Spike Jonze’s film of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, substitutes pop psychology for Sendak’s exuberant, anarchic vision of childhood. Sendak’s hero is a boy named Max who’s sent to bed when his high spirits turn the corner into aggressiveness. He finds his room transformed into a jungle inhabited by savage creatures who make him their king. Max plays with them until his wild side is spent and then returns to his warm bed and a hot supper.
Children and parents love this meta phor for the childish id, which can play itself out in an imaginative realm while Max remains in the safety of his home. The Brothers Grimm painted a variety of monsters to represent the cruelty of the world that children have to learn to confront. Sendak, for his part, pioneered the idea that monsters could stand in for the uncivilized impulses of children themselves.