Based on the picture book by Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are is about a young boy named Max (Max Records) with a vivid imagination. He travels to an island by boat and befriends the wild monsters who live there. The movie differs from the book in that Max runs away from home and actually goes to the island after an argument with his mum (Catherine Keener).
Max travels across the ocean. He is washed up in a storm onto an island where monstrous Wild Things live. They look very much like savage children themselves. An aggressive male Wild Thing named Carol (voice of James Gandolfini) decides not to eat Max and becomes his friend. A depressed Judith (voice of Catherine O’Hara) is not so sure and is more suspicious of Max. To save his life, Max tells them that he has special powers that can fix their problems. So they decide to make him King of all Wild Things, believing that they will be happy and everything will be exactly as they have always dreamed it could be.
At first Max does a great job. His wild rumpus brings them all together. His plans for a huge fortress where they can all sleep in a big pile go well. Everyone helps and works together. But disagreements come up, loyalties are questioned, and Carol starts to show a darker and more dangerous side. After Max barely escapes with his life, he begins to appreciate what he had before. He also realises that what the Wild Things need is not king, but a mum.
Loneliness; family relationships and breakdown; depression; elements of domestic violence
This movie contains some violence. For example:
- Max aggressively kicks and yells at a fence.
- Max starts a snowball fight with some of his sister’s friends. They fight back and end up collapsing his igloo while Max is inside it. Although Max is crying, his sister doesn’t do anything to help him.
- Angry at his sister, Max runs into her room and destroys something he’d made for her. He makes a huge mess and gets snow and water all over her bed and carpet.
- Max stands on the bench and shouts at his mother, ‘Feed me woman!’ He refuses to get down. When she pulls him off the bench, he bites her. She drops him to the ground, and Max runs away into the woods.
- In a rage, Carol smashes the homes of the Wild Things. He throws another Wild Thing through the air, and he crashes through the house.
- Max joins in and tries to destroy other houses as well.
- The Wild Things repeatedly threaten to eat Max.
- Max’s crown is taken from a pile of bones. The bones belong to previous kings who have all been eaten by the Wild Things.
- During the wild rumpus, Wild Things jump, crash, knock into each other, hit each other with sticks, and head butt each other. Max is nearly bumped off a cliff and crushed by a falling tree.
- KW pushes Max down a sand dune.
- KW hits two birds with stones, knocking both of them out of the air. Then she picks them up and carries them like footballs under her arms, insisting that they like it.
- Max orders that there will be a war. The Wild Things divide into a good side and a bad side and throw dirt clods at each other. Max is hit in the head. Alexander is knocked off his feet. Although Alexander is down and says that he is hurt, Max orders someone to hit Alexander again. The next clod hits Alexander in the head. We later see a dirty, matted gash on the side of his face.
- KW steps on Carol’s head. This puts Carol into a nasty mood.
- When Max asks for a small secret compartment in the fort, Carol gets angry. He punches a hole in the wall and wanders off in a rage.
- In a fury, Carol rips Douglas’s arm off his body. Douglas is later seen with a false arm.
- Carol lunges at Max and chases him through the woods. Carol screams, ‘I’ll eat you up!’ in a terrifying and ferocious tone.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie contains some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight. For example:
- The Wild Things are scary. They have enormous heads and gnashing teeth and often seem very menacing or violent.
- The movie opens with Max chasing a dog down the stairs. There is shouting and screaming and falling while the dog tries desperately to get away. The chase leads them downstairs where Max throws himself on the dog and roughly grabs it in his arms.
- After Max has a fight with his mum, he runs away into the woods. It is dark and creepy. There are screams and wild howls, and intense background music.
- Max’s boat is nearly smashed against rocks that jut out from the island where the Wild Things live. The sea is a swirling, raging mess of towering waves and pounding surf. Max struggles desperately to get to shore without being dashed to pieces. Waves crash over his head, and he must jump into the water. He does manage to scramble onto the beach in one piece.
- The Wild Things crowd around Max. Judith tells him that they ‘eat their problems’. They close in on him in a menacing way while asking if he has sharp bones. Max is clearly frightened while he tries to tell them that they can’t eat him. Throughout the movie, the Wild Things threaten characters by saying, ‘I’ll eat you up’.
- Max’s school teacher explains to his class of young students that the sun is going to die. He says that the universe will cease to exist and that the world will end. He goes on to talk about the many ways that it could end, including earthquakes, global warming and various disasters. He doesn’t realise that he’s frightening some of his students. Max is very disturbed by what his teacher says, and talks about it later with Carol. He asks Carol whether he knew that the sun is going to die.
- While Carol is sleeping, he dreams about harming Max. Max lies awake next to him watching as Carol’s sharp claws gouge the ground. Carol mutters in his sleep about getting Max. Max is frightened and becoming more afraid of Carol. The other Wild Things warn Max not to let Carol know that Max isn’t really a king.
- When Carol finds out that Max isn’t really a King, he freaks out and tears Douglas’s arm off his body. Then he goes after Max, chasing him through a dark forest while shrieks ring out above the music. Max runs for his life. Carol definitely wants to kill Max (although he later says that he wouldn’t have). Max hides from Carol by climbing inside KW’s mouth and hiding in her stomach. After Carol has gone, KW’s throat begins to close up and Max says he’s having trouble breathing. For a moment, it’s not clear whether Max will get out of her stomach alive. But then she reaches down and pulls him out through her mouth. He is covered in slimy goo, but is otherwise unharmed.
- In every chase scene or any scene that involves running, the camera becomes extremely unsteady as if the camera operator were running too. The camera angles, images and footage are often dizzying and sickening. Combined with intense scenes and scary music, this could be very unsettling to some viewers.
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie contains some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example, Max’s teacher scares the children by telling them about how the sun will die and the Earth will be destroyed.
Some children, particularly those struggling with relationship issues or dealing with some form of domestic violence, could also be unsettled by parts of this movie.
None of concern
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
This movie contains some use of substances. For example, Max’s mother has a glass of wine with a male friend.
Nudity and sexual activity
None of concern
None of concern
None of concern
Ideas to discuss with your children
Where the Wild Things Are is a dark fantasy adventure being promoted as a children’s movie. This movie is, however, entirely unsuitable for young audiences. Fans of the book might well want to see it. They should be aware, though, that the only things the book and the movie share are costumes and characters. The plot of the movie heads in a far more sinister direction. There is also a lot of handheld camera footage.
The main messages from this movie are that sometimes you don’t realise what you have until it’s gone. Be grateful for family and for people who love you for who or what you are.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include independence, resourcefulness, responsibility and forgiveness.
This movie could give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life attitudes and behaviours such as:
- running away from your problems instead of facing them or talking about them
- using violence as a way to solve problems
- taking out your anger on other people
- taking unnecessary or dangerous risks
- destroying other people’s things
- not talking with your parents
- making other people believe that you’re something you’re not.
You could also talk about role reversals and the fact that Max took on the role of leader or grown-up for the Wild Things, even though he is just a child himself.