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Literature / Where the Wild Things Are

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"Let the wild rumpus start!"

Where the Wild Things Are is a children's book by Maurice Sendak. It was originally panned by critics, but has since become a beloved classic.

In the book, Max is an angry little boy in a wolf costume who can't control his emotions and is sent to his room. There he is (depending on your interpretation) transported to/imagines a world populated by semi-feral monsters and is crowned their king because of his wild emotions. At first happy, he eventually grows tired of acting like a wild animal and goes back home.

There are two film adaptations, the more recent one directed by Spike Jonze of Being John Malkovich fame with a soundtrack by Karen O.

In the Spike Jonze film, Max is an angry little boy in a wolf costume who is very intelligent and resents that his sister feels too old to spend time with him and that his mother's life is too busy to give him the attention he desires. This causes a conflict that ends with him running away to an island populated by semi-feral monsters who crown him king out of a need for someone to take care of them and their emotional needs. Unlike in the book, the monsters all have their individual characteristics and personalities that are usually in some way a reflection of portions of Max's personality. Although Max tries his best, eventually he realizes he loves the monsters but cannot be the leader or parent they need and returns home to his mother with a better appreciation of what she goes through. Most of the following tropes will deal with the film version (see Adaptation Expansion).


Provides Examples Of:

  • A Boy and His X: A Boy and His Tribe of Monsters.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: All of the monsters.
  • Scenery Porn: Both the original's illustrations and the film have this a lot.
  • Shout-Out: Not an example within the book/movie itself, but it was given multiple shout outs in Alt-J's song Breezeblocks (to the point where the entire bridge goes "please don't go, I'll eat you whole, I love you so.")
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Actually a bit more cynical than your typical children's book due to a ruckus main character who has a mother who punishes him. However, this doesn't make it a mean spirited and unsympathetic book.

Specific to the book:

  • No Name Given: All of the monsters. Sendak had names that never appeared in the book for some of them — Tzippy, Aaron, Moishe, Bruno, Emile, Bernard — but never gave a name to the goat in the books or art (he's just referred to as Goat Boy).

