Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Arewas a wonderful book. When I heard it was being adapted into a live-action film, I was initially wary. My interpretation of a book often clashes with that of the director, and I worry that the book's spirit will be lost. But the trailers for "Wild Things" were really good, so I eagerly anticipated the release of the film. Unfortunately, my expectations were too high.
In the book, Max's mischief causes his mother to send him to bed without supper. Max then imagines himself on the island of the Wild Things, who declare him their king. He leads them in the wild rumpus, then sends them to bed without their suppers. He is rebelling against his mother and wants control over his situation. But Max was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all. So, his anger spent, he sails home where he finds his supper waiting for him, and it was still hot.
The film provides a backstory for Max: he is angry because of his parents' divorce, and hurt that his sister didn't defend him when her friends destroy his snow fort. He retaliates by destroying items in her room. His other manifestations of anger, while initially amusing, take on a more disturbing aspect, which seems to require the intervention of a therapist. The Wild Things also seem to need therapy. They aren't getting along with each other and want Max to take their sadness away.
I thought the film would be a wonderful fantasy, with the Wild Things helping Max resolve his anger before going home. But I couldn't understand where the sadness came from, nor figure out the intended audience for this film.
Children will enjoy the wild rumpus, which ends in a lovely furry pile (the Wild Things look wonderfully touchable). But then Max decides to play war. Playing war always starts well, but inevitably, someone always gets hurt. Max realizes that he can't help the Wild Things, so he goes home.
What are kids supposed to take from this movie? Is Max supposed to be the Wild Things' parent? If things don't go well, are they supposed to give up? Adults may be equally confused. Are the Wild Things insecure adults turned into kids? And that they can't solve their own problems? (Hopefully, kids will see the humour in Max's doom-obsessed teacher.)
Overall, I think the movie missed the spirit of the book. Where the Wild Things Are is meant to be a children's fantasy that offers them a safe outlet for their emotions. At the same time, it reassures them of a parent's capacity to love and forgive. It is comforting rather than sad.