wildthingsmovieI went to see Where the Wild Things Are after work today, and I loved it. It felt like childhood, like all the moments I remember. All the feelings you can’t express, all the things you say, all the hope and joy. The scary things you begin to learn about the big, terrifying world. The fun of just playing. Wishing you were older and could be in charge. Wishing the world went your way. The quirkiness of kid imagination. All of it. More than any movie I think I’ve ever seen, this one didn’t just show childhood. It embodied it. The dark and the light.

Yes, the movie dragged some in the middle while Max was sorting out all his feelings in this strange world he created. There were very young children in the theater who weren’t scared but didn’t quite get it. But they asked the right questions (“Why is Max so sad?”). Perceptive adults might get more out of this than young children, but if you’re anything like me Sendak’s work only grows more complex, powerful, and true the older you get and the more times you read it.

I’ve been reading the book to my 1st graders this week to celebrate the release of the movie (next week we’re having wild rumpuses in the library). And in every group there are 1 or 2 very sharp kiddos who are tuned right in to what Max was feeling and why. And I’m noticing that the kids who get it are the ones with less than perfect home lives. It is a dark story, and maybe you need to have a bit of a dark childhood to get it right away. I ask the kids why Max sends the Wild Things to bed without their supper, and in every class at least one surprising child says, “Because he was sent to bed without his and he’s mad about it.” In one of my classes I had a student, one of my “wildest,” who caught every nuance and empathized with Max completely. I’ve never had his full attention like that before.

All the performances in the film were beyond solid, and Max Records carried out an impressive feat. As the main human character in the movie, he really does anchor it and make you feel everything he feels. The voices of the Wild Things were perfectly cast, and I thought James Gandolfini as Carol, the Wild Thing most like Max, was just inspired.

This book and this movie are all about being heard when you can’t quite say what you mean. That’s hugely frustrating as a kid, and I loved the way the movie fleshed out Max’s back story. I love that Spike Jonze thought about all the moments that scare us as children, how unsettled our worlds can get, how selfish we can be, and how loving and fearless as well. And how fragile. I remember being 8 and meeting my future stepdad for the first time. It felt exactly like Max does when he meets his mom’s new boyfriend. I remember not being able to explain why I was upset but wanting everyone to listen to me anyway. I remember lots of moments like that. Being a kid is like that, and I thought the Wild Things personalities’ were such a wonderful way to show Max that families are more complex than just what he’s feeling. The last scene, the look he gives his mom, was awesome.