‘Where the Wild Things Are’
Adapting book to screen is an extremely difficult task to complete, especially with a beloved children’s book that is only 10 sentences long. How can a film capture the magic that we all felt as children when we read this book for the first time? Yes, it is hard, but the director, Spike Jonze, does it beautifully in his adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”
No, the movie doesn’t stay completely true to the book, but that would be practically impossible due to the lengthening of a short book into a sizable film. Jonze does, however, stay true to the overall feeling in the book, and that’s what is really important.
In case you haven’t read the book, “Where the Wild Things Are” follows an energetic little boy named Max (played by the adorable Max Records) as he becomes fed up with his family and “runs away” to the woods, where the wild things are. This is where his adventures really start. After arriving on a wooded island via boat, Max encounters a group of monsters in the middle of turmoil. One of their clan, Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), doesn’t like how the monsters have been living (distantly in separate houses with one of them moving away) and is destroying all of their houses. Max arrives, and—after saving himself from being eaten by telling them to “Be still!”—proclaims himself the new king of their clan and island. From there, the rest of Max’s adventures unfold as he tries to keep this clan of monsters happily together.
The monsters, believably real with giant heads and noses, are all given distinct personalities in the film, and each helps Max to realize that in the end, he needs his family. As Max tries to rebuild the monster family (with such schemes as sleeping in a pile and building one giant fort for all of them to live in), he meets and learns from each of the creatures he encounters on the island: from the neurotic, abusive married couple Judith (Catherine O’Hara) and Ira (Forest Whitaker) to the timid, mumbling Douglas (Chris Cooper). While all of the Wild Things are funny and wise in their own rights, KW (Lauren Ambrose) brings both the wisest moments and some of the funniest (with help from her cute hooting owl friends Bob and Terry).
While the film is certainly funny, it is also remarkably touching in the way it develops the relationship between Max and the ever-stubborn Carol. Even though Max has been declared king, Carol cares for the boy as if he were his son, showing him around the island and overall just watching out for his well-being. This of course all leads up to the end of the film, in which Max has to leave the wild island to return home to the family he realizes he needs. The moment when Max and Carol have to say goodbye nearly had me in tears.
Much of this emotion can be credited to those behind the scenes, mainly Jonze’s beautiful direction. The whole movie is wonderfully crafted to create a film that stands out against even the best adult films. Of course, Karen O and the Kids’ haunting soundtrack can’t be forgotten either.
Many critics and parents have complained that “Where the Wild Things Are” is too scary and disturbing to be a kids’ movie, and that might be true. It isn’t for the easily frightened or the ultra-sensitive. But there is no need to even classify it in the kids’ movie category because it can be enjoyed by all. It is a beautifully made film with a harder edge and a wonderful story to tell, so just sit back, and let it weave its magical, wild tale.