Movie Review: “Where the Wild Things Are” Is Aimed at the Young

Sandwiched between puzzled young children and stoic parents, I found myself similarly deflated after viewing Spike Jonze’s adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic,

Where the Wild Things Are

. Dazzling visuals dress up sentimental stock characters; occasionally witty dialogue sails over the young hero’s head entirely; raucous modern rock songs slice through the innocent and joyful landscape. This film has so many disparate elements geared to a multitude of audiences that it loses the carefree simplicity of the original material.Sendak is reported to be quite pleased with

Where the Wild Things Are

, which I will attribute this to his advanced age. Anyone hard of hearing would have enjoyed this film infinitely more than I did. The picture is breathtakingly stunning in its palette and use of a multitude of cinematic techniques. Computer-generated imagery, animatronics, and clever stylistic choices (the most prominent of which is a hand-held camera POV) rip Sendak’s fantastic creatures from his pages into roaring vitality. Close-up shots of the young hero, Max (Max Records) alongside his new pal Carol (James Gandolfini) are awe-inspiring as Jonze effortlessly juxtaposes reality with the curiously meticulous and colorful details of a child’s fantasy.I suppose Jonze deserves more kudos for attempting to represent the true psyche of a child, with all of its violent tendencies and penchant for neediness and immediate gratification. Max is not a meek boy, but an emblem of fierce youth in that stage of thrilling discovery, that one is special and unique and all-powerful. His relationship with his mother is not two-dimensional; one poignant scene in which he observes her and her new boyfriend sharing a quiet embrace is enough to reveal layers of helpless love mixed with resentment. As Max runs through the woods with his new friends, his pure and savage excitement is palpable. The wild things amplify his joy and pain, acting out the primalness of childhood on a gargantuan stage.

I have a feeling that this story may just not have been meant for a full-length feature. Many moments dragged on needlessly; most frustrating to sit through were the sequences explaining the sometimes-strained relationships between the wild things, who seem to be enacting a petulant and trite soap opera 24/7 when they aren’t kicking up leaves or combing their fur. This is Max’s fantasy/nightmare, so the fixation on selfish arguments and a constant search for affection is understandable. However, it is hard to believe that a young boy would visualize immature arguments among the animals of his imagination rather than simple wisdom (like the kind represented in Sendak’s book).

Jonze tries hard with a hip soundtrack by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a script peppered alternatively with the familiar refrains of childhood (“It’s not fair!”) and snappy puns for the grown-ups. Those most likely to enjoy this film are teenagers and young adults, still emotionally attached to the original story and its illustrations but groping for adult tastes. Disappointing in its execution, but endearing in its earnestness,

Where the Wild Things Are

is sweet but remains an unfortunate miscalculation.

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