WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
**** (out of 5)
October 16, 2009
Max Records as MAX
Catherine Keener as MOM
Mark Ruffalo as THE BOYFRIEND
James Gandolfini as CAROL
Paul Dano as ALEXANDER
Catherine O’Hara as JUDITH
Forest Whitaker as IRA
Chris Cooper as DOUGLAS
Lauren Ambrose as KW
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Spike Jonze
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I have a feeling that I’m going to take a lot of heat for my opinion of “Where the Wild Things Are” the same way I did for my opinion of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” and the recent indie love-child “(500) Days of Summer.” While I thoroughly enjoyed “Where the Wild Things Are,” I am not partaking in the massive critical orgasm that is currently rippling through the critics around the world.
Don’t get me wrong. “Where the Wild Things Are” is an incredible movie, and it’s brilliantly done as a very true and honorable adaptation. However, it’s not the greatest movie of the year. I feel I have to step in and be the voice of reason here.
Ever since the 1960s, kids, parents and teachers have adored Maurice Sendak’s fantastic picture book about a boy who escapes from his humdrum life to a magical world where he becomes the king of all the monsters. Like many adaptations of recent years (including “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “The Polar Express”), “Where the Wild Things Are” has been embellished far beyond the short book.
However, the story has been enhanced rather than changed. All the main beats from the book can be found in the script. There’s just a lot of gaps in terms of character and motivation that have been added to the plot.
In the movie, Max is a boy struggling with some real-life issues. He’s dealing with his ever-changing emotional state as he enters his teenage years. He’s also dealing with his single mother’s limited time and the fact that she’s entering into a new relationship. After getting in trouble before dinner, Max runs away and finds a boat that miraculously takes him to a far-away island where he finds a tribe of monsters. They elect him to be their king, but is soon becomes clear that he can’t save them from every emotional pain, and Max also starts to feel homesick.
Director Spike Jonze has always delivered innovative and creative films – from “Being John Malcovich” to “Adaptation” – and “Where the Wild Things Are” is no different. Instead of just bringing the basic book to life, Jonze manages to strike at the heart of a child’s struggle. There are some very heavy themes in this book dealing with loss, loneliness and the general angst of growing up.
In this sense, “Where the Wild Things Are” really isn’t a kids’ movie as much as it is a movie for those of us who used to be kids. Children will enjoy it, and my two sons (ages six and eight) did like the film quite a bit. However, a lot of the thematic elements simply went over their heads. Until a person goes through the emotional struggles that Max does in the film and deals with a certain loss of innocence, they won’t fully appreciate the movie.
Because of this, “Where the Wild Things Are” is a great film for parents to experience with their children. It’s not as bright and cheery as some children’s films are, and it definitely exists in an emotional gray area. There’s a certain bi-polar nature of the movie which might confuse some younger kids, but it definitely works in the context of a kids movie for former kids.
Keep your eye on “Where the Wild Things Are.” As a film that’s already a favorite of many critics, it’s going to carry through to awards season. And there’s nothing wrong with that.