Review Catch-up: “Where the Wild Things Are”

November 26, 2009 at 9:55 pm Leave a comment

Having vaguely remembered the beloved Maurice Sendak children’s book, I went into Spike Jonze’s latest with absolutely no expectations.  And I walked away fairly impressed.

Where the Wild Things Are, in case you haven’t heard, is actually not a children’s movie.  In fact, parents, or adults in general that have read the book, may enjoy it more.  Jonze and co-screenwriter David Eggers have crafted a story that is not about the whimsical nature of youth or imagination, but one that deals with the theme of ‘belonging’.  Young Max (Max Records) is a hyper, imaginative young boy who is still coming to terms with his parents’ divorce.  His mother (Catherine Keener) works hard to support Max and his older sister, but is also on the lookout of a new love.

Skipping over the family drama bits, Max finds himself in a strange land across the sea, a land populated by creatures several times his size.  Most are human-like in speech and behavior, but still retain an element of scariness to them (the sharp teeth don’t exactly endear them to Max).  It is in the world that Max sets himself up to be the king, ruler of all.  Not in a malicious way, but only to help his new friends, especially Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini).  Only when he deals with the responsibilities of being king does he understand how hard it is to make everyone happy, even when the best solution is compromise.

What I find fascinating about this movie are the lessons that he learns while being king, and how they can apply to Max’s “real world”.  There isn’t a sitcom-esque moment where Max has some kind of epiphany and realizes what the real problem is.  In fact, that moment is implied and never really underscored.  Much like in real life, there aren’t really any moments where you can pause and reflect upon your lessons; you’re constantly being challenged to apply the new teachings.  All of the themes of loss, divorce, love, etc come into play during Max’s time among the Wild Things, and he comes back a more enlightened kid because of it.

Many of the themes will probably fly over kids’ heads, which is why critics have said that it’s much less of a children’s flick than it “should” be.  Still, it’s entertaining and certainly ranks among Spike Jonze’s best.



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