Take a trip to “Where the Wild Things Are”
Since it seems no popular children’s book is safe from a movie adaptation, Maurice Sendak’s beloved 1963 tome “Where The Wild Things Are” was destined for the big screen. In fact, it’s almost a miracle it has lasted this long. Spike Jonze, (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,”) was a good choice to direct, especially given his vivid imagination and willingness to take risks. His version does not lack imagination and can be applauded for its determination not to sacrifice vision for commerce. But will “Where The Wild Things Are” connect with audiences?
That’s hard to say for what we have here is a challenging, psychological rendering of a child’s classic that may indeed be too unexciting and melancholy for kids, and too unstructured to be fully appreciated by adults. Short on plot and long on sub-text, Jonze’ creation still fascinates and leaves the viewer with plenty to think about (like how entertaining the film actually is) long after the credits roll.
It is dangerous business to mess with a classic, especially one that can be read in about five minutes since Sendak’s original was less than 350 words long.
So Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers, were forced to extrapolate the short story of young Max (Portrayed wonderfully by naturally expressive newcomer Max Records) by having him run away from home after a confrontation with his Mom (Catherine Keener), sailing in his own imagination to a faraway island. Upon arrival, donning his white wolf costume, Max encounters seven large, potentially menacing creatures-think scary Muppets-who decide to make him their king rather than their usual custom of eating their leaders.
Most of what occurs on the island with its dense forests, rolling sand dunes, and beautiful cliffs, is random and inconclusive. The creatures, mostly somber and occasionally neurotic are well articulated by James Gandolfini,, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Paul Dano, Chris Cooper and Michael Berry Jr. They seem to serve as elements of Max’s psyche-his fears of isolation, aggression, etc…and the film gets extra credit for creating a fairly credible fantasy world without depending on CGI.
The film is trippy on many levels. At one point Max and Carol, (Gandolfini) the imposing yet caring beast he bonds the most with wander through the desert pondering whether or not the sun might someday die.
It takes guts to throw that kind of existentialism in a film about a 9 year-old runaway who hangs with some huge puppets on a remote island. With a spirited indie soundtrack to back it up, “Where The Wild Things Are” won’t make you forget Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and it’s not in the league of most of the Pixar films, but it’s the kind of film worthy of examination and contemplation.
Rated PG for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language.