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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 3.57%
Average: 16.07%
Pretty Bad: 3.57%
Total Crap: 0%

6 reviews, 20 user ratings

Where the Wild Things Are
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by Erik Childress

"When Someone Asks If You're A King You Say YES!"
5 stars

Wherever Maurice Sendak's ultra-popular children's book was when I was a kid, it must have been hiding. Maybe it was in the land of the Wild Things because I had no knowledge of its existence and never remember it on the shelves along with A Very Hungry Caterpillar and James and the Giant Peach in my grade school. Watching people of my own age get a sparkle in their eye when the title is evoked insense me with a feeling of envy in that my childhood was somehow deprived of this experience. All the jokes in the world about the less sophisticated reading nothing but picture books coul d throw the ten sentences of Where The Wild Things Are in our faces if they wished. The book itself still remains alien to me, but the collaboration of Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers to bring these images to fruition has taken on a life of its own and that sparkle I've been seeing is likely to turn into a blinding beam of satisfaction.

Young Max (Max Records) is a wild little thing himself. First seen chasing around the family dog on all fours with a fork and starting a snowball fight with some older kids, he nevertheless still feels as if he's alone in this world. His teenage sister doesn't have time for him anymore. Divorced Mom (Catherine Keener) is stressed out from work, finding temporary relief in the creative stories Max concocts out of thin air. On a particularly bad day after having his snow fort destroyed and taking his frustration out on his sister's room and mom's arm, Max has had enough and runs out into the night. He finds an abandoned sailboat and takes it as far as the storm waters will take him. The shore Max discovers though is inhabited by creatures who may20be wilder than him or his imagination; giant, furry, feathered creatures who appear to be having their own problems getting along.

Max first sees Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) destroying the various huts of his defacto family while they, more or less, stay out of his way. The others include maternal figure, Judith (Catherine O'Hara) and her go-with-the-flow companion, Ira (Forest Whitaker), who shares with Carol a talent for punching holes into things. Douglas (Chris Cooper) looks more like a rooster than his beastly counterparts while goat creature, Alexander (Paul Dano), communicates longer on menacing stares than with his tongue. And somewhere about is KW (Lauren Ambrose) who is just as happy doing her own thing as spending time with her friends. Clearly not looking like any of them, Max still engages their curiosity when he tells them he's a king and world traveler. In need of some structure themselves, they elect Max their leader and he begins to craft a kingdom that they can all share equally. What will happen though when Max discovers that such grown-up responsibilities sometimes come with l eaving things you love behind?

Such a question is at the heart of Where the Wild Things Are but is not explicitly what makes it beat. This is far beyond just another tale of growing up and leaving childhood behind, but a direct lesson in understanding through the eyes of a child who needs to learn one. We aren't even to the film's title before we're worried if Max is going to gorge that poor dog (accidentally or on purpose) with a kitchen utencil and biting one's mother isn't exactly a trait of endearment. Sharp teeth certainly becoming a motif that runs throughout the film right up to the moments of clarity that both young Max and the viewers will discover as quite heady material for a children's picture.

The Wizard of Oz will not be far from your mind as the land of the Wild Things appear destined for the kind of direct correlation between Dorothy's memories and the inhabitants of her new technicolor world. Max's journey is never quite as black-and-white. At first glance, Carol is an obvious doppelganger for Max just as KW might be considered his sister and the rule-mongering Judith as the worst reminiscence of mom. Their roles in Max's life begin to shift ever so finely as he feels the weight (both figuratively and literally) of his new friends pressing down on his free-wheeling ways. He begins to sense the consequences of going too far with his games and, most provocatively of all, starts to inhabit the skins of those from his past. Mom and her need for companionship. Sister and her growth into adolescence. Even an absentee father who may have just needed some time away and a place that he could call his own. For a child of Max's rambunctiousness to not just learn these lessons but to empathize with those he may have at one time scorned is the sort of innovative storytelling that will see Where the Wild Things Are mentioned in the same breath as some of the best family films ever made.

