Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

The film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are has been almost as discussed as Maurice Sendak’s 1963 picture book is beloved. Both are tributes to the conflicted, stammering, and boundless psyche of a young boy, Max, whose teeming mind transports him to an island where wild beasts anoint him king. Though the book’s a kids’ classic, director Spike Jonze never meant the film to be conventional family fun, stating that instead he “set out to make a movie about childhood."

Accordingly, the film is free of condescension. Children will see their own wordless frustrations mirrored in the wide-eyed Max, but they may not grasp the nuance of the film’s themes. When Max discovers that his feral surrogate clan is as troubled and complex as his own real family, he returns home to his mother, who, in his eyes, is suddenly human. This honest glimpse into the dynamically internal world of the child will resonate more with adults, who can catch the allegories that populate the film’s fantasy world.

The monsters possess a goofiness and grit that only Jim Henson’s Creature Shop can conjure, with fangs, claws, horns, and animated expressions that will unnerve a Sesame Street devotee. The morose beasts and their ferocious play will not make for a restful sleep. The movie may not appeal to young children, but it will remind parents of the growing pains of prepubescence and the universal ache behind every temper tantrum.

—Claire Gordon

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