Where the Wild Things Are

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Where the Wild Things Are Movie Poster Image
Sometimes-dark adaptation focuses on friendship, loneliness.
  • PG
  • 2009
  • 100 minutes

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 198 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 122 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie's messages are more complex than in many other films about/targeted at children. The positive messages include Max helping the Wild Things (for a while anyway) solve some of their problems, come together as a tribe, act more inclusively toward KW's owl friends, and have more fun with each other. There's also an uplifting take-away about the importance of going home and the powerful bond between mother and child. But along the way, characters can be cruel to each other and hurt one another's feelings, both by accident and intentionally. And the movie doesn't shy away from difficult themes like loneliness, fear, and insecurity. 

Positive Role Models

KW is a strong role model of inclusiveness and selflessness. She's friends with two owls, despite being shunned for it by Carol (he's clearly jealous of them and is upset at the idea of her choosing to be with them over him/the other Wild Things). But she still loves Carol and her other Wild Thing friends and stands by them. Some of the other Wild Things are more mercurial and complex, including Carol -- whose moods can change in the blink of an eye -- and Judith, who is often sarcastic and negative (but loves her family nonetheless). Max's mom is very loving, even while she's trying to discipline him. Max himself is a very realistic tween boy -- he can be both joyful and sullen, angry and contemplative. He's extremely imaginative and wants more than anything to feel loved and included in a family.


The Wild Things, especially Carol, can act out of control, smashing things, burning things, and threatening to eat Max before he's crowned their king. The whole group also participates in a somewhat intense dirt-clod "war," in which some characters are injured, as well as in a very rambunctious "wild rumpus," in which trees are knocked down, characters, fall, etc. Max himself acts out of control in some early scenes, angrily trashing his sister's room and yelling at his mom. During Max's boat trip to the island, a thunderstorm makes him fall in the water, and he struggles in the waves for several seconds. The movie's overall mood is dark, from the washed-out lighting to the at-times haunting score.


Max's mother has a man over for dinner who seems to be her boyfriend. They drink wine and kiss briefly. Ira and Judith act like a couple -- alternately bickering and acting protective of each other.


Occasional use of mild swear words/expletives like "damn," "hell," and "stupid." "God" used as an exclamation.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In one brief scene, Max's mother and her boyfriend are shown drinking wine before dinner.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that director Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are isn't appropriate for younger kids, even those who adore the book (there's a big difference between looking at a beautifully illustrated children's story and watching a live-action movie full of sights and sounds that will probably scare the average 4-year-old). The movie explores mature themes of loneliness, insecurity, and fear of change, both within Max's human family and the one he finds on his adventure. The island that Max lands on can be a scary and dark place, and the Wild Things themselves aren't above threatening (repeatedly) to eat Max, as well as becoming hot-headed and destructive (and when a Wild Thing gets destructive, it can be quite intense). The movie also has a slower, dreamier feel than many other kids' movies, and relationships and storylines aren't always neatly resolved. There's some mild language ("damn," "stupid") and a quick glimpse of Max's mom and her boyfriend drinking wine and kissing, but otherwise the PG rating is due mostly to Max's occasionally frightful time with the mysterious Wild Things.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 4 and 12-year-old Written byHelen F. December 30, 2019

Horribly dark and depressing adaptation

This could have been a magical, wonderful adventure - like the book - but instead it takes a children's story and turns it into a very adult film.
While i... Continue reading
Adult Written byBookMomToo April 16, 2010

BEST MOVIE of the decade!!!

My children all loved the book, and grew up listening to all of Maurice Sendak's books over and over upon request. I am not usually one to go to the movies... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bymngirl August 30, 2010

Zero Stars- Don't Even LOOK At It!

Went to see it on my birthday. Worst. Movie. Ever. By far. It was pointless. The book was better. But, the worst movie by far! It was so bad that I wanted to th... Continue reading

What's the story?

Director Spike Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers' adaptation of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE fleshes out Maurice Sendak's picture book protagonist Max (Max Records) to provide a reason behind his wolf suit-wearing mischief. He's an imaginative kid with boundless energy. But when his mom (Catherine Keener) doesn't seem to have time for him, he snaps, tries to bite her, and runs away. Suburban woods lead him to a sailboat that heads straight to a mysterious island inhabited by Wild Things. Unlike in the book, each movie Wild Thing has a distinct name and personality: There's insecure Carol (James Gandolfini), sarcastic Judith (Catherine O'Hara), sweet Ira (Forest Whitaker), misunderstood Alexander (Paul Dano), wise Douglas (Chris Cooper), and loving KW (Lauren Ambrose). Max persuades the Wild Things not to eat him by claiming he's a king with special powers. At first ruling the island a joy -- "let the wild rumpus start!" -- but as time passes, Max begins to disappoint the dysfunctional monsters, and he eventually grows fearful that they'll realize he's just a boy pretending to be a wolf pretending to be a king.

Is it any good?

Usually, beloved children's books are adapted with a kiddie audience in mind, but this movie isn't for young kids. It's a leisurely paced, literary film that makes you reflect on the exuberance and sadness of being a child. The Wild Things are indeed a wild bunch -- they smash things and claim to have eaten all of their other kings -- but they're also a broody, sarcastic, touchy clan wrestling with jealousy (Carol hates that KW is friends with two owls, Terry and Bob), isolation (Alex feels ignored), and misunderstandings (KW wants everyone to get along). It's not all rumpus-making, sleeping in a pile, and dirt-clot fights for King Max.

Visually, Where the Wild Things Are is beautifully simple, whether it's a heartbreaking close-up of a teary-eyed Max or an expansive shot of the Wild Things' island. It's amazing how perfectly Sendak's monsters come to life and how perfectly newcomer Records plays the spirited and vulnerable Max. He truly shines, especially acting opposite Keener, Gandolfini, and Ambrose. And the excellent voice cast, who actually rehearsed together, makes you forget you're watching CGI-enhanced 9-foot puppets. The movie's evocative soundtrack, composed by Carter Burrell and Karen O. (frontwoman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) switches from playful to eerie to jubilant to frightening, and it's a spot-on accompaniment to Max's journey. This isn't a movie you cuddle with the kids over, the way you do with the book. It is, however, an artful, touching text on the magical but at times lonely nature of childhood.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what makes Max scared and angry in Where the Wild Things Are. Why does he get mad at his sister and his mom? What does he want from them? What does he learn about families from his time among the Wild Things?

  • Each of the Wild Things has a personality, opinions, and concerns. Are the Wild Things symbolic of different character traits? Kids: Which Wild Thing was the most relatable?

  • How does the movie compare to the book? How did the filmmakers change the story? Does an adaptation have to to translate exactly what's in a book to be faithful? How do you think the movie might be different if it were meant for younger kids?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

Themes & Topics

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