I watched this movie with the simple expectation of reliving the adventure of a classic children’s book. As the closing credits rolled, it felt like I just finished an intense session with a shrink.
The monsters have issues. Sure they’re adorable, they say cute things, they’re silly and childish, but they have serious existential problems. I was only prepared for the start of the wild rumpus so when they said things like “What about loneliness?” and “Will you keep out all the sadness?” my head just started spinning.
The story begins with a boy named Max who craves for attention and throws a tantrum in order to get it. He bites his mother and runs out of the house until he gets to the edge of the woods and into the sea. He gets on a boat and sails away, eventually reaching the land of the wild things.
He first meets the creatures as one of them is destroying giant nest-like structures made of tree branches, which turned out to be their houses. Max eagerly dashes to help with the demolition and just as quickly earns the ire of the rest of the group.
He manages to avoid being eaten by convincing them that he is actually a king who possesses great powers. As their newly enthroned monarch, he wastes no time in leading them on rowdy rumpuses and fort-building projects.
For the most part, the wild things are just that: boisterous beasts that run around, wrestle with each other, build forts and tunnels, and squabble over petty things. But they also happen to be brooding and deeply melancholic, prone to sitting around quietly and looking somber.
And this is where the movie falls flat. It takes itself too seriously and ends up being too didactic. For a film about a nine-year-old having a tantrum and a bunch of bouncing, leaping monsters, it has an awful lot of drama.
But you can’t fault it in terms of character development. The wild things may be a tad too pensive but they are well-crafted and ultimately lovable characters. As Max leaves the island to go home, you also can’t help but feel sad at the thought of not seeing them again. One of the many poignant moments in the movie was when KW, a good-natured but fiercely protective mother figure to Max, holds him close and whispers “Don’t go. I’ll eat you up, I love you so.”
I now realize why I was so disconcerted with this film. Somewhere between Maurice Sendak’s book and Spike Jonze’s adaptation, the wild things grew up and my level of emotional maturity failed to catch up with them.