HALLOWEEN WEEK REVIEWS #3 – WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

where-the-wild-things-are-posterThis is a movie I’d been waiting to see for a long time. Supposedly, when it was first finished, Spike Jonze’s adaptation of the classic Maurice Sendak children’s book, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, was deemed too dark by test audiences. There were rumors it might not get released. But the more I heard about it, the more I wanted to see it.

Now that it’s finally been released, I can understand the criticism. WILD THINGS is not your typical kids’ movie by any stretch. In fact, it could be argued, it’s not a kids’ movie at all. It just happens to have a kid as its main character, but the themes it explores are quite deep.

Sendak’s original book was fairly simple and involved the wolf-costume wearing Max feeling lonely and going to an island full of oversized monsters. It was about stuff like rebellion and loneliness.

But if the movie was completely faithful, it wouldn’t have lasted half an hour. So there’s a backstory now, and the monsters are much more developed, and have an awful lot to say.

Max (Max Records) is a lonely, hyperactive kid (some would say a brat) who doesn’t seem to have any friends. But he does have boundless energy. His single mom (Katherine Keener) supports him and his older sister, Claire. When Max surprises Claire’s friends by chucking snowballs at them, they chase him down to his snow fort and destroy it, leaving him crying in the ice. Then, when he goes home, his mother is enjoying time with her new boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo). Max feels neglected and angry and makes a scene. He then runs out of the house.

This is where reality becomes fantasy. Max runs down to the shoreline where he finds a boat. After sailing across a vast sea, he comes upon the island of the monsters.  The monsters are huge and destructive. They seem a lot like big kids. In fact, they seem a lot like Max. At first, they want to eat Max, but he tricks them into sparing his life by telling them he’s really a king.

The monsters believe him and make him their king – because they yearn for guidance, just like Max probably yearns for a father. He has them do fun things like fight wars and sleep piled up on top of each other. But eventually, the novelty wears off, and the monsters are restless again.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is about growing up. Not just for Max, but for the strange beasts he rules over as well. The monsters are complex, fascinating characters in their own right, especially Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), who loves to destroy things – a habit that often alienates him from those he loves best. Another monster, K.W.(Lauren Ambrose) is the object of Carol’s affection, but she leaves the group several times, looking for something more. Max does what he can to bring Carol and K.W.together. But there’s only so much he can do.

He gets the creatures to join together to build the ultimate fort, where they can all live together. But the monsters’ restless nature eventually ruins things, and Max gets to watch his own behavior mirrored in the others, and he grows in the process.

WILD THINGS will make you think and feel. It’s so much more than a children’s movie. It’s a solid achievement from a director who also gave us such recent classics as BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION. Instead of collaborating with screenwriter extraordinaire Charles Kaufman this time around, though, Jonze co-wrote the screenplay for WILD THINGS with novelist David Eggers. It’s very satisfying and quite adult, especially in the tone of the film. These monsters explore issues of identity and mortality in their own strange way, and it’s a really interesting film.

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