Short Version: Where the Wild Things Are is a wonderful movie more suited to grown-ups who want to remember their childhood than for the kids who are still there.
Screen Rant reviews Where the Wild Things Are
Just so you know, I don’t have fond memories of Maurice Sendak’s children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. Neither for myself as a child nor for reading it to my daughter when she was younger (the book I remember is The Wheels on the Bus). So I didn’t have any bubble to burst going into the movie.
I don’t know how this will go over with fans of the book… Spike Jonze had to flesh out a book whose entire text maybe amounted to one paragraph into a 100 minute movie – so he had to fill in a LOT of story that isn’t in the book.
The film opens pretty close to the original story, with Max (played wonderfully by Max Records) running through the house crazy and screaming, chasing the poor family dog. Max is an only child with no father who doesn’t seem to have friends – and he’s a bit of a wild child.
Max really wants attention, but is hard pressed to get as much as he wants from his loving, working mom who is also trying to get a relationship going of her own. One evening Max crosses the line in behavior and the result is (unlike the book) his running away. He finds his way to a nearby park with a shoreline, finds a small boat and sails away. After a rough journey he comes upon an island, and makes his way to a campfire where there are a bunch of large, odd creatures trying to convince one of their own not to demolish their huts.
Once he reveals himself to them he has to spin a yarn about being a king of the Vikings with magical powers in order to avoid being eaten. Max is supported by the apparant leader of the group, Carol (a male character, voice by James Gandolfini). It seems that Carol is perturbed by the recent departure of KW, who seems to be as close to a girlfriend as these monster-creatures get. Carol looks to Max to bring some purpose and happiness to the group, which has its share of dysfunctional characters.
For a while things go well, but eventually conflicts and doubts arise – and the complexity of the relationships and emotions will be a surprise to people going in expecting a fairly simple adaptation of a beloved children’s story.
Where the Wild Things Are put a grin on my face from the very first frame, with the Warner Bros. logo surrounded by hand drawn scribbles. Max Records is simply wonderful in the film and just draws you in with every subtle facial expression. And then we have the muppet with CGI face characters voiced by the likes of James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O’Hara and the rest – subtle, touching performances all around by big, furry creatures. At the end of the film I asked myself how big HR Puf’n'Stuff looking creatures could bring a tear to my eye.
The film is a look at the world through the eyes of a nine year old more effective than I’ve seen in a while, if ever. Director Spike Jonze does a fantastic job of it, and combined with the beautiful music and breathtaking cinematography if you let yourself go it should really transport you to another place. I actually believe that the older you are, the more you will appreciate this film.
So if that’s the case, what about children?
Well honestly I don’t know how this will go over with kids – there are a couple of scenes that the really young ones (at the age that they’ll actually enjoy the book right now) will probably find a bit frightening (the movie is rated PG). Kids a bit older than that (Max’s age) may not exactly be transported by the film because, well, they’re already there – and the relative complexities of the relationships will probably bore them. So – I’m very curious how this will go over with the general public. Critics seem to be split on this so I imagine the audience will be the same. I knocked off half a star because this should have been a film that appeals to all ages (think Pixar) but I don’t think it really works for kids.
Where the Wild Things Are is destined to be a film classic, and I encourage you to go see it for yourself.