I saw the Where The Wild Things Are with my son this weekend. I'm not sure I would recommend that other parents bring their children to it. It's dark and splenetic but very rarely joyful or whimsical. In the book, Max, the little boy in the center of it all, is a typical moody six-year old (with an abnormally fabulous imagination) who misbehaves. In the movie Max is a 9 year old who has Issues (the capital I is intentional). There is no doubt in my mind that if the cinematic version of Max existed his doctors would want him medicated. And that's why the movie made me uncomfortable. My son isn't really like Max although there were aspects of him that were too intimately familiar. The somewhat manic energy, the impulse control issue, the neediness, even the amazingly unique way he used his imagination felt familiar. Fortunately for me my son hasn't exhibited the kind of anger that this Max exhibited in the home although he came close at times in the classroom.
I'm fairly sure that ALL parents of special needs children, particularly parents of a children with behavioral issues, will find themselves squirming in their seats as the movie plays out. Single mothers in particular will relate to how difficult dating can be when you have a family with these kinds of challenges. Again, I'm fortunate in that my son has never had an problem with the prospect of a stepfather. In fact he wishes I'd hurry up and provide him with one. Still, the scene that causes Max to run away (yes, run away, none of this harmless go-to-your-room stuff from the book) was disconcerting and upsetting. You feel the mother's pain as acutely as you feel the child's.
When Max gets to his magical world of monsters things don't really get better. Each monster seems to represent either an aspect of Max's personality or a figure from his real life. Nobody is happy. Carol is the destructive, angry, frightened, lonely monster that Max relates to best. Max recognizes that Carol's behavior is wrong and perhaps more importantly WHY it's wrong. He even understands that Carol's anger and destructiveness stems from fear. Yet while it feels clear (at least to me) that Max sees the obvious parallels between Carol's issues and his own I'm not at all sure that Max is more able to control his violent impulses better by the end of the movie than he was at the beginning.
I can't knock the movie. It's interesting and thought provoking but it's not fun and that's why I sort of wish the director Spike Jonze had found a different vehicle for the story he wanted to tell. There's no denying that the Max from the book of my childhood is mischievous but he is also always fun and the story is charming. The very fact that I (and many professional critics) are saying that this is not a movie geared for kids is a problem. It's bad enough that they're making superhero movies that are so dark that taking a Batman-obsessed 8 year-old to see them is akin to child abuse. But Where The Wild Things Are is a book for preschoolers! It's like if they adapted And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street and made it a movie about a child who suffers from psychotic delusions.
So if the movie had a different title I might have loved it. But as it is...
Well, I guess it comes down to this: At no point has anyone READ Where The Wild Things Are and then said, "Wow, that was a deep and disturbing depiction of a troubled childhood." That's not a claim the movie will be able to make.
Bestselling Author of:
The Sophie Katz Murder Mystery Series,
SO MUCH FOR MY HAPPY ENDING
Order LUST, LOATHING AND A LITTLE LIP GLOSS on Amazon or Barnesandnoble.com today!