October 27, 2009 in Theatrical Reviews
Where the Wild Things Are
Directed By: Spike Jonze
An adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story, where Max, a disobedient little boy sent to bed without his supper, creates his own world–a forest inhabited by ferocious wild creatures that crown Max as their ruler. [IMDB]
I read an actual review of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are that stated the following:
Authentic though it may be, this movie will appeal to douchey hipsters. If you are upper-middle-class, liked I Heart Huckabees, have Buddy Holly glasses, listen to rap ironically, and/or believe yourself to be an undiscovered genius or otherwise tortured and unique person, this is right in your wheelhouse for Movie of the Year. [Film School Rejects]
Now, let me put on my horn rimmed glasses and get on with my douchy hipster review of Where the Wild Things Are.
Spike Jonze‘s Where the Wild Things Are isn’t for everyone. If you go in expecting a brainless, whimsical and safe children’s movie, you’ll be disappointed. (But don’t worry, Disney will fill this void with The Rock as a Tooth Fairy very soon). Where the Wild Things Are is a film that is very much for adults, not based on questionable content, but based on the themes and layers this film offers. Spike Jonze has given us a brilliant film that captures the beauty, messiness, danger and lonliness of a young boy’s imagination.
I don’t really know where to start with this film. Where the Wild Things Are is a film that needs to be discovered for yourself, so I won’t get into the detail of the plot. The plot itself is very simple. Max gets in a fight with his mother, runs away to a fantastical island full of monsters and comes home. The music, imagery and subtext are what sets Where the Wild Things Are above almost everything I’ve seen this year.
First of all, the images on screen are simply stunning. The “real world” scenes are shot handheld, with a sense of urgency and energy that sucks us right into the story. Once we get to the monster’s island, we see breathtaking landscapes of the ocean and beaches, forest and even desert. The landscapes totally enveloped me and were extremely beautiful. All the imagery is highlighted by Carter Burwell’s wonderful score and songs by Karen O And The Kids. (Both the soundtrack and score are highly recommended.)
The monsters were real. They were organic to each scene, I believed they were there. Spike Jonze decided to employ the Jim Henson Company to create large puppets with CGI sparingly and convincingly used for the faces. The amount of emotion conveyed was wonderful. I found myself empathizing with each character and 100% invested in them. Also, the voice work by James Gandolfini as Carol was spot on, both menacing and tender. The rest of the voice work was also remarkable, most notably Forest Whitaker, Catherine O’Hara and Chris Cooper.
The glue holding the story together is our main character, Max, played by a brilliant Max Records. This kid is simply amazing and totally convincing as a troubled young boy dealing with loneliness and anger as his sister is growing up, his mom (perfectly portrayed by Catherine Keener) struggles with her job and finding time for her boyfriend. Max, a creative and imaginative boy, is feeling alone and neglected. He tries to leave all this behind in creating a perfect world with monsters who will make him their king. You totally believe Max Records. He’s genuine and full of life. I haven’t seen such an honest performance ever from someone Max’s age.
The brilliance of Where the Wild Things Are isn’t just on screen. The conversations I’ve had since seeing this film have been honest, emotional and deeply revealing. Spike Jonze has somehow tapped into the core of all of us and has made a highly introspective movie about life itself. Life is messy and imperfect. We can complain and squabble about meaningless things, but what life boils down to is those around us and the unconditional love of family. There are many more layers to this film and I’m sure many essays can be written about all the meanings and subtlties of the film.
Whether or not you enjoy Where the Wild Things Are is up to you. This is a film that relies on what you take into the movie. Drop whatever expectations you have at the door, and open yourself up to a wonderful journey of childhood, all the joys and pain it brings. The honesty of this “children’s” movie is to be admired. Not all kids will get it, and I’d suggest that if your kid is under 7 or 8, they could get bored. I personally was deeply affected by Spike Jonze‘s take on Where the Wild Things Are. It is a film that sparks conversation and reflection. Not many movies do that today, and I thank Spike Jonze for a moving and wonderful film.
Author’s Note: I am not upper-middle-class, I can’t stand “I Heart Huckabees”, I wear glasses but not Buddy Holly glasses, I actually enjoy listening to Ice Cube non-ironically, I do not believe myself to be a genius, don’t think I’m any more unique than you, and I grew up in a lovingly stable yet imperfect family environment. Surprisingly, Where the Wild Things Are is in my wheelhouse for Movie of the Year.