Posted by: Jeff | October 29, 2009

Where The Wild Things Write A Review

Wild Things

Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

Disclaimer: I’ve read (and loved) the book.  This seems to be the single largest indicator of whether a person will enjoy the movie.

When I heard earlier this year that Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers, and Maurice Sendak were coming together to produce a movie, I’ll admit: I was very excited.  The disclosure that Yeah Yeah Yeahs front-woman Karen O would be doing the soundtrack increased the anticipation to a fever pitch.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that my expectations for this film were entirely unrealistic by the time the first trailer was released.

Well, despite all that, this movie still managed to meet them.

There’s been a fair amount of criticism levied at this movie, and I can fully understand the confusion.  For those that haven’t read the book, the marketing campaign may have hinted at a tender story about a boy’s imagination run wild.  The book was wild, yes, but not explicitly tender.  Max is a spoiled brat even in the book, leading his mother to declare him “a wild thing” in the first place.  Max acts out, he’s destructive, he is unappreciative of his mother in a way that is entirely disrespectful.  And in the movie he lashes out by running away from home, possibly the worst thing a child can do to a caring parent.  Clearly this boy has issues.

When Max arrives cold and lonely at the camp of the wild things, his subconscious imagination takes him on a journey whereby he realizes the error of his ways and the value of family and home.  And therein lies the tenderness and emotional appeal of both the book and the film.

Wild Things 2

Carol and Max

Max wins over the wild things by promising to promote fun and ward off sadness.  From the very start, it is clear that the wild things feel sad, ignored, and abandoned.  In Max they find the promise of hope that loneliness can be repelled by a “sadness shield” – so they make him their king, and the wild rumpus starts.

Yet Max quickly finds that he cannot completely avoid sadness.  After several days of play, resentment begins to settle in – Max is accused of playing favorites, of failing to protect the wild things in his domain.

The wild things themselves are wildly exaggerrated aspects of personality.  Judith is passive-aggressive, Carol is lonely and violent, Alexander craves attention, Ira craves praise, KW is caring, Douglas is clever, and the nameless bull is painfully withdrawn.   Together they are Max, a boy with very real issues and real redeeming qualities.

In addition, Max’s longing for a relationship with his sister is reflected in Carol’s frustration with KW.  He soon comes to realize that KW’s feelings for Carol are in fact suppressed by Carol’s over-dramatic fits of violence and angst.  This realization is important, and leads one to believe that Max may well abandon his wild ways and focus on developing meaningful relationships with his family upon his return.

Ultimately Max realizes his own loneliness, and longs to return home to his family.  The wild things allow him to leave reluctantly, and KW offers a tender goodbye, saying “I’ll eat you up, I love you so.”

Wild Things 3

Carol and Max

Max recognizes himself in the wild things, and I think they recognize themselves in him as well.  Even Carol, whose disillusionment with Max led to a fit of violence, realizes that he has learned a lot from the boy.  As they howl one last time to each other, Max floats toward home and his mother, who says not a word but instead simply gazes at him with love and affection.  Finally Max realizes that even if he is misunderstood, he is loved.

The cinematography of this film does a wonderful job of showing the world through the eyes of an imaginative young boy.  The terrain is vivid and often mirrors Max’s emotion, the wild things are fantastical and larger than life, the fort they build is impossibly large and imposing.  Eggers and Jonze embellish the tone and content of the original book, but keep true to the spirit of the story and the tenderness of its resolution.  And Karen O?  Well, she’s just fantastic as usual.



  1. […] Karen O.  I’m on record already calling her amazing.  She gives Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison a run for their money in terms of charisma, but she manages […]

  2. […] Who wasn’t excited when it was announced Yeah Yeah Yeahs front-woman Karen O would be scoring the Spike Jonze adaptation of this classic kid’s book?  Nobody is a bigger kid on stage, at least, so it seemed a perfect fit.  And the release only confirmed it.  Karen O and her posse of like-minded musicians create a wonderful set of soundscapes that capture the whimsy, adventure, and yes, fear that Max experiences.  “All is Love” earned the Grammy nomination, but “Igloo”, “Rumpus”, and “Hideaway” better capture the spirit of the film. […]

  3. […] Cox’s side projects as Atlas Sound and ‘The Kids” from Karen O & The Kids (of Where The Wild Things Are fame).  Deerhunter were good, inflecting the wash of My Bloody Valentine-esque walls of sound with […]

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