In the Picture
Where The Wild Things Are
Directed by Spike Jonze
As a child, Where The Wild Things Are made me feel wild and free, adventurous and slightly scared. The children’s classic, penned by Maurice Sendak in 1963, was an absolute favourite of mine, and I still remember eagerly diving into it to escape reality on a regular basis.
So I was surprised to find the movie left me feeling quite sad and confused, without any of the feelings of raucous joy or escapism that the book provided so wonderfully.
This is a strange and surreal retelling, beautifully done for sure, but, for me, not entirely satisfying.
My biggest complaint is the landscape in which this is set. Maurice Sendak’s colourful and intricate drawings were of a forested island, and I had always thought of it as a lush green place. But in the movie, the wild things live in what looks like a dry, burnt eucalypt forest on an island covered in sand and rocks. The book is only 10 sentences long so it was a given director Spike Jonze was always going to have to fill in the dialogue for a feature film, but why not be faithful to the classic illustrations? But perhaps I am being too critical, as the person I went with loved every moment of this film.
Niggling complaints aside, this is a poignant, thoughtful and beautifully-made adaptation. The wild things are simply magnificent – each one brought to life meticulously. The combination of live animation, costume puppets and CGI is amazing to behold, and I wasn’t surprised when the credits rolled to see they were created in Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. The central wild thing, Carol, is voiced perfectly by James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) and seeing all of those familiar hairy faces come to life is an absolute joy.
At its core, the movie is all about human psychology. It perfectly captures the confusing emotional headspace of a nine-year-old child who is old enough to understand the world around them but not yet able to articulate those emotions. Each of the wild things reflect a different part of Max’s turbulent inner mind – the angry, the jealous, the scared, the ignored. In this way the film is very clever and it definitely conveys the complexity of what it is to be human. While there are certainly funny moments (and some bizarrely violent ones too), the film is swathed in a feeling of sadness and melancholy and is much more for grown readers of the book than for children reading it now.
For me, a confusing and messy ride peppered with moments of great beauty, humour and emotional insight. Not unlike life itself.