18
Oct
2009
Review: Where The Wild Things Are
Where The Wild Things Are
Jordan
Where The Wild Things Are was never going to be an easy movie to make. An adaptation of a book that is only 300 words long, and more than a little scary, the movie had to be child appropriate, faithful to the book, and satisfactory to the many acolytes of director Spike Jonze, who has previously stunned and challenged with Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. By any measure, Jonze succeeded admirably, creating a work that is simultaneously faithful to the spirit of the book and a kid's movie that, more than just aiming to entertain children, is actually about the experience of being a child.

Max (Max Records) is a pretty standard 9 year old boy"”imaginative, attention-seeking, lonely, angry, and even a little violent. He wants the attention of his sister, and the approval of his mother (Catherine Keener), but when he throws a tantrum and his mother gets angry, even screaming, "What is wrong with you?" Max reacts as many scorned children might: he runs away. Retreating from his conflict, he enters his own mind, where he sails a violent sea and finds himself in a land where enormous creatures are trying to work out their own issues. The "Wild Things," comprised of the violent, angry Carol (James Gandolfini), the nurturing, if distant KW (Lauren Ambrose), the negative Judith (Catherine O'Hara), the timid Alexander (Paul Dano), the loyal Douglas (Chris Cooper), and the quiet Ira (Forrest Whitaker) each represent part of how Max sees himself and those around him. This makes him by turns ecstatically happy and woefully depressed, as he does his best to solve the problems of those around him and, consequently the problems he faces himself on a regular basis.

The voice actors each do an incredible job of bringing forth their characters, both in times of big emotion, and in quiet, revelatory one on ones, but the film truly belongs to Records who can be gleefully engaged in a snowball fight one moment, and angrily, sorrowfully sobbing the next. Child actors can often make or break a movie, and this one depended heavily on the work of its star, but he rose to the challenge admirably and created a character that is a fully realized child. Max may be violent, angry, lonely and lost today, but that is not to say he won't be the happiest boy in the world tomorrow, and the variable state of his emotions is both clear and realistic throughout.

Not a whole lot happens in the movie, which plays out much like a child's play date, but beneath the surface, Max is coming to understand how he functions and what that means for his interactions with other people. This is not a movie with a broad moral, or a big group hug at its conclusion. Max doesn't necessarily learn a whole lot from his sojourn, but he certainly discovers much, and watching him run rampant through his own imagination is as rewarding as it is revealing.

Grade: A-
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