Max is lonely.
His older sister seems to like her friends more than him. His mom works too much, and his dad is out of the picture.
His melancholy turns to anger when his divorced mom’s boyfriend comes over for dinner. Angry at him for stealing his mother’s attention and, it seems to Max, her affection, Max throws a tantrum, yelling, “I’ll eat you up!”
Out of control, Max bites his mom on the shoulder then flees the house, feeling remorseful. He runs down the street into a park and sails across an imagined sea to the island where the wild things are.
Max’s first encounter with the island is eerie, almost post-apocalyptic, filled with the shadow and fire of Max’s emotions. But with typical impishness, Max runs into the midst of the wild things, growling all the way.
The massive feathered and furry creatures of the island are bickering in the firelight when Max interrupts them. They threaten to eat him, but Max claims to have powers worthy of a king.
“Will you keep out all the sadness?” the goat-like Douglas asked.
“I have a sadness shield that keeps out all the sadness,” Max replied, and they crown him their king.
The wild things have all the weirdness of 80’s fantasy characters, reminiscent of Jim Henson puppetry, while remaining firmly grounded in Maurice Sendak’s visionary artwork. They are untamed but endearing, following their new king in romping through the woods and building a giant, nest-like fort.
The wild things inhabit a world of twigs and sticks and stones, of fur trees and the final, untamed rays of sunset. Visually, it’s as exquisite and woodsy as Sendak’s illustrations, indulging in detailed texture and gentle lighting and earthy colors.
Psychologically, it’s a world as tenuous and complicated as any group of people. The wild things have personalities that range from KW’s kindly, maternal spirit to Carol’s broody aggressiveness.
Shot in the rough and tumble cinematography of boyhood, “Wild Things” follows Max as he uses his imagination to navigate the thorny realities of loneliness and love. It is the in-between world of growing up, where arguments can still sometimes be resolved by a laughing contest or a dirt clod fight; where it’s okay to get your wolf suit muddy and run through the woods with all the carefree spirit of childhood.
“It was supposed to be a place where only the things you want to have happen, happen,” says Carol.
But even a king can’t keep the sadness away forever. Eventually, you have to go home. You have to grow up.
In 340 words, Sendak gave the world the simple but visually spectacular story of a little boy who imagines a land where wild things romp and roar.
“Where the Wild Things Are,” the movie is much longer than the written work, but it works.
The film version not action packed, “dumbed” down, or sexed up, like the terrible Dr. Seuss adaptations. Nor is it contrived into a blockbuster. It is simply a picture book transformed into an hour-and-a-half flight of fancy and charm anchored by the tension of growing up.
If the plethora of construction paper crowns scattered around the theater opening night were any indication, we all have a little wild thing left in us. We all want to be Max.
And Max? He just wants to be loved best of all.