The movie opens up with our main character Max (Max Records), as he screams like a banshee and chases his dog around the house. We then get an idea of how his homelife is: he doesn’t have many friends, his sister constantly ignores him, and he spends most of his time getting lost in his own imagination Some of the things he plays with are his toy sailboat and something that looks like a ball made of sticks. His mom (Catherine Keener) cares very much for him, but his dad is clearly not around. One day, after he builds a snow igloo, Max throws snowballs at his sister’s friends. A snowball fight ensues, and it looks like everyone’s having fun…..until one kid takes things too far and dives on top of Max’s igloo (with Max still inside). It crumbles, Max emerges from the snow crying, but his sister and his friends just drive off. In a move of anger, Max trashes his sister’s room, including a gift he had made for her. He eventually feels guilty and tells his mom what he did. They clean up the mess together.
The following night, Max causes a ruckus while Mom is trying to entertain a boyfriend. He starts by dragging his chair on the kitchen floor. Then he jumps onto the table and yells, “Feed me, woman!” Mom tries to grab at him, but he acts more like an animal and actually bites her. As Mom yells “What is the matter with you?!?”, Max runs away. Mom chases Max down the street, but Max eventually loses her. He then stumbles across a lake and a rickety sailboat (a big version of the one he plays with). He gets into it and sails out onto the lake, which quickly turns to a giant ocean full of harsh waves. After getting tossed around, he eventually makes it to an island full of woods.
Max sneaks into the woods and stumbles across the camping area of seven large monsters, aka the Wild Things. Max watches in horror as Carol (James Gandolfini) smashes a stick ball (similar to Max’s toy from earlier) to pieces. When none of the other Wild Things bother to assist Carol, Max jumps out and starts beating one of the stick balls with a stick. At first, the Wild Things are confused, since they’ve never seen a human before. Carol compliments Max on his “destruction”, saying “This guy gets it.” Carol and Max start destroying some more stick balls, until the Wild Things corner Max and tell him these stick balls are their homes. They then proceed to freak Max out by telling him they could eat him right now. Max stops them by saying he has magical powers and that he was a king at the previous kingdom he was at. The Wild Things then respect Max. Carol is then convinced that Max is the perfect king for their kingdom, especially when Max promises that they’ll never be sad again. Carol then looks for a crown, which is buried under the remains of their previous kings (it’s implied the Wild Things ate them). Carol crowns Max, and says that he’ll be a great king. The king’s first order of business: the WILD RUMPUS. While they all play and jump on each other, another Wild Thing that looks like Carol but with long hair watches them play, but stands off to the side.
We are then officially introduced to the rest of the Wild Things: Judith and Ira (Catherine O’Hara and Forrest Whitaker) - who resemble a married couple, Alexander (Paul Dano) a goat who nobody ever listens to, Douglass (Chris Cooper) a bird who Carol can count on for anything, and a Bull who never talks. Carol also mentions KW (Lauren Ambrose), the Wild Thing who was watching them before. There’s clearly a rivalry between Carol and KW, mainly because KW is more interested in hanging out with her new friends Bob and Terry. Max seeks KW out and playfully tackles her. Pretty soon, all the Wild Things dog pile on the two, and slowly go to sleep on top of each other. While this happens, Max talks to KW and tells him about the situation with his family. Regardless, KW thinks Max will make a great king and says, “it’s nice to have a king that won’t eat people”.
Throughout the movie, Carol’s bond with Max grows. He then shows Max the rest of his kingdom. The two walk across a dry desert, which Carol claims was all rock once. Max asks Carol is he knows that the sun is going to die. Carol doesn’t believe this. Later, Carol takes him to a cave where he’s made a giant model full of stick mountains, lakes, and clay-versions of the Wild Things. He claims it’s a place “where everything you want to happen would happen”. Max says they can definitely make this place a reality.
Max and the Wild Things then get started on building this place, which Max now refers to as a “fort”. Through a montage, the fort comes along really well, as it looks like a HUGE version of their stick balls. Later on, KW asks if Bob and Terry can come live with them in the fort. Max doesn’t see a problem, even when he learns that Bob and Terry are actually owls that don’t speak (they only squawk, but KW seems to understand them). Carol’s not happy with the situation; he finds it difficult to understand why KW would wanna hang out with two owls.
In order to stop the arguing between KW and Carol, Max organizes a dirt clod war (think snowball fight except with dirt) and by sticking KW and Carol on a team with himself and Douglass. The war seems to be going good, at first. But then Alexander threatens to quit when the Wild Things all start throwing their dirt clods at him. More tension arises when KW steps on Carol’s head and he takes offense. KW gets fed up and decides not to hang out with the group anymore. Max is worried, saying that the Wild Things need a mom.
Things start getting tough for the Wild Things now. Max apologizes to Alexander for the dirt clod war. Alexander then realizes that Max really isn’t a king; he doesn’t seem to mind, but he warns Max to never tell Carol. When Max tries building a secret room in the fort, Carol grows upset since he wanted everyone to live together without ANY secrets. Later that night, everyone wakes up to Carol attempting to destroy the fort. He claims it’s “all wrong” and that it’s no longer the place he dreamed of. The Wild Things then go to Max for help, asking him to use his magical powers to make everyone happy. When Max fails to do anything, they all realize he’s not a king. This puts Carol into a huge depression, who calls Max a terrible king and proceeds to chase him through the forest. Max eventually runs into KW, who begs her to hide him. KW stuffs Max down her throat and into her belly, temporarily hiding him from Carol. It’s obvious Max is very scared and sad that he couldn’t make things better for the Wild Things. He decides it’s time to go home.
The next morning, Max wakes up and tries to make peace with Carol, but he’s nowhere to be found. Max checks Carol’s cave to find his model city destroyed (presumably by an emotional Carol). Assisted by KW, Max prepares his sailboat for him to leave. The Wild Things (minus Carol) all say their goodbyes, including the Bull, who finally talks and asks Max “will you say good things about us?” Max says definitely, then gets into his boat. As he heads out to sea, Carol finally comes to say his goodbye, but Max is already too far out. Carol simply howls at Max, who howls back at him. The rest of the Wild Things join in on the howl as Max floats off.
Max eventually makes it back to the lake he took off from and runs back home. He finds his mom there, who hugs him tightly. As Max eats his supper, his mom can only watch him with a happy smile on her face.
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