Specific to the film:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Three of the monsters from the book (counting the sea monster) do not appear in the movie. The seven they use are quite enough.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Pretty much required, as the original book was only ten sentences long.
  • Adaptational Name Change: While the names of the Things were not said in the book, Sendak has named them individually after his aunts and uncles. All of their names were changed in the film.
    • Bernard — the Bull
    • Bruno — Ira
    • Emeal — Douglas
    • "Goat Boy" — Alexander
    • Zippy — KW
    • Aaron — Judith
    • Moishaw — Carol
  • Benevolent Monsters: The titular Wild Things. While they frolic quite fiercely, they're not in other ways malicious.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Mention any idea you have to Carol that could imply breaking up the clan of monsters, and may God have mercy on your soul!
    • He also reacts badly on being lied to.
    • Really, it's easier to list what doesn't send Carol into a rage.
  • Big Brother Bully: Carol towards the rest of the Wild Things. It becomes clear towards the end of the film that he's exactly the kind of person Max will become if he doesn't try to fix his problems; a self-centered, bitter Mood-Swinger whose bursts of violence and abuse bring harm to his family.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Max leaves the Wild Things, with the implication that he will never see them again, but he's happily reunited with his mother, with the implication that he understands her a little better and things might become more peaceful between them as a result.
  • Blatant Lies: Max's claims of being a king. Unsurprisingly it turns out that pretty much all of the monsters had him figured out from the get go.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: In wild thing society, allowing someone to eat you is considered a polite gesture.
  • The Chew Toy: Douglas, who is okay with being thrown around (literally). It's hilarious. His arm getting ripped off? Not so much.
  • Cool Big Sis: KW, who quickly warms to Max and often sides with him in the Things' conflicts. His actual sister, Claire, was once this, but has become distant as she and Max are in very different places in life.
  • Darker and Edgier: A rather infamous case of this for a film adaptation of a kid’s book, especially considering how many kids were probably traumatized by Douglas getting his arm ripped off.
  • Intelligible Unintelligible: Bob and Terry. To Max and Carol, they are simply The Unintelligible.
  • Ironic Echo: In the beginning of the movie, Max runs away from home after his mom says he was out of control after he bit her. By the end, Max says that Carol is out of control after Carol ripped off Douglas' arm. Max then runs away, and the same music plays as did in the earlier scene.
  • Jitter Cam: The movie is more or less shot by someone really hopped up on Red Bull.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Max at the start. Like the Teens Are Monsters entry, it's Downplayed; Max is mainly like this to get attention.
  • Liar Revealed: Fuels the whole plot as Max lies from the beginning about being a king and having psychic powers.
  • Logo Joke: Each of the logos are static, and have apparently been drawn on by Max. The WB logo has a "wild thing" sort of shape drawn around it, with Max scribbling over the Time Warner byline and replacing it with his name. The Legendary Pictures logo has Max drawing a monster eating it. The Village Roadshow logo has Max turning the logo into his own name, with the "V" becoming an upside down "A", and a crude sword along the bottom of the logo.
  • Mood Whiplash: Goes from being funny to being serious to being sort of creepy to being sad. Sometimes in the same scene.
    Carol: How can you say that? How dare you say that? [rips Douglas' arm off]
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Max, and ALL of the Wild Things with the vice being raging emotions.
  • Mythology Gag: Perhaps not intentional, but Alexander's character was the only one who didn't get a nickname from the writer. In the movie, he's ignored by everyone to the point where he might as well not exist.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer for the 2009 film pretty much shows Max having fun/goofy adventures with the titular Wild Things. The actual film is a poignant drama about family and growing up.
  • No Name Given: The bison/bull in the movie. Bernard, per the credits and one brief line.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Is "that was my favorite arm" really all you have to say, Douglas, in response to getting it ripped off?
  • Only Sane Man: The Monsters' voice of reason is Alexander. Too bad nobody ever listens to him.
  • Our Bugbears Are Scarier: The Wild Things are brought to life by the protagonist's imagination, or exist in his imagination, or live somewhere accessible by his imagination, or something along those lines. They're big and hairy, fierce and fearsome, and none look alike — some have horns, one has duck legs and another human feet, one has the head of a hog and another has the head of a bird. They threaten Max when he encounters them, but he intimidates them and becomes their king. According to the author, he based the Wild Things on caricatures of his aunts and uncles he drew when they visited his house in his youth.
  • Parents as People: Max's mother isn't perfect, but it's only because she's trying so hard to provide for her family that she has less time for them.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs wrote the score for the film.
  • The Quiet One: Bernard never speaks until before Max leaves.
  • Reality Ensues: The ending makes it clear that pretty much all of the Wild Things aside from Carol, Judith, and Ira figured out Max was lying about being a king. And those three were simply in denial. Douglas and Alexander admit that they both knew he was lying from the start and only went along with it because they saw how happy it made Carol.
  • Sadist Teacher: Max's class on astronomy drifts off into a discussion on how everything is going to die, and a list of all the ways all of humanity could be wiped out, delivered cheerfully obliviously to a class of 9-year-olds.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Max's mom also has a phone conversation with a "Mr. Lasseter". Back in the 80s John Lasseter attempted to make a WTWTA movie with Disney. It would have been one of the earliest examples of CGI in film, featuring traditionally animated characters in 3D CGI environments.
    • There's a scene where Max is being shown his "kingdom", which is a pretty obvious reference to The Lion King. Some of the dialogue is very similar to that scene, as well.
  • Some Call Me "Tim": The monsters are Carol, Ira, KW, Judith, Douglas, Alexander, and Bernard.
  • Stepford Smiler: The Wild Things in general but especially Carol. KW flat out tells Max that life on the island gets difficult but the others are in denial over it.
  • The Storyteller: Max. It's how he's able to lie so quickly when under pressure with the Things.
  • Swallowed Whole: When KW swallows Max so he can hide from Carol.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Downplayed. Claire's friends don't wreck Max's snow fort out of malice but out of playing too hard for the smaller kid. They even look genuinely upset when they realize what they've done — but are much too self-conscious to apologize.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Both the female wild things have long hair.
  • Those Two Guys: Bob and Terry, K.W.'s two owl friends.

Alternative Title(s): Where The Wild Things Are