Reviews

Where The Wild Things Are

5

Monster magic too good to waste on kids…

Maurice Sendak, author of the classic children’s book that inspired Where The Wild Things Are, was asked recently what he would say to any parents who feel the film is too scary.

“I would tell them to go to hell,” he replied. “If they [the kids] can’t handle it, go home. Or wet your pants.”

We’re not mad-keen on the weeing part, but he has a point. Director Spike Jonze didn’t set out to make a kids’ film. He set out to make a film about kids. Bad call? After all, the source material is a pre-school favourite – a gorgeous 10-sentence fable first published in 1963 exploring the value of imagination.

Naughty Max is sent to bed without supper after making mischief in his wolf suit. In his room a forest grows. Then an ocean tumbles by. So Max sets sail to where the wild things are and becomes their king. Sure, it’s a bit scary – there are monsters – but by the end Max has learned his lesson and returns home to find his dinner still warm. Twinning a pared-down narrative with panoramic pics of freaky-furry fiends, the book lets nippers face their fears while holding their hands at the same time.

While Jonze’s movie is true to the spirit of the book and replicates its look fastidiously, it’s a different beast altogether. It’s bloody frightening for one. His 9ft tall furred and feathered creatures (actors in costumes with CGI touch-ups to add expressive nuance) are uncanny creations that could have walked straight off Sendak’s pages.

But the ravaged remains of previous ‘Kings’ strip away any sense of safety. Indeed, there are hints of violence throughout, from the early threats from sulky Judith (Catherine O’Hara) to eat Max (Max Records), up to tempestuous Carol’s (James Gandolfini) tantrums and tendency to smash things. It’s all cloaked in a heavy cloud of sadness, too – the wild things are lonely, insecure, frightened and unhappy. They cry, they fall out, they get hurt.

So, has Jonze messed up by turning a kiddie classic into a scary and depressing rant? Hell no. Wild Things is one of the purest evocations of childhood you’ll ever see. It’s a true voyage of the imagination, for Max and the viewer alike. It’s not an intellectual experience but a deeply emotional trip, one that’s profoundly personal. It’s visceral. Experiential. Sensual. A film to be felt and to fall in love with. It’s a daydream, a fantasy and an escape. An hour-and-a-half where you can soak yourself in uncensored, vicarious sensation. Adults just don’t get to act like wild things most of the time. We have to be responsible and pragmatic, reasonable and diplomatic. We don’t get to scream and shout and beat our fists without rebuke. We don’t get to stand on a clifftop and howl. So sod the kids. This one’s ours.

Sendak first approached Jonze to take on the adaptation a full 10 years ago, after he saw the director’s Being John Malkovich. Author Dave Eggers (Away We Go) came on board to write the script. It’s hard to imagine a better team. Jonze’s vision, attention to detail and sense of humour add flair, joy, beauty and magic. Check out those landscapes, for example. Untamed forests and endless sand dunes. The romance and nostalgia he evokes with just the early evening sunlight poking through the trees. Then there are the obsessive intricacies of the tiny replica world that Carol painstakingly builds (which bring to mind John Cusack’s marionettes in Malkovich).

Meanwhile, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Eggers – who at age 21 had to take responsibility for raising his eight-year-old brother after his parents died – clearly has an acute understanding of the pain, loss, anger and fear that are as much a part of childhood as snow fights and fortresses. Stretching such minimal material into a feature-length script could have been disastrous, but Jonze’s film adds, develops and enriches the original without spoiling a thing.

So what’s new? Notably the wild things – they’ve now been given names, lines and personalities. Each is a part of Max – Carol his creativity and recklessness, Judith his negativity, Alexander (Paul Dano) his fear and insecurity, Ira (Forest Whitaker) his neediness and KW (Lauren Ambrose) his relationship with his sister and his mother. The odd new character is added. A fort is built. They play war. Arguments flare up.

Detractors will call the film both slight and padded (like that’s fair) but it’s a disservice to mistake simplicity for triviality. It is what it is – a highly emotional, immersive, regressive journey. As such, it’s unlikely to appeal to everyone. But on its own terms it’s hard to see how it could be any more perfect.

