Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are is somber and special. It’s a story about little boys and how much they love their moms, how much they want to protect their moms, and how much they wanna shout/howl/escape when they can’t properly do either. When young Max departs into the imaginary world of the “Wild Things,” he learns some valuable lessons about compassion and understanding. What’s fascinating, though, is how the script (by Jonze and author Dave Eggers) doesn’t dumb any of that down. The themes are heavy, the dialogue is sharp and funny (especially the lines delivered by Catherine O’Hara as a misanthropic “wild thing”). I was stunned by how deep the second half of the film is, because essentially you’re watching a bunch of monsters build and destroy playthings. However, the delicate and easygoing nature of the group dynamics, illustrates bigger meaning for family.
Max Records, as young Max, gives an astounding performance. To think, this kid had to act against giant puppets for months at a time in Australia, you realize what a great job he did. He’s got quite the future as an actor, if he wants it. As far as being a kids movie, Where The Wild Things Are is a tougher sell than you’d hope. The pacing can be slow, and when it’s not slow, it can be a very dark film. Lots of scary screaming and some mild violence. It’s a scary movie for kids; a movie they won’t appreciate (or even want to sit through), until junior high. The conventions of “a kids movie” that the mainstream today has grown comfortable with, is missing from this package. The music (a great score by Karen O and Carter Burwell) is quirky-cool and the dialogue is more naturalistic than fantastical. Before the film, there were several trailers for more traditional “kids movies,” and most of them look awful. But they will be successful, not only because they have a simpler imagination but because they speak to a child’s mind in the moment. Where The Wild Things Are may portray boyhood better than any recent Hollywood film, but it’s a childhood that you only identify once you become an adult.