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Review of Where the Wild Things Are By Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers 2009-10-16 04:30:00

Where the Wild Things Are: A Passionate Ode to Childhood

There's been a bit of a controversy over how to market Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book, Where The Wild Things Are. Is it for kids? Adults? Adult hipsters?

The answer is anyone who wants to feel what it's like to be a child, and not in the fun-loving, no-responsibilities way. As adults, we tend to forget the insecurity and fears we had as kids, which the film's young character Max is in the throes of. There's just enough exposition before the fantasy begins: Max has a single mom (Catherine Keener) and an older sister who has recently outgrown him. His first few acts at home show his innocence and the savage emotions under the surface. He knows it as being "wild."

Where the Wild Things Are isn't a heavy-handed allegory, or an edgy children's movie; it's a loyal tribute to the way kids think and feel. To see what else I thought of the film, just



Max reaches the world of the wild things after throwing a particularly heinous fit, prompting his mother to yell, "You're out of control!" After running away, Max finds himself on a boat that finally brings him to a strange land. This is where the wild things are. The creatures Jonze has created are aesthetic wonders: creepy, hostile, and huggable at once. These aren't Jim Henson's Muppets, but real characters, led by Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini). The rest of the group is comprised of Lauren Ambrose as aloof KW, Catherine O'Hara as prickly Judith, Paul Dano as timid Alexander, Chris Cooper as Douglas, and Forest Whitaker as Ira.

Each creature has a fully realized personality, with flaws and varying temperaments; their faces are so emotive and their dialogue so human that their scenes with Max are as real as those with his mother. This group is not easily classified as friend or foe — they're dysfunctional in their relationships and don't always treat each other well. One of the most successful elements of the movie is the dialogue of the wild things, which is rooted in Max's head.

In many ways, screenwriter Dave Eggers's job was tougher than Spike Jonze's, because it's imperative to remember the way children think. Max's interactions with Carol and his new clan are made up of the kind of things a kid would hear from his parents and peers and then internalize. In fact, in the wild world, Max declares himself king to bring order, and he summons up speeches from the authority figures that he's pulling away from in his real life. Naturally, he's too young to recognize how his subverted position is significant.

Max's relationship with Carol is most telling. As the de facto leader of the group who can't handle sadness, loneliness, or jealousy, he acts out as a mirror of Max while still being his own character. The richness of Carol and the creature cast stays with you; when Max has to say goodbye to his friends, your heart breaks.

Jonze impressed me with his non-conformity; in another movie, Max would have demonstrated the grand lessons he learned from his time on the island, but in this one, he doesn't have to learn anything. He just gets to feel and experience and appreciate his emotionally fragmented new friends. It's devastating as a viewer, especially if you can put yourself back in that childlike place when your feelings were so raw and simple.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.

Join The Conversation
californiagirlx7 californiagirlx7 7 years
Can't wait to see this! It looks so good.
Advah Advah 7 years
Wow I was hoping the film would be good but your review makes it sound like it's even better than that! I can't wait to see it, very annoying we'll have to wait for another couple of months before it reaches the UK. I also can't wait for Eggers' book!
nancita nancita 7 years
What a lovely review. I have been surprised how mixed the reviews have been, but you make me want to check it out.
TammyO TammyO 7 years
Oh Man! I SO want to see it! I saw a preview last night and got teary eyed just from that alone! Then I grabbed the book, which I just happen to have since I have young kids and tried to figure out which character was which. The movie looks so true to the illustrations it's mind blowing!
SlurpeeGrl SlurpeeGrl 7 years
This movie is so gooood! Saw it last night. I actually got a wee bit teary eyed.
blondie829 blondie829 7 years
I have to see this, but I'm afraid that I'll cry the whole movie. :( I think I'll matinee this one so that I can hide in the corner with a tissue!
Yogaforlife Yogaforlife 7 years
buying tickets at lunch today because it's already selling out around here. Seeing it tonight with my niece - I can't wait!
Linda-McP Linda-McP 7 years
So looking forward to seeing this!
weffie weffie 7 years
myfairlady93 myfairlady93 7 years
I am so, so, so excited for this movie! It looks amazing.
redchick152 redchick152 7 years
it looks beautiful when you see the previews, can't wait to see it!
tlsgirl tlsgirl 7 years
I'm so excited to see this movie, especially after reading this movie. It sounds really beautiful.
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