Maurice Sendak’s famous 1963 picture book has a place in many people’s hearts. It’s still very popular today. Picture books are tricky to adapt into feature length films. Jumanji (originally a picture book by Chris Van Allsburg) is an example of how it can be well done. The Snowman is also a good example, although that was a short film. I’m not convinced that Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are really works and I’m not sure who the audience is supposed to be. Many people who enjoyed the book as children will probably stay away from the film, either because they think it’s aimed at the very young, or because they’re worried that the story will be ruined, or that the Wild Things are dreadful CGI creations. Children who watch this film may be disappointed that it’s dialogue heavy, with slow pacing and a dark tone (both visibly and emotionally).
I was very impressed with the acting of Max Records, who plays the character of Max (interesting coincidence). The Wild Things were well crafted, with a combination of animatronics and CGI. They are much more expressive than their book counterparts but they look similar to the illustrations. I wasn’t quite prepared for their speech to be so ordinary but I suppose it matches their other human elements. They weren’t at all scary but they were violent.
So we can establish that the film looks great. The content is not so great. To be fair, there are only ten sentences in the picture book. It’s hard to fill the story out and keep it meaningful. I think some viewers will really enjoy the film because it expands on the themes in the book and gives reasons for Max’s behaviour. However, very little happens in between Max being declared king, and him leaving the island. I wasn’t keen on how his leaving was changed, either. In the book, the Wild Things are angry at him leaving and he escapes before they can eat him. I like the drama of that. In the film, he has a tender, long farewell for his sad friends, who are not monstrous at all. If we decide to accept everything in the film in a straightforward way and not in a symbolic sense, then it’s actually quite dull.
Not recommended unless you’re curious to see what they’ve done with the source material.
Low-resolution image from Wikipedia.