This adaptation of the classic Maurice Sendak 1963 children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” isn’t a movie for kids as much as it is a movie about being a kid. The story of Max, a lonely kid who goes to where the wild things are, is a work of profound vision from director Spike Jonze.
The story, based on a book of only nine sentences, couldn’t be simpler. A high-spirited but lonely boy named Max (Max Records) throws a tantrum when his mother (Catherine Keener), invites her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) over. When she tries to send him to his room he bites her, flees the house and sails to an imaginary island populated by Ira (voice of Forest Whitaker), Carol (James Gandolfini), KW (Lauren Ambrose), Judith (Catherine O’Hara), The Bull (Michael Berry Jr.), Douglas (Chris Cooper) and Alexander (Paul Dano), seven make-believe giants who crown him king of the Wild Things. For the most part life is easy on the island but soon Max becomes homesick and sets out for his real home.
This is the kind of movie the Hollywood studios don’t make anymore, a slow moving simple film about deep feelings. It’s not a slick, brightly coloured kid’s film with a connect-the-dots plot and an easily digested moral.
Not much happens. There are some very arresting images. Max and Carol rolling down a sand dune, a “wild rumpus” and a dirt fight, but it’s not about the action, it’s about primal feelings, things that are either not usually touched on or glossed over in most kid’s films—sorrow, loneliness and the difficulty of growing up.
Jonze has made a beautifully emotional and simple movie, both in message and style. The dialogue is basic, almost incidental to the story, as if it was written by a kid; or at least someone who understands how kid’s think and speak. It’s uncomplicated but the cast, both human and monster, brings depth to the plain spoken script.
Max Records, in his first major film role, is understated and instinctive, holding the film together with a compelling performance. The look of the beasts has been accurately adapted from the book. They essentially look like huge Muppets with very expressive eyes. Their furry faces combined with very naturalistic voice work from Gandolfini and company bring their search for acceptance and love to life in some very unexpected ways.
“Where the Wild Things Are” is a magical film that will please the arthouse crowd but likely will leave less adventurous viewers a little perplexed. The dark, melancholy tone isn’t typical of children’s entertainment, but since this isn’t really a kid’s film that shouldn’t matter.
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