Where The Wild Things Are will make you laugh like a lunatic and cry like a child. And, yes, maybe even wet your pants.
 

Verdict:

A poignant dissection of youth with nine-foot furry monsters, gorgeous production design, frenetic camerawork and a playful, wistful score from Karen O. Never mind the little ones. This beauty will have most grown-ups blubbing.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • StuntmanSam

      Dec 12th 2009, 0:12

      g*****n I hate this film. I have no reason to, I have not seen it, but for some reason it just makes me sick to my stomach. Maybe it is the fact that it is so indie (not in the conventional way where it is an independent film, but more the fact that it attracts those sorts of people), who knows, but I am not looking forward to watching it (and I am going to watch it, I may hate it but I am not one to pass up watching a well made film)

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    • Chirurgie

      Dec 12th 2009, 12:22

      4

      saw this last nite based on this 5* rating.very interesting,definitely an adult movie about the confusion/excitement of pre-adolesence.will not be like any other film you have seen.think it will be a love it or hate it type of film.either you will 'get it' or you will wonder what all the fuss is about (even if you may enjoy the surreal filming).thankfully I was in former. It is 5* for me but have put iit 4* as fully appreciate not for everyone

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    • AsheleyG

      Dec 13th 2009, 18:52

      3

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    • AndyHouse

      Dec 15th 2009, 12:31

      4

      Sad and beautiful. Too full of emotional nuance to be a kids film. The kids in the auditorium were running around after 45 minutes.. Leave them at home and bring your inner child instead. So full of little details that come back to you like flashes of some remembered dream. The clay figures in Carols model, the bird's nest imagery. The feeling of comfort and security having been taken away. The imaginary mirrors the real world perfectly. Gone is the knowing cynicism of Being John Malkovich, and in it's place is pure innocent wonder. Simply beautiful.

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    • Claudia

      Dec 18th 2009, 16:06

      5

      This is absolutely a five-star film, though I agree with what other reviewers have said, that it is not for everyone. But what great film is? WTWTA plays by its own rules, stripping away the sugar coating of Hollywood's 'childhood' and - sometimes wordlessly - evoking the real emotions of those years: powerlessness, fear and anger intercut with pure joy and excitement. The unconventional 'plot' among the wild things concentrates on their politics: playground politics where fairness and loyalty matter above all other things. I saw this as Max's internal struggle to balance the sides of his personality represented by the wild things, but as always, the interpretation is in the eye of the beholder. Though some have confessed to finding the film dull, I was entirely absorbed from beginning to end, and am not ashamed to admit that it brought tears to my eyes, although I couldn't always pinpoint why. Don't be put off by negative reviews. Go and see it, and if you find you don't get it, it's so beautiful to look at, and so much care has gone into the costumes and models that you won't be short of things to look at. And you might just love it like I did. :)

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    • Pumpkill

      Jan 18th 2010, 12:41

      5

      An absolutely beautiful portrayal of childhood. Admittedly, its best enjoyed by seasoned souls who know what it's like to be a child, and the excitement, playfulness, loneliness and hurt that comes along for the ride. However, I do disagree with many claims that children will not like this film, or they won't understand it. When I saw WTWTA I took my eight-year-old sister along too and she thoroughly loved it! She did not at once get scared or bored or even ask "What's happening now Brendan?" And that goes for the majority of the other younger viewers in the cinema too, save for a few noisy little'uns here and there! For a child, parts are like looking in a mirror - all the emotions and playground politics are what they're experiencing right now! So all I ask, is that if you plan to watch this with your child or sibling, yes there may be scary bits, or upsetting bits, or even bits they find boring! But then again, they may just "get it" a whole lot more than you think!

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    • babysham24

      May 12th 2010, 22:39

      4

      Have just watched this film found it very enchanting. Found myself laughin like a big kid when the wild things were havin a dirt war, then sheddin a wee tear towards the end. Such a quirky and wonderful film, recommend anyone who wants to escape for an hour or so.

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    • ellyka19

      Oct 27th 2010, 12:44

      5

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