Where the Wild Things Are is a film about a lonely boy named Max (Max Records) and his imaginary adventure. When his sister’s teenage friends get a little too rough during a snowball fight one day, he throws a tantrum in her bedroom. His lively imagination and short temper get him into trouble later, when, wearing a wolf costume, he embarrasses his mother in front of her boyfriend. She yells at him, saying he is out of control, and he runs away.
Alone in the night, Max gets into a small sailboat in a pond near his house and sails away. After seemingly crossing a vast ocean, he arrives at an island populated by seven large, hairy, disheartened creatures. When they threaten to eat him, Max convinces them that he is a great king from a distant land with the ability to bring happiness to the wild clan. They make him their leader, and what follows is a tale of childhood frustration, friendship, and family.
Adapted from Maurice Sendak’s 1963 children’s book of the same name, Where the Wild Things Are is one of the most stylish films of the year. Part-time music video director Spike Jonze (Adaptation) obviously had a clear vision for this movie, and his creativity oozes out of every frame. The film’s bleak color scheme and bare scenery lend it a more depressing tone than might be expected of a movie based on a children’s book, but it never seems inappropriately so. Its handheld camerawork makes you feel like you’re watching with the eyes of another child or monster, tottering around with the characters on screen.
The visual techniques wouldn’t be quite as effective, however, without the mesmerizing soundtrack by Jonze’s former girlfriend and Yeah Yeah Yeah’s lead singer, Karen O. With her backing band, The Kids, Karen O has crafted a group of songs that, as a whole, perfectly express the anger, fear, sadness, and joy that Max feels throughout the film. Since the music is sprinkled so sparsely throughout the movie, each song is quite striking the second it starts. They’re all so memorable in part because they’re all so noticeable.
Considering more than half the film’s characters are giant, hairy monsters, it’s a good thing its computer effects aren’t nearly as conspicuous as its soundtrack. The wild things, designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and approved by Sendak, come alive on screen in every way. Their huge, computer-generated faces are every bit as emotive as those of their human costars. From their feathers and fur ruffling in the wind to their beleaguered panting after a wild rumpus, the monsters all look and feel as gritty and natural as the dirt clods they throw at each other’s heads.