I”ll admit I was one of those overzealous twenty something hipsters, just way too excited to see Where the Wild Things Are and I mean how could I not be? Spike Jonze + Dave Eggers + Maurice Sendak’s classic dark children’s book Where the Wild Things Are = Awesome. Clearly a recipe for success. But really it wasn’t that easy. It was far from a kid’s movie and it didn’t live up to adult standards either. The whimsy and the wild were lost in consequences and metaphors. So what it comes down to is, where are the wild things?
In the book, we are taken on a journey with a little boy, Max, who thinks the powers that be (his mother) are unfair, and after being sent to bed with no dinner he turns his room into a jungle and sails away to a land where The Wild Things live. They crown him king because he is the wildest of them all, and after ruling/living amongst The Wild Things he realizes where he really belongs: back home. It’s simple and easy for kids to connect with. But in the movie, it becomes a little more complicated.
Metaphors and adult emotions take away the whimsy and give the movie a moral feel. Max runs away to meet The Wild Things, who embody different characteristics and emotions he sees in himself: jealousy, anger, neglect, but also adventure, patience, and of course they are all “wild.” They crown Max king because he promises to make them happy. As the film goes on it becomes apparent that he can’t make them happy and he disappoints not only himself but all The Wild Things too, especially his closest friend, Carol (played by James Gandolfini). Even though he owns up to the fact that he’s not really a king, that he is normal just like them, and they all forgive him and love him and whatnot, his departure feels a little ashamed, embarrassed, and sad. The worst part is he doesn’t even get to hug Carol! In the end The Wild Things weren’t wild at all, they were human.
Even though the script and plot were a little too grown up for me, the movie in itself was magnificent to watch. The cinematography found the balance between real and make-believe. It made me want to go there, wherever “there” is. And one of my favorite parts about the movie was how real The Wild Things looked. It was a mixture of costuming by Jim Henson Co. and animation that made you connect with The Wild Things. You weren’t looking at puppets or cartoons; you connected with the characters because they were real enough to touch. The crew did a great job of bringing the illustrations of Sendak’s book to life.
And the casting was out of this world. Max Records, who plays Max, was perfect. He’s adorable yet ferocious and kind of reminded me of Macaulay Culkin, in a good way. If I was 11 years old, he would be my new crush. And the voices of The Wild Things couldn’t have been better suited. Gandolfini is Carol, basically the leader of The Wild Thing pack. He’s strong-minded, philosophizing yet sensitive. My favorite Six Feet Under star, Lauren Ambrose, plays KW, the distant-but-loving teenager-esque Wild Thing. Forest Whitaker and Catherine O’Hara are The Wild Things that are in love but total opposites of each other. Whitaker plays the patient, steady Ira while O’Hara is the harassing and pessimistic Judith. The level-headed follower and right hand man of Carol, Douglas, is voiced by Chris Cooper (good part: Carol rips Douglas’ arm off in one scene and it’s replaced with a stick in another, awesome!). And last but not least Paul Dano takes on the role of whining, ignored Alexander. The cast works great together to bring the characters to life and make you love or hate them.
There are scenes throughout the movie where Max and the Wild Things are howling. In those scenes, I wanted to howl too,Â really badly. It was then that brought me to another place, a mystical whimsical land, Where the Wild Things Are. That’s the way the whole movie should have been.
All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment