Posted on Blogcritics.org
This is going to be a hard review to write, because there are so many things to say about the new movie Where The Wild Things Are. A book could probably be written analyzing this film and the emotions it provokes. It is based on the children’s picture book written by Maurice Sendak, and for over 40 years it’s been one of the most famous and popular books for children.
Technically the book itself is only ten lines long, with the pictures offering a lot more of a story, so when Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers got their hands on it they really had their work cut out for them. How do you make a ten line book into a full length movie? In their case, with exceptional style.
Max (Max Records) is a typical little boy; he has too much energy, loves playing games, has a vivid imagination, and just wants some attention. It seems that his parents went through a divorce and he’s having some trouble coping with his emotions. In the beginning he tries to get his sister and her friends to have a snowball fight, but the fun goes sour when they destroy his igloo. Max cries and the audience cries for him, because it must be said that Records plays this role with perfect innocence and sincerity. He is not overly precocious or wise beyond his years; he is Max. While his tired single mother (Catherine Keener) tries her best to show her love for him, Max loses his temper when she brings home a date. He runs away and sets off on a journey like no other.
Off on a distant island, Max creeps into the home of the Wild Things. These giant monsters are having troubles of their own, as one of them has decided to leave the pack and the current leader Carol (James Gandolfini) is having trouble with it.
His feelings for the missing KW (Lauren Ambrose) are complicated, and he takes it out on the forest with violence and fury. The Wild Things plan to eat him at first, but Max stands up to them and tells wild stories about being the King of the Vikings. Carol is so delighted to have someone to fix everything for them that he promotes Max immediately to King. The other Wild Things include negative Judith (Catherine O’Hara), calm Ira (Forest Whitaker), loyal Douglas (Chris Cooper), silent Bull (Michael Berry Jr.), and attention-seeking Alexander (Paul Dano). At first everything is fun and exciting with the beasts, especially when KW comes back to meet Max, but it soon breaks apart and Max learns that his adventure may not be what he expected … or what he wanted.
This movie is beautifully crafted from beginning to end, and the visual scheme is very loyal to the original artwork from the book. It’s a dark and earthy place that Max finds, with the neverending forest and random sandy desert. The Wild Things are not fully CGI, which is probably the best thing about them; it’s a mix of CGI, live action, actual costumed actors, and animatronics. The actors say that they were often in a room together and forced to be very physical with one another, just like the characters they were voicing. It adds a certain authenticity to the way they talk and act with each other, and you can sense the genuine connection and emotion between the characters because of it.
In many ways I think this movie was made more for adults than for children. In fact, I can see where some parents might be nervous about bringing their kids to this film. Then again, there are plenty of movies that you might think are inappropriate, but children end up loving. Most of the scary parts go over their heads and they embrace the whimsical nature of fantasy stories.
I think each parent can decide if their child is ready or not for this, but honestly it might disturb the adult more than the child. It’s mentally engaging on a mature level; adults understand that the Wild Things are merely facets of Max’s personality, and his way of coping with the unexpressed rage and sorrow in his heart. Carol is his fury and his pain, KW is his independence, Alexander is his loneliness, Douglas is his loyalty, Judith is his negativity, Ira is his unconditional love, and the Bull is his silence. It is very unlikely that young children will pick up on the psychological complexity of this film, and they will likely just enjoy the forest romp and sand fight. In the end it will probably be more memorable to the adults in the audience, who remember being innocent children with so much conflicting emotion and no place to direct it.
Where the Wild Things Are haunts me in a way; there is a sorrow in seeing childhood from a distance, and missing it/pitying it all at once. Jonze brings us the bitter truth about the things that children do not say, and it’s tragic. And it’s beautiful. This is a wonderful movie with depth and excellent acting all around, but it might be a little tough for people to swallow. It’s not the happy-go-lucky children’s film everyone was probably expecting. It’s a step above the typical children’s film, not talking down to the young audience but rather embracing it … and still speaking directly to the parents at the same time.
You might not want to see the movie again and again, but it’s worth seeing at least once, if only to experience the vision. Where the Wild Things Are is rated PG for disturbing images and some violence, and it is out in theaters today.