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Where the Wild Things Are - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews — LiveJournal
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Where the Wild Things Are
Directing: A-
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A
Special Effects: A-

The first thing parents should know about Where the Wild Things Are is that it's rated PG for good reason. While the deceptively simple original book by Maurice Sendak is appropriate for kids of all ages, this film definitely aims a tad older: kids under the age of maybe 6 or 7, if they aren't spooked by a couple of the sequences, might actually be bored. This film is best watched with kids who are old enough to have an actual discussion with you about what it's about.

That said, director Spike Jonze is clearly capitalizing on the nostalgia of an adult audience that remembers a beloved book from their childhood, much more so than he's trying to capture the attention of young children currently enamored with the book. To that end, though, he does a superb job, and in so doing reminds adults in a piercingly realistic way what it's like to be a kid with an imagination gone wild.

An obvious take on Where the Wild Things Are is that the place to which the title refers, and all of its inhabitants, are figments of a child's imagination. The child in this case is Max (Max Records, a child actor of rare quality), who looks to be perhaps 10 years old. Very little of the action takes place outside of where the Wild Things are, and yet the brief scenes in the real world that bookend the story reveal a great deal. Rarely is so much said with so little.

Max is a fairly typical kid, frustrated by feelings of loneliness and being an outsider. Katherine Keener is perfectly cast as his clearly loving mother, but who is busy and has her own frustrations -- not the least of which is Max's attention-seeking behavior when she has a boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) over for dinner. He acts out to the point of biting her, so hard she tells him he's "out of control" -- and he bolts out of the house.

And off he goes, through the night in his wolf costume, until he finds a body of water with a small sail boat waiting for him, which he rides for several days, through all kinds of weather, until he comes upon a shore and discovers these giant, furry monsters. Except instead of just being ferocious and fearsome, they each feature different aspects of human neuroses, and crave leadership -- which Max steps up to provide.

This is the point at which Where the Wild Things Are deviates significantly from convention, insisting on examining the workings of a child's mind rather than merely being visually "imaginative." A cartoon, this is not. In fact, there's not really all that much color (in spite of which there is plenty stunning cinematography by Lance Acord) -- it's mostly shades of yellow, tan, brown and gray. The land that Max has found himself in consists primarily of ocean front, rocky cliffs, sand dunes, and tree trunks. Even all the Wild Things' huts are made out of twigs.

The Wild Things themselves, by the way, are singularly impressive. It's a massive relief to see that most of their bodies are done with the use of puppetry, giving them a realistically tactile look that CGI still can't reliably provide. Their extensively expressive faces, however, are rendered with CGI, which allows for subtlety of movement that puppetry can't reliably provide. The integration of the two effects is surprisingly seamless.

And this allows for a truly convincing tale of fantastical creatures that deal with the typical dynamics of a group of friends contending with the typical problems of insecurity, jealousy, loneliness, sadness, and ultimately forgiveness. None of this is treacly or sappy, though; on the contrary, absolutely all of it genuinely feels like it could be the product of a ten-year-old's mind.

Max's experiences with the Wild Things are perhaps his own way of processing how his own behaviors affects people, even the ones closest to him. He returns to his mother still very much a kid, but having found himself in a small way.

Where the Wild Things Are is acutely touching in ways that will blindside you. Again, though, this is likely to be far more the case with adults than with children, as it will resonate with adults who recognize that Wild Thing within them, the one that children don't tend to recognize is there. Either way, it's a unique cinematic experience that is highly recommended.

James Gandolfini voices the creature Carol as the surprisingly complicated friend of Max (Max Records) in 'Where the Wild Things Are'.

Overall: A-
1 comment or Leave a comment
sapphoid From: sapphoid Date: October 31st, 2009 12:44 am (UTC) (Link)
I recently purchased the sound track, which I find to be truly unique and memorable. One aspect of the film that really struck me is the ever present potential danger. Is the sleeping pile dangerous? Is it just a big cuddle or could Max suffocate? When CW puts Max in her mouth to hide from Carol (who has become a potential danger), Max experiences a moment, just before KW removes him from her mouth, in which he is afraid she may not release him. And I thought it was really interesting that whole scene was so maternal. When KW removes Max it's just like a birth.. is there a statement there that mothers devour us in some way? Does love devour us? Anyhoo, the whole parallel of love and danger really struck me. Even one of the famous lines from the book mirrors this "I could eat you up I love you so" I could go on and name more, but I thought this was an important aspect of the film.
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