While Where the Wild Things Are was undoubtedly one of my favorite books as a child, I hadn't remembered a whole bunch about it before stepping into a screening of Spike Jonze's adaptation of the famous work. Apparently the wild things I've done as an adult were enough to make me forget Maurice Sendak's masterpiece almost altogether.
I remembered Max, the main character, being in a bit of hot water with his mother and being sent to bed without dinner and Max responding by drifting off to a magical land created by his innovative young mind. When I heard that Jonze was given the responsibility of bringing the book to the big screen, I thought it was a perfect match and when I heard that Dave Eggers was going to help with the screenplay, I was even more delighted. Neither Jonze or Eggers disappoints and I will even go as far to say that anyone who doesn't appreciate director Spike Jonze's latest near-masterpiece (also a good candidate for instant classic) for what it is is probably looking for too much.
The plot isn't even all that important. Especially if you do remember the book. And it's just not something that's hard to follow. This is that special brand of film that is all about feel. While the storyline isn't very layered or complex and the screenplay is pretty one-dimensional, it still works amazingly well, because it is still chock full of emotion and it looks as beautiful as it feels. There was even enough emotion to make me tear up on more than one occasion and to me, that makes any film an automatic winner.
To take a page out of Eggers' book (literally), you could even call the film version of Where the Wild Things Are a heartbreaking work of staggering simplicity. And I mean that in the best possible way. With Jonze's wild and vivid imagination, you might be expecting something a bit more out of left field, but I just don't see it. The film is most definitely surreal, but I would never dare call it abstract. It's too swift, classy, and fun. The closest we get to something "out there" is Max's animalistic tendencies that are enthusiastically displayed while he hunts down the family dog as if he was a canine himself and also the way he growls while play-fighting. This could have been a bit much if not kept to a minimum. Perhaps the most abstract part of the film happens before it even starts as we see scribblings of monsters over the production company labels that bombard us before each movie, but much like the film itself, it's all harmless fun.
While the message of Where the Wild Things Are is simple, it is also important. To me, it's all about escape. And as it pertains to the film version, I think it works better for adults, because it's the perfect reminder that sometimes what we need most when we're faced with adversity, unrest or confusion is to simply get away. Whether that's a literal or figurative escape is up to you. When it comes to escaping figuratively, this film is the perfect getaway.
Max Records, who plays "King" Max is a revelation in the main role and is absolutely perfect, but another great delight was James Gandolfini, who puts on an impressive showcase with his voice acting alone. I am always excited and intrigued by his sensitive side, ever since he played a gay hitman in the underrated The Mexican alongside Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. I would love to see him tackle a live action role as a character with heightened sensitivity again sometime soon, because there is just something about a vulnerable Gandolfini that resonates. Records, Catherine Keener, and Mark Ruffalo are all great in their respective live action roles as are Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, and Catherine O'Hara in their voice work, among others.
Spike Jonze always seems like he's setting us up for something epic and that is the case again here. I can't wait to see what he has up his sleeve next. It will no doubt be unique and spirited. He gets help here from ex Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs who creates the perfect backdrop of silly and fun music to go along with all the high jinks that Max escapes to to escape reality. Along with the always stellar Carter Burrell, she produced a more than serviceable soundtrack for the festivities.
Where the Wild Things Are is plain and simple a very good movie and I am left with these few thoughts in the wake of my viewing:
- Spike Jonze is here to stay and is a force to be reckoned with.
- Max Records has a good chance at a great future.
- Karen O is growing on me.
- Gandolfini should work more.
- The words "I'll eat you up, I love you so." make me cry in perfect context and so does a guy in a monster suit tearing up while pretending to be James Gandolfini's character.
- Sometimes you need to create your own escape route.
- Where do I get one of those awesome suits that Max dons throughout the film? That thing is rad!