Spike Jonze clearly had a different interpretation of Where the Wild Things Are than I did, but I like his better. I just thought it was a short book for kids to learn how to read, and some pictures they'd like of monsters prancing around. I mean, the plot was Max yells at his mom, gets punished, imagines a fantasy land, then goes home and finds out his mom forgives him.
Jonze's version is about the lessons kids have to learn about their angry instincts. There is a tone of melancholy to even the most wonderful fantasy scenes. And this isn't like saying Harry Potter is dark because people are trying to kill him but really it's happy magic. This is really heavy. Playing rough not only leads to others getting hurt, it makes even the wildest anarchist feel bad.
That might not sound like a ringing endorsement of Where the Wild Things Are, but it is. We go to the movies to feel things, and this movie sure makes you feel. It's wonderful to see these giant beasts carry themselves so heavily. It's whimsical to see powerful creatures stumped by their own emotions. It's a valuable lesson to learn, too.
The structure of the book remains intact. Max (Max Records) acts out in his wolf suit, including dog chasing and yelling at his mom. In the movie, he also picks a snowball fight with the big kids and ends up having his snow fort destroyed in the crossfire. That makes him sad, and he lashes out by trashing his sister's room.
After fighting with his mom, Max runs away and sails to the land of the Wild Things. That's the biggest change from the book, and honestly you don't feel it during the movie. Emotions are so tense by that point that you're just waiting to get away from the real world, however it happens.
There's no relief in the land of the Wild Things, though. The first thing Max sees is Carol (voice of James Gandolfini) destroying a village of huts. That's people's homes, dude. The wild rumpus is tense, too, because it looks like they'll tear down the whole forest. Max's plan as king is to build a fort to keep everyone but his friends out, but that leads to cliques among the Wild Things and more hurt feelings.
That's just one personal interpretation of the vague art film Jonze has made. On a purely surface level, even the expanded story feels like the book. The stuff Jonze added isn't super action. I mean, knocking down buildings and throwing dirt isn't Jerry Bruckheimer spectacle. It's more like hanging out in this world for 90 minutes, very mellow. That's all the book was, just hanging out in this world for a few pages.
The huts, the fort and the creatures look wonderful. If it makes kids feel the consequences of playing rough, that's good. They'll come away thinking twice about roughhousing on the playground or fighting with their siblings. And they'll have got to see some cool creatures, too.