Review in a Hurry: Artfully oddball director Spike Jonze brings his aesthetic to the much-loved children's book about a rowdy kid who leaves home to become king of the monsters, only to find it's not easy being in charge. If you ever loved the book as a kid or parent (or both), you will cry. Yes you will. Don't fight it.
The Bigger Picture: The director of quirky brain-teasers Being John Malkovich and Adaptation might not initially seem like a perfect fit to adapt a Maurice Sendak book, but his work on Beastie Boys videos and Jackass actually gives him the perfect understanding of a rowdy, 9-year-old sensibility. From the opening credits that appear to have been vandalized by a kid and a crayon, to the emotional outbursts that fuel the departure of young Max (Max Records) to the land of the Wild Things, Jonze fully captures that childhood sense of having stronger emotions than you know how to comprehend and deal with.
Distraught from a snowball fight gone awry, the deadpan apocalyptic pronouncements of his science teacher, and an unwanted boyfriend for mom (Catherine Keener), Max dons his wolf suit and gets rowdy, finally biting his mother and running away—either literally or into his own subconscious, depending on how you read things.
After finding a boat and sailing away, he comes to an island where giant, rowdy, fuzzy monsters are having trouble getting along, especially a particularly aggressive beast named Carol (voice of James Gandolfini) who likes to smash things every time he doesn't get his way.
To avoid being eaten by these creatures, Max quickly improvises one of those run-on stories that kids like to tell, about his own superpowers and battles with Vikings. The Wild Things believe every word and make him their king, though an ominous pile of humanoid bones nearby suggests that there may ultimately be a steep price to pay for monarchy.
Soon enough, Max realizes that he has been thrust into the parent role—and that out-of-control kids can be a frightening responsibility, even when you have the best of intentions. Adults will be able to read all kinds of subtexts into the way the individual creatures behave, while kids will just image how cool, and occasionally scary, it would be to have a gang of giant furry creatures to play with. There isn't a whole lot of narrative, but there's a ton of emotional truth.
Not every plot point in the book is covered: a forest doesn't literally grow in Max's bedroom, and that nifty sea serpent is sadly M.I.A. Also, toy collectors will note that all the major characters except Max have been renamed since Todd McFarlane put out the action figures a few years ago. But the spirit of the book is intact, and Sendak is on record as saying that anyone who doesn't like the movie "can go to hell."
The 180—a Second Opinion: Though the CG facial expressions of the Wild Things are generally effective, the lip-movements have that distinct air of digital unreality to them; this is the one aspect of the film likely to look dated in the years to come.
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