A lot of confused, disappointed little faces are going to be exiting director Spike Jonze's adaptation of the classic children's story Where the Wild Things Are. The PG rating may suggest family viewing, but while there's nothing more than mild language and slightly intense action to keep kids away, there's also not much beyond those furry monsters to engage them. Thankfully, the same can't be said for grown-up moviegoers.
Where the Wild Things Are is essentially a film for adults and older children that looks back on childhood. Max, as everyone who's read the book will remember, is an angry little boy with a big imagination. Beyond that, author Maurice Sendak never gave readers much information. And perhaps because of this absence, there was always something odd and thrilling about the simple little picture book-we never knew whether Max reformed from his tantrum-throwing ways or what prompted them in the first place.
Jonze fills in those holes with the sorrows and disappointments many of us felt in childhood but didn't yet have a name for. The biggest motivator for both Max's (Max Record) bad behavior and his escape into fantasy is his sense of abandonment. His big sister and former playmate leaves him behind for older male companions she finds far more intriguing. His father has apparently left through divorce. And now his mother (Catherine Keener), though she loves him, is beginning to give her attention to a new man.
That's a lot for one little boy to process, and he is only able to do so by transposing the conflicts onto make-believe monsters who, when they do frighten him, do so not with their big teeth but with their anger and resentment that mirrors his own.
Jonze isn't always successful in his sometimes-esoteric interpretation of the book. But his attempt shows that he has sensitivity to the smaller dramas of the human experience.