I could have loved this movie. Don’t take that the wrong way, I did enjoy it. I liked it very much, in fact. But I did not love it. It’s beautifully made and the way in which the picture book has been expanded is wonderful. I even liked the addition of Max’s older sister. I didn’t mind the talking monsters or their assigned personalities. I didn’t dislike the new locations of the wild land. It captured the feel of the book while bringing a whole lot more to it. So what didn’t I like? My favorite scene in the book is gone. It’s not even attempted. With the F/X in Hollywood today, it could have been done magnificently. But no… completely rewritten. Oh…I’m talking about the part where the forest grows in Max’s room. I remember as a kid I so adored the posts on the bed becoming trees. And the plant overgrowing, etc. Just imagine that coming to life… Well, keep imagining, for the film has no such scene. In the film he is sent to his room, but instead runs out of the house (in his wolf suit, thank goodness) and his mother chases him. He runs faster than her, of course (both with a head start and a kid’s energy), and keeps running, yes, into a forest and on to the boat. Perhaps it had meant to be a bit more realistic this way? For despite the giant crazy monsters, it had a grounding in reality. Emotional and social issues were touched on much more so than the book. And that’s fine, great even. Nevertheless, I truly missed my favorite part! In that way, it lacked. By which I mean it didn’t quite feel like the book, not truly. The magical element has been removed.
Much less important, there is also no scene of Max and the monsters swinging from tree branches. Okay, I didn’t actually remember this, so I didn’t miss it as much. (I watched a still-image animation and narration of the book on YouTube.) But once I knew of it again, I wondered why it’s not in the film.
Otherwise it’s an amazing movie. Apparently kids are enjoying it, but it seemed to me more so for adults who read it as child. It had a definite nostalgic quality. And in terms of production, truly stunning. The ocean scene could not have been better. The monsters, which could have been utterly cheesy, seemed quite realistic. All hail the combination of monster suits, animatronics and CGI! The monsters were brought to life straight from the book. And Max Records as Max, well, my heart went out to him the minute he first appeared. (And oh what an ideal beginning to the movie!)
Another terrific aspect is it did not beat you over the head with its messages. I suppose you could argue that it does. But what I’m saying is it could have been a lot more heavy handed. It doesn’t pander to the audience, it lets the audience experience the themes for itself.
It’s well crafted, beautifully done and worth seeing. However, I do think you have to have been a fan of the book.
Thanks, Spike Jonze, for marvelously bringing to life a itsy bitsy book that had a real impact. Great job on a very difficult task. I know that Sendak told you to make the book as what it meant to you. I loved your "meanings" and insights. If only you'd cared as much as me about that one bit...
P.S. - Clara and I both want Max's wolf suit.