Vail Daily review: ‘Wild Things’ a reminder that growing up isn’t easy
Vail, CO Colorado
The original children’s story “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak, is more of a picture book than anything, but the few words it contains (10 sentences) evoke an immediate understanding not just of a child’s imagination, but how it can be used to cope with certain emotions, like fear and anger, that continue to drive us as adults.
It tells the story of a little boy named Max, who, after being sent to bed without dinner for misbehaving, watches a forest grow in his bedroom and becomes king of a world of monsters.
Spike Jonze’s adaptation captures the magic of Sendak’s original story, but also brings those feelings of rage, fear and wonder to life, magnifying them by 300. Backed by a romping soundtrack (courtesy of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O), the voyage simply becomes part of your bloodstream for 101 minutes, and continues to course through even after the credits roll.
Jonze’s story begins with an almost documentary-style sequence of scenes in which Max is building a snow cave, watching his older sister and her teenage friends who are across the street. Clearly eager for attention, Max suddenly sabotages them with snowballs and the teenagers retaliate. Max dives back into his cave but one of the older boys follows, takes one flying leap and stomps his feet through it, leaving Max in tears and furious at his sister.
Max’s suburban and somewhat lonely reality with a caring but busy and melancholy single mother (Catherine Keener) is painted in greater detail when his mother asks him to tell her a story and Max tells her about a vampire losing its teeth. Then they get in a fight when the mother’s boyfriend comes to dinner. Fury takes the wheel and Max bursts out of the house, races down the street, tumbles through some trees and upon a river where he finds a boat and takes it across an ocean to the world where the wild things are.
The wild things are giant, animatronic muppets created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. They have highly expressive, computer-generated facial movements. They are wonderful and scary but they have their problems, too – sadness, loneliness, misdirection and of course, anger.
When Max stumbles upon these beasts he quickly bonds with Carol, the one among them with the most distinct anger management issues. Max talks the other wild things out of eating him by telling them he will make everything smooth and pleasant and that they will build a fort together and make all of the sadness go away.
Carol is inexplicably lovesick over KW – one of the female wild things who seems the most doleful and lost of the group. Max develops a special and bizarre relationship with KW and makes all of the monsters happy by telling them that once the fort is finished, they can all sleep in one big pile.
That’s right – sleep in a big pile. It sounds odd, but kind of nice. So many things in this movie are so deliciously odd. (Anyone who’s seen Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich” might see a few similarities in the peculiarities). The oddities go entirely unexplained. Which is why it’s so good. After all, a lot of things – some of the most basic human feelings among them – have no clear explanation or answers. But they do have power, a lot of power.
“Where the Wild Things Are” is a reminder that we are creatures of feelings and problems, and have been such since we were children. Like Max and the wild things, though, we are all on similar journeys, and the best we can do is take the fear, anger and emotions that drive us and steer them into something loving and vigorous. Otherwise we are just raving animals.