How excited were you when you heard about this? And then how scared, when you realized that 10 sentences had to occupy an hour and a half of film? Here’s the thing: they hang a hell of a story onto the frame of those 10 sentences. As a kid, you needed those 10 sentences. As an adult, you get the feature film and the heartbreak of hindsight.
Where the Wild Things Are isn’t for kids. It would probably bore them while they waited for everyone to stop talking. The basics remain the same: Max sails off to the island of the wild things, becomes their king, raises a ruckus, and sails home to the safety of his mother’s arms. Fun and lovely, right? This Max runs off as a response to seeing his mom (Catherine Keener! how wonderful!) on a date with cute Mark Ruffalo, roaring and eventually biting her before running into the woods and sailing off.
The beasts are gorgeous. Jim Henson’s workshop made them, and it’s impossible to tell if their faces are seamlessly CGI’ed or just made with the most incredible animatronics. Regardless, they have done more with puppetry than you could without. Their bodies have a heft to them, their expressions made as if real muscle moved them. We get to know more of them, naturally: Carol (James Gandolfini) is a petulant but exuberant quasi-leader who mourns the absence of KW (Lauren Ambrose), who has left to hang out with new friends, Bob and Terry. I won’t spoil the surprise, but when you meet them, it’s very very funny.
The rest of the gang are Ira (Forest Whitaker) who is in love with Judith (Catherine O’Hara). Douglas (Chris Cooper) is the sensible one, but even he can’t stop Carol from smashing everything in sight. They are children, Carol’s outbursts roughly approximating Max’s tantrum when he realizes that his mother has a boyfriend. But it’s also possible that Carol and KW’s relationship is a metaphor for a failed marriage: the rage of a father who can’t express his feelings appropriately and a mother who still loves a man who hurts her.
And of course all of this is stunningly beautiful, and will easily sail over a kid’s head. Even twentysomething hipsters (the majority of the audience on a late Friday show) won’t really get it. Of course not. They haven’t felt the way Catherine Keener feels, the regret that doing what’s best for her (and ultimately for her entire family) in the short term confuses and hurts Max. Adult life isn’t simple. Where the Wild Things Are isn’t about Max’s point of view, but KW’s: “Don’t go. I’ll eat you up I love you so.”