Where the Wild Things Are Review

'Where the Wild Things Are' movie poster

Okay, so there’s probably not much point in blogging about Where the Wild Things Are now, two days after seeing it. But I still want to say a few things. First of all, I really liked it; it’s probably one of my favorite movies, in fact. Visually, it’s stunning. While the shaky cam can get a little hard to deal with if you’re in the front row like I was, I’m sure that under normal circumstances, it’s mostly effective and only slightly offputing. The most problematic part, meaning the worst of the shaky cam, is the first few minutes.

But what the shaky cam does is try to capture the excitement, spontaneity, and liveliness of being young. The cuts, tracking shots, and shaky cam in the opening scenes combine to give the viewer a sense of what it’s like to be Max—leaping about in a wolf costume, chasing after animals, having a snowball fight, and burrowing into a homemade igloo. I find myself shocked when the older kid jumps on top of the igloo with Max inside it. That scene is unexpected, and it is partially because of the camera movements and cuts that it is effective. The speed of everything is quick until the kid jumps on the igloo. Then everything stops. Cuts get fewer, the camera gets less shaky, and we focus in on Max, who is crying and furious. I could say more about this, and I’m sure I haven’t done an adequate job with what I did say, but I need to move on because I’ve got a lot to do today!

Next: the writing, the imagination. I am incredibly pleased with what goes into this film. There is actually very little in terms of text in the original story, so the writers have to fill in the blank spots to make the movie. They have to add backstory and relationships for the wild things, complexities that one doesn’t find in the book. They also have an interesting reason for why Max is in trouble, one that is very relatable and real. And in a familiar twist, it’s not just one thing that lands him in trouble. It’s a build-up. He trashes his sister’s room after her friends destroy his igloo (and jump on him, in the process), but his mom doesn’t blow up yet; she’s disappointed, of course, and angry, but she doesn’t really blow up until Max acts out just before dinner. He jumps on the kitchen counter in his wolf costume, saying, “I’ll eat you up,” and then bites her when she tries to admonish him.

As for the island of wild things, I realize right away that Max arrives there in a different way in the movie: instead of being sent to his room and turning his bedroom into an island of wild things, he runs out of the house after his mom yells at him, runs through the woods, stumbles on a boat in a river/lake, and rides it to the island. He somehow manages to turn the river/lake into an ocean, and his mind transforms the woods he is running around in into an island full of wild monsters.

Once “there,” Max meets the wild things and sees their complex relationships and problems. For the first time, we get some actual insight into the wild things of this wonderful children’s story. I find myself completely fascinated with what the writers come up with. I see that the problems they have are a combination of the problems a child would run into and the (grownup) problems he/she would encounter in life (i.e., he sees his mom’s relationships and projects them onto the monsters that he imagines, he sees the discord of his own childhood fights and inserts them into his made-up world, and so on).

I even notice that, at the end, Max’s mom’s face bears a striking resemblance to the wild things, KW in particular. The fort that Max and the wild things build reminds me of the scene in which Max is laying in his bed, upset, and the camera shows a huge rubber band ball in the foreground. In other words, Max seems to drag the tiniest things from his ordinary life into his imagination when he creates his fantastic island of wild things. The fort also resembles his igloo from the opening scenes of the movie. Forts are Max’s specialty, it seems, and he builds them all in similar fashion.

As for dialogue, that aspect is closely related to the writing, but I will say that the dialogue feels very childlike. And that is a very good thing. Even as I try to get myself into a child’s mindset for this movie, I find myself laughing at the ridiculousness of some of Max’s words and plans (e.g., that the fort will somehow debrain anyone that enters without being welcome). Max has a quick wit, and everything he says in the movie is believable as something a child would say. Children think so differently than grownups and even teenagers; whatever they dream up can be a reality, even if only in their heads. This is one of the most inspiring aspects of the movie, the idea of childlike creativity, the kind we forget about when we grow up. I struggle now, even as a writer, to be as creative as I was when I was a kid, to be as creative as Max.

Where the Wild Things Are helps me remember my place in the world as a grownup (wow, that’s weird to say). But it also helps me hold onto that childlike mentality. It helps me tap into my creativity, and for that, I am in love with this movie.

And I’ll definitely be buying it.

UPDATE: I bought it.

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