Where the Wild Things Are (PG)
IMDb; Kindertrauma; Legendary; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Warner Bros.; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; FandangoNOW; Google Play; iTunes; Movies Anywhere; Vudu
Caution: potential spoilers.
First I want to say this was a hard movie for me to rate. There were times I thought it was kind of boring, and there were times I absolutely loved it. So the rating I ultimately gave it fell somewhere in the middle. I should also say that the movie, of course, is based on the children's book of the same name, by Maurice Sendak, which came out in 1963 (more than a decade before I was born). However, I didn't actually read it until 2009, shortly before the movie came out. I went out and bought the book because I thought I should read it before seeing the movie. I do feel kind of bad that I didn't read the book when I was actually a kid, but... I still appreciated it, reading it for the first time as an adult. Naturally, I ended up not getting to see the movie in the theater, and didn't see it on DVD until 2012. And of course, the movie is drastically expanded from the book, which is... very short. And I should say there are probably other categories in which I could have put my review, such as "coming of age," "family," "fantasy," or even "action/adventure." But it's definitely got a "weird" vibe, which I think is one of the film's best qualities.
Anyway, there's this little boy named Max, who clearly has a wild spirit, which isn't unusual for a kid his age. (I daresay most children are wild animals, which take years and years to properly domesticate.) It's also clear that there are things in his life he wishes were different. Basically, his sister ignores him (and there was no sister in the book), and his mother Connie (Catherine Keener) has no time for him. He has no father, though it's not clear if his dad is dead or if his parents are just divorced. But his mom's dating someone named Adrian (Mark Ruffalo), and she has a stressful job, I guess. I felt like the movie took too much time establishing all this (though it's really just about the first fifteen minutes), and at the same time... it only really makes things clear in a fairly vague sense. And Max's problems really seem rather small, on the particular day in question (there's no way of knowing how typical that day is; though I think it's safe to assume it was fairly typical, so the psychological effect on Max is probably cumulative). Of course, even trivial problems can seem major to a young child. And even as an adult, myself, I know I can make mountains of mole hills. So I can't really blame Max for being a troublemaker, even if he took his tantrum a bit too far.
But eventually... he bites his mother. I think it was vaguely clear throughout the beginning of the movie that Max has a tendency to feel bad about his tantrums after throwing them, and of course actually hurting his mother understandably makes him feel scared and confused and guilty, so he runs away. And finds a boat, which he sails away in. And eventually finds himself on an island inhabited by wild creatures. They don't have names in the book, but they do in the movie (at least most of them do). He immediately identifies with one called Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), who's destroying his friends huts because he's upset that another friend of his, KW (Lauren Ambrose), has gone away. She's apparently been spending time with new friends named Bob and Terry (both voiced by the film's director, Spike Jonze), instead of the main group, which also includes a bird-creature named Douglas, a goat-creature named Alexander, nondescript creatures named Ira (Forest Whitaker) and Judith (Catherine O'Hara)- who are a couple- and an unnamed Bull-creature. Oh, and I should probably mention that Max was wearing a wolf costume.
Anyway, Max is a kid who likes making up stories, so he makes one up about his being a king with magical powers, and they all apparently believe him, and make him their own king. Max becomes especially close to Carol, and later with KW He does his best to come up with fun ideas for all the Wild Things to do with him, and also tries to reconcile Carol and KW It's hard, because they clearly love each other, but they both clearly are hurting each other, without meaning to. And they're not good at communicating their feelings. And in spite of his best efforts, Max realizes he can't help them. In fact, he may be making things worse for everyone, and finally decides to return home. His experiences with the Wild Things have obviously taught him a lesson about his own wild behavior, and how it must affect his mother.
On the surface, it's a very simple movie, in terms of plot. And even the fantasy elements are almost mundane, in a way. I mean, there are large, powerful creatures who could easily be very scary... and sometimes are... but basically, they're all just like children playing the sorts of games young children play in real life, just on a larger scale. And those scenes can be rather fun, even exciting. But there's definitely a touching deeper psychological level to all this. Nothing profound or complex, but still... important. The movie has humor, and heart, exuberance, unspoken introspection, though virtually the whole thing is permeated by an underlying sense of melancholy. The end is somewhat happy, somewhat bittersweet, but entirely beautiful. And... I guess the only other thing I can think to say is that there is some great music throughout the film, by Karen O and the Kids. I definitely need to get the soundtrack....
Oh yeah also, I should mention that around the time the movie came out, I bought myself a few little Wild Thing plushies...