Where the Wild Things Are
Directed by Spike Jonze. US. 2009. Age 9+. 101 minutes. Warner Bros. blu ray.
Sat., October 20, 2012
“Spike Jonze said in interviews that his chief goal in adapting Maurice Sendaks Where The Wild Things Are was to try to capture the feeling of being 9. By that measureby just about any measure, reallyhe succeeded wildly. The big hurdle was spinning a beloved, essentially plot-free 300-word childrens book into a feature-length movie, but Jonzealong with co-scripter Dave Eggers, who knows a thing or two about the trials of childhoodmanaged to remain faithful to Sendaks sentiment and visuals while expanding their scope.
The movie leaps from the gate, careening through the emotional peaks and valleys of a 9-year-olds mindnewcomer Max Records plays Max, in a serendipitous coincidencebut never succumbing to cutesy kid-movie tropes. In a breathless early scene, Max engages his sisters friends in a snowball fight, rushing from ecstasy to rage in a second, from a sense of belonging to the sense of total isolation peculiar to children. Those feelings quickly drive Max to where the wild things are; the real world provides short bookends to a movie that lives mostly inside Maxs head.
And what an expansive, wondrous, confusing, scary, and gorgeous place to be, with lush woods abutting endless deserts and a raging ocean. If those cues arent direct enough, the wild things themselves evoke various sides of Maxs personality. (The creatures are brought to life by costumes with CG-augmented faces, and they look great.) He first meets Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), whos busy crushing everything in sight. No wonder the two become fast friends: Max can relate to Carols insecurity, his need to be loved, his temper, and his sweetness.
Though little happens, it doesnt much need to. Max gets to know the wild things in ways that simply ring true, and thats story enough. He favors Gandolfini, all but ignores the timid goat-beast voiced by Paul Dano, tries to impress big-sister figure Lauren Ambrose, and bosses around Chris Coopers bird-man. And in a subtle, daring, but thoroughly effective move, Jonze has Max fearfully avoid the nameless, near-silent bull, who often appears alone and in the distance, unremarked upon. Whether the action is grand and exciting, as when Jonze brings to life a massive fortress made of twigs, or simple and human, as in touching one-on-ones that Max has with Ambrose, Dano, and Gandolfini, it all feels genuine to the actual experience of childhood in ways that childrens movies generally dont. Max learns about himself, to be sure, but Jonze never considers making the sort of broad-stroke, Heres what everybody learned! gestures that attempt to stand in for actual emotion. Instead, he lets a little kid loose to explore the terrain of his own mind, which turns out to be an amazing place.” (Josh Modell, The Onion A.V. Club)