Movie Review: "Where the Wild Things Are"

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This is not a kid’s movie.  Then again, I can’t really tell you who it’s made for.  Director Spike Jonze has joined with author Maurice Sendak of the book of the same title from 40 years ago.  Their collaboration has made sure that the movie will remain true to the book and have the same feeling any kid got from reading it.  Warner Bros. Pictures with Legendary and Village Roadshow Pictures have created a film unlike anything before.

It’s eccentric and visionary, but absent of any real narrative of what’s really taking place.  Where the Wild Things Are is gorgeous and extremely cinematic with some fantastic acting and voice talent along side of unbelievably realistic creatures.  This is a film that plays to a child’s thought process and captures exactly what it was like to be a kid.  However, it still may seem too weird and hard to follow for most adults.

Where the Wild Things Are follows a young boy named Max (MAX RECORDS), a very imaginative child that’s not quite like the other kids on the street.  Max is very wild as one might say.  He’s beginning to realize that he is a little different than the rest of his family, but is really just misunderstood.  The young boy shares a quality everyone can relate to while growing up.  There comes a point in our lives where we feel as if we must conform and act more maturely in order to fit in with the rest of society.  This may not always be the best option for everyone.

Max wants to remain himself, but with a divorced mother and teenage sister it becomes a struggle for attention.  For Max this requires putting on an animal costume and acting as if he was in the wild.  He ends up getting into a huge tantrum when he notices his mother is more interested in the man at her house than any play time with her son.  After a bite to his mothers arm while she attempts to tame him, it becomes clear that Max doesn’t belong and runs away.  Just as the book, he finds a small boat and sets sail where he’ll end up on a mysterious island where he will soon meet the Wild Things.

This island is where any young boy dreams of living.  It’s not a Pleasure Island or a world of ice cream and candy but a place where he can run wild, howl and do anything you want.  There’s no one to tell him what not to do or how to act.  Max can be himself.  These Wild Things however need a leader, which Max takes it upon himself to become their new ruler to fix their problems.  Ruling a kingdom is not as easy as Max may think.  Instead, Max is forced to deal with the relationships between the Wild Things that are for more complicated than he could have ever imagined.

The child that plays Max does such a wonderful job.  His role required him to be absolutely crazy at times and just a little innocent kid at others.  Being as wild as his character is must have been tough.  There are scenes of him just acting like a playful child and others where he hates everyone and is pissed at the world.  I felt as if I could see what he was thinking, which for a child actor is near impossible.  It’s truly an impressive performance.  His mother played by CATHERINE KEENER also does a fabulous job.  She plays a very loving mother that may be just on the brink of losing her mind with her son.  You can see she loves everything about him, but at times he gets a little too out of control that becomes difficult for her handle.  It’s not just the actors that contributed greatly to the movie though, the creatures play an even bigger role in this children’s classic.

At first glance, these creatures can be quite scary being 9-feet tall with sharp teeth and being very powerful.  As the camera gets closer and follows them, their character quickly break out.  These big headed fluffy creatures can be quite charismatic and shed a great amount of emotion.  The main creature is probably what you will remember most from the book.  I didn’t know how they could make these giant things become so loveable, but the idea is behind the amazing voice talent.  Douglas, CHRIS COOPER (Adaptation), leads the pack and really adds a lot of depth to his character.  Imagine if Eeyore became a strong beast with more emotion, then you have Douglas.

The Wild Things gain much believability by their faces.  The heads are static and use CGI to animate the mouth, eyes and other subtle movements one may find in a face.  These costumes were designed and built over a 6-month period of time by the infamous Jim Henson Company Creature Shop in Los Angeles.  They were then shipped to the set in Australia where another team of costumers continued with adjustments on location.  The giant costumes had very demanding needs as this film does contain quite a bit of action.  These creatures had to be able to run around and be used in scenes requiring wire work and special rigs for fights.  It seemed like quite an under taking and the puppeteers and filmmakers did a magnificent job pulling it off.  Not once did I feel like I was watching someone in a giant costume.

I really would like to talk about these creatures forever as I absolutely loved them.  Every character created is so unique and different.  They all have depth and really capture the movements of the voice talent.  The incredibly talented cast of voices was all filmed saying their lines so the puppeteers could mimic their movements and really capture a sense of realism.  This cast also includes JAMES GANDOLFINI (The Taking of Pelham 123), CATHERINE O’HARA (For Your Consideration, Orange County, Home Alone), FOREST WHITAKER (Vantage Point), and PAUL DANO (There Will Be Blood).

Each creature has a design that kind of reminds me of how the actors look as well a perfect match for the tone in their voices.  I don’t think this movie would have any of the same feel without the style and design of these creatures.  I must give a hand to Director of Photography Lance Acord, On-set Art Director Tim Disney and Production Designer K.K. Barrett for really bring out a different world like no other.  It’s a very beautiful film and not because of extremely picturesque locations, but because of the style, colors, and film techniques.

The film also uses a lot of hand-held cameras that really brings the movie to Max’s eyes.  This is a movie told through the eyes and thoughts of the child.  This causes the film to be a bit strange and odd at points where scenes don’t flow and scenarios take place that don’t seem to make sense.  There will be items said between the characters where I think to myself, “Why would they react that way.”  Several times I found myself asking if that’s how they should react to each other.  This is justified by the fact this is Max’s story and his imagination.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if the common moviegoer will figur
e this out.  I am also pondering whether or not children will fully understand it as well as the point nothing is really explained why it is taking place or why these creatures are here.  There are many questions to be asked, but this is an adaptation of a very short illustrated children’s book.

The music within the film is the same style as played in the trailer and really delivers the right tone to the film.  The music is composed by Karen O from the ‘Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ and award-winning composer Carter Burwell.  These songs have childlike melodies to it and showcase Max’s constant changes in emotions scene to scene.  It’s a little whimsical and sweet, which is perfect for the film.

There are quite some disgusting moments as at one point Max is inside one of the creatures stomachs, which may have been a little much.  However, most of the time the Wild Things are quite lovable and endearing.  I don’t think kids will be too scared but they may not fully understand the movie.  I myself am having quite a bit of difficulty figuring out what I felt toward this film.  By all means, I can praise everything from the acting to the music.  The script is just a little weird and odd at times.  If you are a true movie lover, this is a must see.  There are so many great aspects, but if you are just looking for an entertaining film, I don’t know if this is the one.

Where the Wild Things Are has a huge amount of hype and expectations.  Even non-movie lovers are excited for this movie, but I am worried many will be disappointed.  There is some action and quite a bit of comical lines, but it should fall flat for most.  It did make me feel like a little kid at moments and reminded of my childhood; something I believe Spike was aiming for.