For some unexplained reason, building a fort solves most childhood problems. It's just a fact. Frustrated? Pillow fort. Lonely? Couch cushion fort. Upset about your mother seeing someone new? Snow fort. For most directors, it would be enough to show Max building a snow fort. The audience, the adults, would think, hey, I remember doing that, but rather than present the fort as just another activity for children, Spike Jonze uses his camera to flawlessly show why the fort matters. The camera is lowered, aimed on Max's level. He's not just killing time, he's creating his own universe, one where he's bold enough to start wars with the older kids. Inside that fort, he's Alexander The Great, he's Genghis Khan, he's a Sherpa warrior fending off the elements and fighting off larger foes with wintry cannonballs. So, when it all comes crashing down, when the invading Barbarian teenager crushes through and tears stream down Max's face, we know more was destroyed than just a makeshift, childish shanty. Hope, safety, innocence, all shattered in broken icicles, but that's the great thing about children, they wake up the next day determined to build again. Maybe this time with a few ogres and a couple thousand trees.
Get a glimpse of Max's snow fort in the Where the Wild Things Are trailer embedded below. You'll see it at around the 1:33 mark.