What little I knew going into this tale and the bare minimum I discovered coming out of it, it's a testament to director Spike Jonze in the way he's clearly paying tribute to the films of many generations. It's impossible to think that those with a direct connection to Sendak's book will walk away wishing for a different interpretation, but for the scattered few without that connection can still appreciate in spades that the film speaks to a vast collection of memories rather than down to some lowly elucidation of what we think kids expect. Created within the legendary Jim Henson company, the Wild Things are vibrantly alive with the kind of personality all but extinct in the era of CGI (a method used only to help animate their faces). Reminiscent of the gorgs who caused trouble for those who wondered into their domain on Fraggle Rock, the seamless integration of costumed puppetry with wonderful voice talent brings to mind films like The Dark Crystal or any of the Muppet films, but on a grander scale. No one will spend time trying to pick out the celebrity voices on display and the most easily recognizable one in Gandolfini is the best of them all as he projects a quiet openness with his new play pal and a crushing breath of alienation when they begin to drift apart.

Jonze and Eggers (having a fine year debut in writing film with this and Away We Go) are to be commended for melding the simplicity of Sendak’s surface story with almost starting from scratch in creating personalities out of characters who originally had not a name between them. Even the practically mute Alexander gets an exit line that is not just tremendously moving but is a perfect capsulation of what was going on inside with him the whole time. It was a bravura stroke of them to turn the wild things into living, breathing creatures rather than just a figment of Max’s overactive psyche. No click of the heels or waking up here, but rather a pair of real worlds with real feelings. Max doesn’t just return to find a hot supper waiting for him but something infinitely more nourishing in a final scene without words that is as simple as Sendak’s final page but speaks greater volumes about there being truly no place like home. Where the Wild Things Are is a priceless treasure in the limited spectrum of live-action children’s films. And I use the word children there instead of family because its already inherent in Jonze’s work here and anyone blessed with the experience of watching it will be unable to dismiss they are looking upon it with the eyes of a child.

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originally posted: 10/16/09 15:00:00
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User Comments

6/13/13 Marty An honest, unique look at childhood. elicits fear, exhilaration, escape. Artful and emotive 5 stars
6/10/10 Rochelle Norlund I love it and love scenes that has Carol and Max, and wish for a sequel of this movie. 5 stars
5/09/10 Dr.Lao When you've outgrown the book, this movie makes a wonderful adjunct 5 stars
12/16/09 girl almost perfect-o 5 stars
12/03/09 Shawn This movie was raw, furious and poignant, just as real life is. Great job to all! 5 stars
11/04/09 Anonymous I loved this. 5 stars
11/04/09 Kurtis A wonderful look into the mind of an 8 year old. Brilliant and beautiful! 5 stars
10/31/09 The GLC Beautiful, full of child like imagination and very human as well 5 stars
10/31/09 karamashi Utterly Fantastic. One of the Best films of the Year. 5 stars
10/26/09 Alex41 Psychologist Jerome Bruner argues that narrative engages us because it teaches us how to 5 stars
10/25/09 millersxing A more vulnerable approach to a timeless children's story adds greater emotional resonance. 5 stars
10/25/09 GanjaBoy33 In growing numbers, these leaders work hand-in- glove with community partners, families, st 3 stars
10/24/09 BadGirl91 Finally, and most importantly, by law, ESDC is obligated to afford condemnees a formal oppo 2 stars
10/24/09 Arnold21 Once the chapbook came out, I had no urge to continue searching for a home for Cackling Jac 3 stars
10/24/09 R.W. Welch Visually remarkable. Story line sags in spots. B- 4 stars
10/23/09 Ganry58 Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultur 3 stars
10/21/09 Rob More movies should be made like this; or more movies like this should be made. 5 stars
10/20/09 g. well done. 4 stars
10/19/09 Jared Horrible movie... I'd love to know what drug you have to be on to enjoy it. 2 stars
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  16-Oct-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 02-Mar-2010


  DVD: 02-Mar-2010

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