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Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are (October, 2009)

Director: Spike Jonze
Screenplay: Spike Jonze, practitioner Dave Eggers
Date of Release: October 16, pilule 2009
Actors: Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, Paul Dano, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O’Hara
Based on the book of the same name by Maurice Sendak

Max is a young boy who gets out of control when the world around him seemingly is after him. He’s lonely, feels unloved, and wants to be heard. One day, after his mom invites a “new friend over”, donning his wolf costume, he finally loses control and runs away, deep into the forest, where he finds a boat. The boat leads him to the island “where the wild things are”, a land of monsters that play, have fun, where they also get lonely, sad, angry and even out of control, and where Max gets to be king.

Based on the book by Maurice Sendak, director Spike Jonze takes this incredibly popular children’s book and transforms it to something magnificent. However, having said that, this movie is not for everyone. The pacing of the movie is very slow, in such a way that requires a lot of attention from children, and I would say challenging even for adults.

Though I really enjoyed the monsters, especially Carol, voiced by James Gandolfini, I couldn’t decide what to make of the story. The movie seemed incohesive. It was not clear what the aim was — was it Max’s adventure? Was it that monsters too get emotional? Was Max learning how he was a part of the real world once he let the monsters go? In the book, Max dreams up the characters and the jungle in his room after he gets angry, whereas the movie takes a different direction, and it is up to the viewer whether or not Max really goes to this new and wondrous place. It is also confusing who this movie is aimed at — though it was based on a children’s book, I think the movie is much more adult than one would expect, but at the same time, it requires the adult to leave their cynicism behind and to find their inner wolf. I had difficulty combining the howling and the growling with the more adult-like theme.

The strong aspects of the film are definitely focused on character development, that of Max, his sister Claire, his mom, and all the monsters Max encounters – Carol, Judith, Ira, Alexander, KW, Douglas, and the Bull, and their surroundings. With a simple look, sad eyes, a smile, Spike Jonze successfully gives character depth to all of those named above. I am most impressed by this, and the use of the background music – slow, pensive and melancholic to noisy, jagged, loud, highlight the emotions of Max and Carol. Max Records was a most impressive Max. He plays the bratty kid who thinks he can solve everything, lie, have a temper, and realizes that in some ways, his new friends are a reflection of him. Records plays a very believable kid. I am positive we will be seeing more of him in the future.

The cinematography and the set was absolutely beautiful. There is no other word to describe it. Nature at its very best, filmed in such a breathtaking manner. The scene where Max is walking next to Carol in the sand, discussing the nature of the sun, is in some ways, heartbreaking. There are many other more similar scenes, that the feeling of melancholy seems to be the overlying emotion for the entire film.

Even if the intent of the story was hard to understand, I felt Spike Jonze really made me feel for the monsters. Though Carol had a huge temper, that were at times scary, I was really sad when Max had to go home. I’m not sure how they made the characters show emotion in their faces, but Carol’s sad face after having his temper tantrum really tugged on this girl’s heart strings.

So the question remains, would I recommend this film? For lovers of the book, I would, but I would keep in mind that there does not seem to be a clear plot. Also, for those who have a short attention span, and cannot deal with slow paced movies, I’d skip it. But for those who think they can stick it out, focus on the characters, the music, and the emotions – this is where the movie succeeds.

Recommended. 3 kings / 5 kings

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