Where the Wild Things Are Movie Poster Image

Where the Wild Things Are



Sometimes-dark adaptation focuses on friendship, loneliness.
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

What parents need to know

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.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

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

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.

What's the story?

Director Spike Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers' adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are fleshes out Maurice Sendak's 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 Where the Wild Things Are isn't for the Happy Meal set. 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, the film 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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what makes Max scared and angry. 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

Theatrical release date:October 16, 2009
DVD/Streaming release date:March 2, 2010
Cast:Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Max Records
Director:Spike Jonze
Studio:Warner Bros.
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Book characters, Misfits and underdogs
Run time:100 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language

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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 throw up, bury myself in a hole and die. Can you PLEASE let me rate it zero stars. Believe me, I would! It's like a black hole! I wasted my life. Its so depressing and just plain horrible! Don't take kids to see it, don't even LOOK at it, don't rent, buy it, nothing!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 15 years old Written bybpixie December 22, 2010


I went and watched it with my four year old brother and dad, and I CRIED. It was an amazing movie, I have to say, but very, very violent and disturbing. I had nightmares. First of all, the opening scenes made me tear up a little bit. Max is making a snowfort and her sister and her friends (some boys) come over and the guys start tearing it apart, and they jump on top of him, causing him to cry and his lip to bleed. Then, they just leave. The mother swears at him later and is emotionally abusive to him, which was horrible. He then runs away and finds a little boat and goes through the ocean to get to a tiny island, where he finds the "Wild Things". In short form, they have fun together, but there are some extremely disturbing and scenes. They can also be very gruesome, such as when someone's arm is torn off, and also one of the characters goes on a rant and tears after Max, proclaiming he's going to eat him, so another character hides Max in her sticky, gooey, dark MOUTH. Ew. Horrible messages throughout the movie except at the end when Max comes home and the family bonds (sort of). All in all, it's a fantastic movie, very well put together, but NOT AT ALL like the popular's children's book. Not for anyone under ten, and even that's pushing it. Gruesome, disturbing, violent, but in the end ... amazing. :)
What other families should know
Too much violence
Great messages
Adult Written byredsxfenway January 31, 2010

Should remain unseen

**** Mild spoilers ahead**** This was one of my favorite books as a child and one of my least favorite movies as college student. To those who know Jonze, it's not surprise the way the film ended up. It's angst-ridden and filled with light easy-listening indie pop music. I'm not one for nostalgia but this film utterly failed to capture the spirit of the book. It seems like Maurice Sendak, who was involved in the making of the film, forgot what he wrote more than 35 years ago. The book had a story of adventure and freedom, while the film is overly-dramatic, filled with almost constant sadness. There's nothing wrong with a film departing from the book its based on, but this film is a poor one even in a vacuum. The constant sorrow in the film takes away from what could be a very touching scene of Max leaving the island. Because the characters are so sad throughout the film, there's no real change in emotion in the final scene. Jonze puts the monsters in constant conflict with each other, back and forth between love and hate and it gets tiresome very quickly. However it is incredibly beautiful and the animation/puppetry is stunning. Children will likely be frightened by the violent interactions and probably turned off by the slow pace and dialogue that will likely be over their heads.