This is a movie that I reviewed a couple of years ago now, but I wanted to republish it because I’ve been thinking about the story since a few weeks ago Maurice Sendak, the brilliant author of the book, passed away. You probably think you’re too old to read the book now, so you should watch this instead.
It was perfect.
No, really. It was. I’ve seen some perfect movies, and this one qualifies. It was childhood wrapped up in a movie. But let’s back up. I’ll tell you the whole story.
I saw it with my friend Kevin, who was an absolute genius and brought the book for us to read while we waited for it to start. I haven’t read the book since I was a little kid, and I knew the story of course but I’d forgotten the fine details, like some of the lines. Then the movie started and it was the book times ten. It was all there, starting with Max running down the stairs and playing with the dog, Max being wild. The camera is running around with him, making you feel like you’re running around with him. This is a popular and very effective technique in the rest of the movie. We’re soon fully introduced to Max, a lonely but very imaginative boy. He has a mother who is stressed about work, a sister who’s outgrown him, and an absent father. We see how all of this affects Max in little ways, it’s not all thrown at us in a staged type of way like movies with less than perfect families tend to get caught doing. We see that Max really loves his family, and that he has a good relationship with his mother especially. But when she brings home a new boyfriend, Max goes wild. Here is where it could’ve gone wrong. But director Spike Jones stays with the book, and uses all of its lines intermixed with the script. Actually the only major change in the movie was that Max doesn’t get sent to his room; he runs away to find the boat that takes him to the Wild Things. I was nervous that wouldn’t work. But don’t worry, it does. And then we meet the Wild Things.
Again, I was skeptical at first if Jones would be able to pull this off. Actors wearing huge costumes and heads? I had my doubts. But when I saw them, I forgot about the men beneath the fur and feathers. They were real to me. And I’m really glad they didn’t go all animated for them. They move in a way that you really can’t capture with a computer. Their faces are computer animated, but honestly I forgot. They seemed so real. And Jones has taken great care to make sure we can recognize each one from the book. Again lines and actions are taken directly from its pages. When I recognized them it was such a good feeling to know that the writer and director took such great care to honor the movie’s origins. I really wish more movies would do that.
Here the story is picked up by the script writer, but you can hardly tell. It’s such a perfect imagining of a child’s dream that it seems like we’re just following Max around his new kingdom, privileged to watch him and his new friends. Forts are made, dirt clod wars are fought, feelings are hurt. Everyone behaves just as you would expect them too; nothing is forced, nothing feels truly written.
Older audience members will be able to see how everyone in Max’s new world behaves like they do for a reason; his Wild Things and events aren’t all that different from the home and people he left. I feel I should be clear that this is defiantly not a movie for young kids. I’d say maybe 9 and up. There are moments that would be somewhat scary for a young viewer; the PG rating is well earned. But this isn’t a movie aimed at young kids; it’s really for the older crowd who can see it for all that it is, a story of a boy who runs away from home, one with love but loneliness and problems, only to find that the new one he made has problems too. “Being a family is hard”, says one of the Wild Things.
The bottom line here is that this is a fantastic movie. My second favorite movie of the year by a mile. (“Up” still holds first place.) I promise you that if you go into this movie with an open mind, willing to let yourself see it through a child’s eyes, then you will enjoy it.
My Londonderry NH net rating, 4 seeds
Images Where The Wild Things Are a Warner Bros Pictures (c) courtesy
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