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Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

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I have never read Where the Wild Things Are, and yes I recognize the effort involved in such an undertaking is quite minimal. Of course, the ideal time to have read this would have been nearly three decades ago. The problem is that my parents were blissfully unaware of this story, instead I was more of a Shel Silverstein The Missing Piece sort of kid. With that said, I was able to see this live action feature film without the baggage that could have come along with it. Although, something must be said for those who were raised on the Maurice Sendak book and able to see this through experienced eyes.

Where the Wild Things Are is a wonderful cinematic achievement. Not only did director/co-writer Spike Jonze and writer Dave Eggers take a picture book that has all of nine sentences to it, they have created a psychologically deep and layered fantasy that takes us inside the mind of a young child trying to cope with a world he does not understand.

I must say, while I did not love the film quite as much or in the way that I was expecting, it is still a rather exhausting experience. The movie pulls no punches, tends to the dark side of things, but still tells a story of love and hope. A story that needs to be told, intelligent and mature, and not condescending to its young audience target.

Where the Wild Things Are is the story of Max (Max Records), a young boy struggling to find his place in the world. He seems to long for the love and attention that he fails to get at home. His father is absent, and Max competes with his mother's job (and her new boyfriend) for time; his sister is not really interested in being a sister. All of this leaves Max disenfranchised, angry, and alone. He acts out with anger, confusion, and he runs off.

These early scenes are quite telling. Max has no emotional filter, he does not know how to process the things going on around him–things he does not understand. His initial jubilance over his igloo is followed by intense sadness when it is inadvertently destroyed. Of course, this sadness is followed by anger towards his sister who did not lift a finger to his support. This, in turn, is followed by competition with Mom for attention. Finally, in a fit of anger, he runs off into the dark of night.

He runs out of his house, down the street, and into a park, where a small boat looking more like an over-sized toy, awaits him. This boat takes him over the rough waters of his mind, moving away from reality and into a fantasy world: an island inhabited by the Wild Things, a group of large monsters living a rather haphazard life.

Max, avoids being eaten by the monster by saying that he is a king. In turn, he is made king of the Wild Things, thus becoming responsible for their happiness. However, before long, he discovers that this is no easy task; you cannot just make things up as you go along. Compromises have to be made, and what you say has an impact on the lives of others. In short, he learns to process these feelings and emotions.

Watching Max change over the course of the film is fascinating. You can see him learning from the mistakes he has made. He discovers being himself is not an easy task, as he learns there is a give and take, and that balance is hard to achieve. The Wild Things each have very distinctive personalities, from Carroll's (James Gandolfini) passion, KW's (Lauren Ambrose) maternal instincts, Alexander's (Paul Dano) loneliness, and Douglas' (Chris Cooper) reliability.

The monsters reveal themselves as fragments of Max's personality. Jonze and Egger's screenplay greatly expands on the nine sentence story, taking us on a journey into a young mind. It really is a telling, dark journey.

On the surface the story is a simple one. It is all about seeing below the surface. It is about reading young Max's face, recognizing what he is going through, and sympathizing with him. Taking the journey reveals more than you could have expected.

Spike Jonze does a wonderful job of bringing this to life. The movie is almost entirely earth tones, but it is a visual feast. The forest of the Wild Things is alive with life, and the monsters are special effects wonders. They blend muppetry from the Jim Hensen Company with computer work for the faces. The end result is like nothing I have seen before.

Where the Wild Things Are is a fascinating film. From the narrative, to the visuals, to the completely effective performance by Max Records, it really does reach for something special. The arthouse meets the mainstream in this non-traditional family film.

Bottomline. Yes, it did drag a little through the middle, but that is a small complaint for a film with such vision. This is original cinema and it should be celebrated. It is an accomplishment that shows strong work from all involved. Take a trip to where the Wild Things are.

Highly Recommended.

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