Where the Wild Things Are
Since I just saw Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, and since I'm amidst blathering about criticism, I figured, why not post a review for the film before continuing my rambling three-part entry on criticism and reviewing? Considering one of my forthcoming points, I find writing a review for a film like this kind of fitting. Or contradictory. Whichever. After I post parts two and three and you have a chance to read it, you be the judge.
I loved Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's 10-sentence children's book, Where the Wild Things Are. It's simply a delightful and amazing film that stays true to the vision of the original book as well as to Jonze's.
I loved the way Max (superbly played by Max Records) acts like a real nine-year-old boy. In the first few scenes of the film, we see instances of Max going damn near feral, yet the movie never treats him as a "problem child." No. He's nine. This is how nine-year-old boys behave, full of manic energy and conflicting, uncontrollable emotions.
Just watch the way Max has fun in the opening scene, making a fort out of snow and pretending to be a general, giving angry marching orders to a fence. Then watch the way he flips out over the aftermath of a fun snowball fight he has with his older sister's teenage friends, red- and teary-eyed and full of inconsolable rage.
I loved the overall lack of typical Hollywood film plot, thus making the 90 minute feature amazingly faithful to the original book. The story itself is pretty simple: Max gets into a fight with his mom (Catherine Keener) and decides to run (then sail) off to a land inhabited by giant monsters (the titular wild things) that make him their king. Max and the wild things then spend the bulk of their time wrestling, breaking stuff, building forts, and waging "war" with one another.
When he meets the wild things, there's not much setup or exposition. None is needed. One of the wild things, Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) is trashing some of the monsters' makeshift homes. He asks Max if he wants to join in. Of course he does. Breaking stuff with reckless abandon is the bread and butter of a young boy. Thus begins their friendship. No, "What are you creatures and how does this new world work?" baloney. They're monsters, and they like roughhousing and breaking things. They're speaking Max's language.
Although it's obvious that this is Max's fantasy, Jonze and his writing partner, Dave Eggers, don't hit you over the head with this. They respect the audience's intelligence, even the really young members of the audience.
Because it's Max's fantasy world, we get to see Max's ferocity, imagination and unstable emotions in macrocosm in the form of giant, wonderful and frightening creatures. It's one thing to see a young boy throw a spontaneous temper tantrum. It's another thing entirely to see one thrown by a giant beast that can punch holes through trees.
I loved the acting in it. As I mentioned before, Records is just spot on as Max. He's neither precocious nor cloying. He's likable and believable. The voice work for the creatures, from Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Cooper and Paul Dano, are also excellent. Keener is, as always, spot-on. The effects are great, the monsters look amazing, and the soundtrack is excellent.
I love how the movie doesn't engage in your typical stupid Hollywood moralizing (a character has a few pat flaws that can be easily fixed, an authority figure of some sort shows the character how to fix them, the flaws get fixed, and the character is a better person). I won't give away the film's course or conclusion, but Where the Wild Things Are doesn't follow this tiresome and fraudulent trajectory.
I laughed a lot. I got misty-eyed a number of times. I loved this movie. I'm so glad it was released. Go see it.
Getting all emotional,
James "King Wolf" Comtois
Ps. Don't buy into the talk around the Intertubes that this is too dark or intense for nine or 10 year-olds. This is absolutely geared for young boys as well as adults. It's just not insipid and condescending like other children's movies around.