Last Friday, my family and I caught Where the Wild Things Are on opening day, which coincidentally happed to be a dreary, rainy day and a perfect prelude to this film.
A huge Maurice Sendak fan since childhood, this timeless classic piece of children’s literature as well as many of his other works has held a place of honor in my heart and on our children’s bookshelf for some time. I was curious to how the screenplay adaptation would develop since the book contains very little text and the illustrations tell much of the story.
Obviously, Max who wears a wolf suit throughout the story would demonstrate extreme and out of control behavior. After all, in the book, his mother sends her little wild thing to his room without supper. Truth to be told, when I read on-line that Maurice Sendak requested Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) to direct the film adaptation, it had me worried, but with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop on board to create real-life wild things, how bad could it be?
Oh, it could be that bad. The theaters should sell popcorn sprinkled with Paxil to help viewers bear the depression and sadness this film serves.
In all fairness, I prefer films with happy endings and resolution. Where the Wild Things Are offers nothing but emptiness, confusion and pain with no cheerful resolution in sight.
In the film, Max (Max Records) is a troubled boy full of hostility and what some may even call OPP (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). His violence and rage is the result of a bitter and ugly divorce. As a coping mechanism to deal with the stresses of life, his mother (Catherine Keener) requests Max to tell her a story, which gives us a glimpse into his vivid imagination and how he could create such fantastic creatures such as “Wild Things”. His sister, Claire (Pepita Emmerichs), is a teenager obviously tired of childhood games and chooses older companions to hang with other than her little brother. Max’s mother seems to be moving past a bad break-up by dating again without Max’s approval. Therefore, he ruins his mother’s chance at happiness by disrupting her date and chooses to “let the wild rumpus start” (Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak 1963). He tells his mother, “I’ll eat you up!” from the top of the kitchen counter and as punishment she sends him to his room to cool off. Instead, he runs away to escape. With his amazing ability to tell stories, the audience assumes Max is telling himself a terrific tale to cope with the battle between him and his mother. Thus begins his adventure “through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are” (Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak 1963).
When he first appears on the island, he observes one Wild Thing, Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), destroying the tribe’s homes which is a behavior Max can identify with and understand. He instantly connects to Carol and a friendship is born as Max is declared king.
As his adventure with the Wild Things unfolds, we discover each of the Wild Things represent a part of Max, except for K.W. (voiced by Lauren Ambrose) who seems to be a reflection of his relationship with his sister. As king, Max must lead his Wild Thing family and learn to face all the conflicts that come with it.
This film is sure to be nominated for several Oscars, because it offers all the complexity that the Academy loves. No denying Jim Henson’s Creature Shop’s Wild Things are truly magnificent and the screenplay depicts true human struggle which will all be recognized come Oscar time. I read a review on-line by Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel that referred to the film as “Sesame Street of the spotless mind”, a brilliant description of this film which left me feeling empty and depressed.
As for my children, my oldest cried during several scenes. My youngest begged to go home, but then moments later my own little Wild Thing happily howled along with the larger than life Wild Things. Unfortunately, my husband connected all too well to the film as a product of a broken home. The film dredged up a painful past and he couldn’t shake the sadness for days after viewing the film.
My momma guilt got the best of me and I felt awful that I even took my children to see this film without reading the reviews beforehand to prepare for the heartache we would endure or perhaps even decide to skip it all together. Unknowingly forcing my children to suffer such sorrow, I’m sure I’ve broken some parental law somewhere.
With the fantastic creatures and the fabulous score by Karen O in the trailers, audiences are lead to believe that families will love the movie. Prior to viewing the film, I had wondered why Warner Bros.’ marketing machine hadn’t filled the stores with all kinds of Wild Things merchandise. After viewing the film, I realized Warner Bros. had more sense than me simply because this film is intended for a more mature audience and a film that should not be marketed to young children who have already fallen in love with storybook Max and his Wild Things.
Furthermore, this movie is definitely not for the Disney crowd, like me. In fact, a film this depressing is certainly not appropriate for any children under the age of ten unless your child can relate to Max’s pain or mature enough to handle it. As I previously stated, I need happy endings and like Max’s supper, this film did not serve it.