So, we come to the release of a movie that has been in development in some form for nearly 20 years. Spike Jonze's version was also stuck in relative development hell for some time as well, and the film switched studios. Was the wait for this beloved childrens book worth the wait? Very much yes, but not in the way many people might expect.
For anyone who hasn't read the book, it's about a 9ish kid named Max who is out of control at home. He has a wolf costume that he wears and causes mayhem around his house. He ends up being sent to his room without dinner, where he imagines himself going to a far-off land which is populated by "The Wild Things". He declares himself their king and spends time enjoying his life there, but eventually longs to go home, so he does where dinner is waiting for him, and it's still hot.
The book has something like 15 sentences in all, so one question going through my mind was if there was enough material in the book to justify a feature-length film. Jonze wisely chose to develop the script based on the spirit of the book, which is Max processing through his anger, rowdiness and feeling rejected at home by using the Wild Things as representations of his id. The trailer gives the somewhat false impression that the film will be a lighthearted romp with Max and the Wild Things. This film is a very deep and will remind you of the confusion that life held as a 9-year-old looking at a grown-up world. The confusion in Max's life stems from his mom being a single parent, his sister growing up and not having as much time for him, all of this makes him act up to get attention.
So during a particularly tense moment at home Max bites his mom, and as she freaks out, he realizes what he's done and runs away. He comes to a boat tied up to the shore of a lake and he takes it out and it eventually brings him to the land of the Wild Things. Best things first, Spike Jonze's work with the Wild Things is absolutely phenomenal. You never doubt their believability for a moment. All of this is due to a brilliant combination of physical suits and unparalleled facial digital work. Each of the Wild Things represents a part of how Max feels in real life, from his anger, to his feeling ignored, being a downer, his creativity. The cool part of the film is that in dealing with the Wild Things as their king, he learns the value of his family, in addition to the pain that he has been causing by acting up. The acting of Max Records, who plays Max, (ironic, I know) is absolutely fantastic. He had to hold the entire film up on his shoulders and he does a fantastic job showing every emotion that a 9-year-old must deal with while growing up. The other high points of the movie for me were the Wild Things named Carol and K.W. voiced by James Gandolfini and Lauren Ambrose respectively. Carol is an exact representation of Max with all his excitement and faults whereas K.W. is more accepting and loving representation of Max who is often at odds with Carol. The film made me fall in love with these two characters due to the character work and voice acting.
The film would have benefitted from being slightly shorter, it drags a little bit in the middle, although I understand why Jonze put in many of the scenes that I thought slowed the pace of the movie. Another minor complaint that I had was that I wanted to see Max get sent to his room and from there go to the land of the Wild Things. My favorite line in the book was "That night a forest grew" and talks about the forest growing out of his room and imagination. The peril that Max put himself in took me out of the movie a bit because he was so reckless to run away in the middle of the night and winter. To demonstrate the unbridled anger that is within Max, one of the Wild Things accidentally tears another Thing's arm off. The moment is played without gore, or pain, but the moment is still quite jarring since it is permanent for the rest of the film. For a "childrens" film, I thought that the moment was a little extreme to use as an example of how anger out of control can cause serious damage to those we love.
To finish up this review, you absolutely owe it to yourself to check out this film. The slight negatives of the film are overweighed by the sense of wonder that it brings back looking at how the world was when we were all young and how it wasn't necessarily a simpler place. Also you will come away loving the Wild Thing within yourself, in addition to two Things named Carol and K.W.