Wild Things Are Captures Boyhood’s Emotions

We staggered out of the theater in Davis Square this afternoon after seeing Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze’s brilliant adaptation of the Maurice Sendak children’s classic. The emotion that he’s able to squeeze out of 20-foot-high characters in elaborate costumes and CGI faces took our breath away. Those eyes and those gigantic faces were so poignant, and the story of a little misunderstood boy so powerful, it made Sam and me both weep.

Starting out in the real world of conflicts and mom’s dates, and the kinds of misunderstandings and trouble that any nine-year-old gets into, we travel with Max by boat to a mysterious shore where the wild things live. We know we’ll see glimpses of the conflicts and the difficulties that launched this runaway voyage, yet they’re subtle, sly, and never hit us over the head.

When Max becomes King, having lied about his king-qualifications to these skeptical yet believing giants, that crown on his little head becomes a burden. “You’re not a good king,” complains Carol, the horned wild thing that we all know from the book’s cover, with the great big toothy smile. Voiced by James Gandolfini, this a tough, misunderstood giant bonds with our protagonist, Max, who ‘is kind of small to be a king…but that’s ok.’

I can’t remember a young actor who better captures what it’s like to be misunderstood, feel like the cause of all your family’s problems, and at the same time revel in the joys of life with the wild things. Who wouldn’t love sleeping in a pig pile and roaring at the ocean with all of your pals?

But like all dreams, or lives, eventually it’s time to sail home across the seas, and say goodbye to new friends who have come to realize who Max really is. It’s hard, and there are tears, but Mom is waiting when he runs back down his street to the safety of home.