Where the Wild Things Are Review

Spike Jonze’s imagining of “Where the Wild Things Are” is nothing like you’d expect from a film adapted from a beloved children’s book. It’s dense with top-notch visuals from the cinematography to the incredible fusion of costumes, puppetry and CGI used to bring the Wild Things to life, but its plot is very frank in its approach to anger, sadness and loneliness.

It should be noted that this is not so much a children’s film as it is a film that children are capable of enjoying. I refuse to insist that this is not for children, but it would be untruthful to say that this is a film *intended* for them. “Wild Things” is likely going to be appreciated most by those who already have experienced what the main character Max is going through emotionally with regards to his family and his peers (the wild things). To put a number on it, I think that — depending on the child — kids ages nine or older will not only be able to enjoy it, but take something away from it. As for adults, it should be a touching and somewhat nostalgic filmgoing experience.

Jonze pretty much perfectly captures the essence of childhood within the first 20 minutes of this film. Whether it’s the way Max (Max Records, who is excellent) looks up at his mom (Catherine Keener) from underneath her desk or his imagination taking over as he sails a toy boat over the curves of his covers, Jonze creates moments that reconnect us to childhood in simply poetic fashion. Immediately we’re ready for Max’s adventure to begin because he helps us so easily recall that childlike state of mind.

After a bad dispute that ends with Max biting his mom, he runs away and discovers the island where the wild things are. If you’ve seen the trailer, nothing more needs to be said about Jonze’s incredible choice to go with puppets and blend in CGI elements to give it a breath of realism. As for the characters themselves, Jonze and longtime co-writer Dave Eggers take an interesting approach.

The wild things are voiced by adult actors and give them a sense humor appealing to adults, but give them the social functionality of eight-year-olds. It ends up creating this schism between what we expect will happen (they’re going to behave either like children or adults, it can’t be both) and what does (they carry themselves like adults, but they interact like children). The results of this concept fall somewhere between hysterically genius and bizarre/random. On one hand their child-like behavior makes for some elegant teaching points for Max and on the other you have one wild thing knocking two gulls out of the sky and then telling Max their names are Bob and Terry. It’s simultaneously goofy/immature and completely fantastic.

One of the challenges of the film had to be expanding the story to adapt instead of condensing like most adaptations require. Jonze and Eggers use this as a chance to establish the real world issues Max is dealing with (how to handle his need for parental attention and his anger) and manifest them in this imaginary way in the world of the wild things. The scenes with the wild things are very physical, which will help to keep children’s attention. They have a dirt clod fight and go running through the forest before falling into a pile (we all know what that was like as children).

Some parents who are very sensitive to what their kids see might have trouble being okay with some of the anger and other extreme emotions. If there’s one good way to put it, it’s that the emotional transitions can be abrupt. One minute is playful and fun, the next can instantly become lonely or sad and then immediately one of anger mild violence follows. Some might wonder why this wasn’t catered more directly to kids, but if you stop and think, don’t instant emotional mood swings sounds like a pretty spot-on portrayal of childhood?

Jonze telling of “Wild Things” is a mature albeit truthful one. This is not pure syrupy children’s entertainment. A child should come out of this movie knowing disputes between family members happen, but that it doesn’t change how much we love each other — that it’s okay to get angry sometimes, but we should try and understand everyone’s feelings so that next time nobody will do anything they regret. That’s daring storytelling considering the expectation was for something lighter. Absolute kudos to Jonze and Warner Brothers for letting this unique film happen. You don’t see movies about childhood as beautiful as this one more than once a blue moon, which is plenty cause for a wild rumpus.

4.5/5 Stars

Directed by: Spike Jonze
Written by: Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers (story, screenplay), Maurice Sendak (book)
Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini (voice)


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