Where The Wild Things Are (2009). D: Spike Jonze. DP: Lance Acord. W: Jonze & Dave Eggers. Starring: Max Records/Catherine Keener/Mark Ruffalo/voice talents of: James Gandolfini/Paul Dano/Catherine O’Hara/Forest Whitaker/Chris Cooper/Lauren Ambrose/Michael Berry Jr. (NOTE: Based on Maurice Sendaks’ (also a producer on the project) 1963 children’s classic of the same name).
Starting off the fall film schedule is the much anticipated live action adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are. And as most adaptations do, it might leave you with wanting just a bit more, but certainly sets the bar high for this season’s cinema schedule.
One of the most important elements of this film was the casting of the illustrious Max who must be as tempestuous as he is inventive with his imagination constantly in full force. The film’s Max (ironically also Max Records) instantly commands the camera’s attention with enough spunk and charm to last the entire film. And thankfully Records is the sort of young kid who looks like he plays outside just as much as inside. With the necessary sweet innocence to him, Records embodies the spirit of Sendaks’ Max without warping him into a Hollywood sugar coated stereotype.
This of course must also be attributed to director Spike Jonze. Jonze, who sports a random yet eclectic resume, grounds his Where The Wild Things Are entirely within Records’ point of view. The audience watches, discovers, and plays right along with Records on screen, never leaving his side through his wild rumpus. A rumpus that although may be beautiful and charming, lacks enough dynamic to pull the audience on all levels. Yet this point of view allows Jonze’s color palate, soundtrack, and camera use to feel sporadic and fresh just like Max’s imagination and at moments overcome its parts of disengaging quietness.
Part of this imagination, and one of the more risky elements of adapting this childhood classic, are the on-screen creations of the creatures or wild things that Max encounters. Jonze personalizes them by giving them all names and distinct personalities that build a complicated environment in which Max becomes their king. Most notably are Catherine O’ Hara as negative and nagging Judith and delightful James Gandolfini as fiery yet loyal Carol. Fortunately, none of these voices are lost behind their human sized puppet equivalents that are able to give a sense of softness and childhood nostalgia to creatures and the film as well. In fact, the decision to not use CGI allows these creatures to appear more of an extension of the soft toys and fort world Records builds in the beginning of the film.
Also, thankfully, Where The Wild Things Are never attempts to ground Records’ adventure in reality or reason. There is never a single moment of disenchantment in the film, so regardless of how you think Records’ gets to his island you will surely realize that the how and why simply do not matter. And it is this sentiment, the prowess and value of imagination, that allows the film to capture the essence of its source material.
Therefore, hopefully despite your age you will be drawn in and quietly delighted in the magic of childhood that begins with a pair of footed pajamas, but ends with so much more.