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Movie Review - 'Where the Wild Things Are'

Where the Wild Things Are

Starring Max Records, James Gandolfini, and Lauren Ambrose
Directed by Spike Jonze
Rated PG

wildthingsposter.jpg There are a lot of things to love about the live-action adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, but there needs to be at least one more. It is without question a fully realized visual landscape, one familiar enough to invite us in yet unlike something we've really witnessed before, and it's generously loaded with great music that fits (and helps set) the overall mood. And yet...

The effect of the ending of Where the Wild Things Are is very similar to watching a dazzling fireworks display only to expect a big finish that never materializes. To put it another way, it's missing that secret ingredient.

Granted, director Spike Jonze couldn't give us a literal interpretation of Maurice Sendak's book, a staple of every childhood since the 1960s. Where the Wild Things Are is only about 40 pages and, of course, it's not full of dialogue or exposition. So making a feature film version of that book might be...20 minutes long? Clearly, Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers had to frame the story with something and give the characters more to do than they previously encountered.

I don't even want to really evaluate the film based on those necessary changes or the ones Jonze gives the story to add more dramatic weight and slightly change the events leading young Max (Max Records) into this strange and magical land. But it doesn't fan the flame high enough, despite all those other wonderful things.

When you watch the film, you might think the Wild Things - beasts of Max's own creation that look like larger, more fearsome stuffed animals - are clever puppeteering, like an advanced form of Muppets or something. In fact, they're a combination of puppets and CGI, and phenomenal work at that. If ever there was meant to be a live-action version of this classic story, the Wild Things had to look exactly like this.

Max is an outsider in this land, as he is at home. But he begins developing friendships and trust with this strange tribe, beginning with Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), who is quite a bit like Max on the inside. He also grows close to K.W. (Lauren Ambrose), who has a not-very-surprising maternal instinct that showers over Max from the moment they meet.

The characters are all well-formed, and young Max Records displays a lot of depth and an understanding of Max and his consequences that is both critical and hard to find in child actors. The voice cast, which also includes Catherine O'Hara, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, and Chris Cooper, is terrific, and they're given great, idiosyncratic dialogue that blends well with Jonze's dreamlike creation.

The director hired ex-girlfriend Karen O from the band Yeah Yeah Yeahs to put together the music, and the result (by Karen O and the Kids) has that childish exuberance of discovery the film absolutely requires.

But the story just kept me at arm's length. It didn't really feel as warm as it probably should have. For a lot of movies, that wouldn't be a big deal. In this case, though, it is, because of the sense of childlike wonder the lack of emotion belies. So many good things, but just one short, and it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Reader Comments (11)

I have watched fine movie with quality pictures of where the wild things are. Spike Jonze is my favorite director and he has especial ability to recognized children mind. Though this is an adaptation of the same named book which was written by Maurice Sendak, the movie will beyond books quality.

Friday, October 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergissow

Wow, Gissow, who taught you english? Yakov Smirnoff? Your post makes no sense.

Friday, October 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterscott

I saw this today before I went to work, and I just want to say, I don't agree with you Colin.
There was a lot of raw emotion in the film, from the beginning to the end. The ending wasn't exactly as the book ended, but I think he was right in altering it from Max being chased, to him getting a warm farewell. Even the scene at the very end when his mother is watching him eat, you can feel that she is just happy to have him back home, even though he was acting out. If you really think about, the entire movie was based on human emotions, each character having a different trait, and acting it out perfectly. Max Records did exceptionally well for how young he is. James Gandolfini was perfect for Carol, even though I was bit unsure of his abilities as a voice actor (especially in children's film). Each character was unique in how they presented themselves, which I loved. From soft spoken, scared, pessimistic, quiet and shy, optimistic, happy, sad.

I walked into the movie with a smile on my face, and walked out with a bigger smile. I cried twice. I don't cry at movies. I adored this film, and I felt that Spike did the best he could with what little subject matter he had, and triumphed with an amazingly touching and beautiful film. I have read a few different reviews that have spoken negatively about the film, and I feel that maybe if you don't go in with that child like wonder, you won't come out pleased with the film. Everyone expects this film to bring out the wild thing in you, but if you aren't one in day to day life, how are you gonna walk out any different?

I'm 21, I find EVERYTHING fascinating, I enjoy my work (even though I work at a movie theater still), I watch cartoons, build snowmen, and can't wait to have kids so I can play with their toys! I am a wild thing, and damn proud of it!

Friday, October 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNick C.

This movie was kind of a bore for me. It was all about the visuals and nothing was unexpected there. Kind of funny how once it got to the wild things you could feel it going "ok where do we go from here and how long should it take to get there?" And goodness the music; If I have to hear Karen O one more time I don't know what I'll do.

Saturday, October 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulian Francis

Not good.
I went with three kids.
We walked out. Kids did not like it at all. Needless to add foolishness about single parenting, dating, financial issues, etc. Book was a great story about a child's imagination. Effects were great, the story, drivel.

Sunday, October 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJim

I didn't really LOVE this movie until I got home and REALLY thought about it. I went in IMDB and read some of the comments on the board, where people helped explain their views and thoughts of it, which made me understand it and like it more. The visuals were incredible! I also loved Max Records in it. I was also surprised that 95% of the people there were adults! Pretty awesome.

Monday, October 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlisa

Dear Nick C. - I wholeheartedly agree with your comments. I saw Where the Wild Thing Are, but most importantly it reminded me that I still live where the wild things are - within all the spectrum of emotion that Spike so eloquently channeled through each character. I felt like my husband and I were the only ones laughing outloud...I choked up and teared up. I left feeling rejuvinated but a bit sad for those folks who didn't let go of their adult shackles. I'm a 42 year old who collects childrens books and comics and loves good storytelling. EVERYTHING is fascinating if you keep the wild child within! Thank you Maurice! Bravo Spike!

Sunday, October 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterC'elle

If i was younger, this movie would have given me nightmares... I don't understand how they thought this movie would be in any way appealing to kids

Monday, October 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha K

I really liked the movie but wished it would ofl began in his room just like in the book. Max is supposed to be bad & monsters are supposed to be creepy just like the book. It is meant for kids to like so parents should sometimes sit back and enjoy the popcorm without discouraging their kids. Also all kids are different & portray eb=verything differently.

---Over-produced, pre-digested, decades stale, airless show-window 'inspiration'
from the long rich and ALWAYS well-connected 'daring outsider' ---SPIKE JONZE.


Saturday, January 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergill 12

The movie was alright not really for a child anymore though. The book is far from the movie the only thing that is the same is the wild things the beinning and end... I wanted to watch this movie with my nephew but found out it is to scary for him. Which sucks cause the movies he watches now aren't my cup of tee. But over all this movie was okay is wasn't as great as black beauty but i ll give it its props

Monday, November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLexis Will

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