If you expect Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009) to be like the book, then not only will you be disappointed, but you are placing far too unreasonable expectations on Jonze and the creative team behind the film. In the film, as in the book, not much happens; it is merely the creation and observation of one boy’s imagination. With Maurice Sendak’s 1963 book, imagination must only be activated, and occupied, for several pages. But watching the film, the viewer needs to sustain a similar imagination for the length of an entire feature. The problem with many of my peers’ expectations is that they wanted the same affect that the book produced in them as children. Of course, they are not children any longer but adults.
Where the Wild Things Are, the film, is not for children because it is for the children of the book’s generation (which, for my generation, was several generations after the book’s first 1963 publishing – and possibly for the generations of children following me) — that is, those children who are now adults. Thus it is not a children’s film.
Where the Wild Things Are is like a 100-minute Sigur Ros video clip. (For example, Hoppípolla, or even Sæglópur – under water for five minutes, in an imagination-like submersion.) In Glósóli, children dress up as animals, soldiers, and others are just pretending to be other people, creating an imaginary story-world amongst themselves. Such a precious part of being a child is desire, coupled with the uninhibited consciousness to actually act on this desire, to escape real-world troubles and become part of ones own imagination. When the army of children run off a cliff, it symbolises their release from the world and into their imaginations, into the open air, where the wild things are. They float over the ocean, the limitless expanse of imagination. The ubiquitous presence of the ocean in Where the Wild Things Are denotes that Max is living out a story in his own mind, but rather than placing a limit on the expressiveness of the film, as some reviewers have thought. J. Hoberman writes that its weakness is “its blandness” and undermines its important childhood psychological bearings as “group therapy with the muppets”. He does, though, bring up Sendak’s Jewish history and a comment made by Philip Roth, “Going wild in public is the last thing in the world a Jew is expected to do.” Without forcing a segway, it can easily be stated that the same goes for any adult in our conditioned society. For children, because the Freudian repression factor does not become beaten in until a later age, this is more or less acceptable. And boy, does Max take advantage of it.