How the Wild Things Were

As an obvious connoisseur of Wild Things, I’ve been asked by various people if I liked the the way Spike Jonze adapted my incredibly beloved children’s book by Maurice Sendak to film. Having carried Trog as a purse for about 8 years now with plans to continue indefinitely, I suppose I am especially invested in the outcome. Actually, I was quite looking forward to it. Not because I was so hot to see an adaptation, but because clever, witty, up-on-the-know people have been saying to me for years, “Hey, uh, did you know they’re making a movie?” To which I would pertly reply something like, “Yeah, Tom Hanks is involved. Should be interesting.” (The real answer being, “No, I live in the scum of my boot toe. What movie?”) It’s the one thing about carrying Trog that’s driven me batshit insane, truth be told. There wasn’t anyone outside of Warner Bros. other than myself quite so happy to see the infernal thing finally crawl from its loathesome production cave and emerge squinty-eyed in the projector lights.

I saw the film at a press screening with The Hedgebeast last Tuesday night, October 13th. And it is very much as Jonze describes it: it’s not a “children’s movie” as much as it is a movie about childhood. And that is precisely what I love about the book. At its core, it’s about what it’s like to be a child and how you discipline your inner wildness. The movie captures the feeling of the book and sustains it throughout. It’s a more indepth, complex look at what the children’s book does so beautifully.

You may or may not like how Jonze took the Wild Things and made them a dysfunctional New York Jewish family. I really dug it. It’s how Max sees grownups: whiny, distracted, careless, nonsensical. It’s also how he sees himself: sad, lonely, misunderstood, unfairly treated. Both projections create the chicken wire mesh over which Max molds his paper mâché impressions of people. He then works out his emotional issues though these dual-purpose beings until he has that moment when he finally groks what a big pain in the ass he’s been to his mother and sister. It’s a wonderful because you think, for a moment, that he’s finally grown up.

The film is peppered with the silly moments and epiphanies you would expect in a child’s mind. At times it veered into dark terrain as the Wild Things became petulant and depressed, threatening violence. The acting is terrific throughout. Unsoiled by The Sopranos, I loved James Gandolfini’s voice and easily gave it to Carol, the Wild Thing that matches my beloved Trog. I held Trog in my lap and scrunched him like a stuffed toy, watching with wonder at the marvelous effects, worried that the Wild Things would accidentally trounce Max at any turn. I bawled and almost started to howl when Max left the island. But it was a healthy parting. I knew it was time for him to go. And so did they.

The most important thing I have to say is about the ending. But if you don’t want to know it ends, then stop reading here.

No, really. Stop. Reading. Now.

Okay…so…

…at the end of the film, I was left a bit cold. The Movie Max is much older and far more ill-behaved than the Book Max. I mean, Jonze’s kid is seriously out of control. So when the film ended with the cinematic equivalent of “…and it was still hot,” it was more like “…and I still wanted to paddle Max’s butt.”

Despite the previously mentioned epiphany, Max doesn’t seem terribly sorry for the serious trauma or difficulty he’s caused his mother. That’s where Jonze leaned too heavily on the subtly of the book. He should have realized that the older and wilder Max needed a more explicit interaction with his wounded parent. 6-year-old Max who is sent to his room to pout might eventually get some hot soup when he comes around. 9-year-old Max who has run off into the dark snowy night after savagely biting his mother, leaving her to grieve and worry horribly, shouldn’t get shit except a smack, a severe grounding and maybe even a visit to the shrink. NOT chocolate cake, for chrissakes. If he’s truly grown up a bit — and at 9, he should be — then he needs to take responsibility and show it in a more demonstrable way.

So, bring a paddle. Maybe a pervy friend will let you work out your frustrations on him or her afterward. But the rest is great.

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