scenes where this leads to utter stupidity (owls), and does nothing but pro-long the movie. In the book, Max eventually grows lonely and misses his mother; in the movie, Max realizes his escape is actually more combustible than reality.
A solid movie, but I ultimately left feeling uninspired. I have to admit that the kid in the movie ----- unlike 99% of movie kids (see: Phantom Menace, Dick Tracy, The Neverending Story, One Tree Hill, etc, etc, etc) --- was NOT annoying. The voices were fun, especially Tony Soprano as a friendly (...or is he?) wild thing that delivers the tear-jerker scene, and Paul "Bowling Pin" Dano as the biggest loser of the wild things. And a few people are complaining about the hipster soundtrack -- I'll say that's it only feels wrong for some of the movie, although Herb will probably blast the entire thing. Lastly, enough can't be said about the original way it was filmed, with giant larger-than-life puppets rumbling around the woods. Creepy, just like the original book was. HHhhooooOOOWWWWwwwllL.