"Where The Wild Things Are is much more a film about childhood rather than a film for children and for that reason it may not be suitable for children under 9"
Maurice Sendak’s book Where The Wild Things Are was released in 1963 where its overwhelming popularity quickly established it as a classic of American children’s literature. Now visionary director Spike Jonze brings the short pictorial novel to life in an adaptation of Sendak’s seminal work.
Max (Max Records) is a nine-year-old boy with a vivid imagination. His mother always seems too busy to indulge his fantasies and his sister and her friends play with him but eventually cross the line by destroying the igloo he’s built.
Unable to articulate his frustrations, he dons a wolf costume, runs to his sister’s room and destroys one of her keepsakes in a fury, quickly realising that what he has done is wrong. When his mother chastises him for his temper, he bites her and runs away from home.
Boarding a boat, he sails off to the land of the Wild Things, massive fifteen foot furry monsters who he finds bickering among themselves; like him, they just can’t seem to say what they mean 0.(voiced by James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker and Michael Berry Jr.).
After initially deciding that Max would be a good snack, they decide not to eat him because Max convinces them that he has hidden powers and impressed and scared by him, they decide to crown him their king.
Max leads them on a series of boisterous adventures culminating in the building of a huge mud fort, but he soon realises that the Wild Things’ relationships are as complicated as the ones back home.
The creature design is absolutely astounding, blending seamlessly the great costumes from the Jim Henson Company and the CGI effects used for their facial expressions. Some impressive voice acting (in particular from James Gandofini as the temperamental Carol) gives some real personality to the Wild Things, making them believable creatures and not just jumped-up balls of fluff. Max Records is also excellent in not only capturing the foot-stamping frustration of emotions of a child but also the wide-eyed wonder and imagination of a young boy.
However, Where The Wild Things Are is much more a film about childhood rather than a film for children and for that reason it may not be suitable for children under 9.
There are some moments of inventive brilliance that we’ve come to expect from Spike Jonze – the mud fort, Carol’s matchstick creations and the sheer scale of the Wild Things themselves is really impressive – it really does make you remember what it is to be a child, to be able to lose yourself in a self-created fantasy.
However, the skeletal plot – understandable given the bareness of the source material which amounts to only a few sentences (the monsters don’t even have names in the book) – is a major problem, the film seeming like a series of childhood romps rather than one with any focus.
Additionally, the simplistic transference of Max’s home life problems on to the world of the Wild Things seems a little forced (Max has a snowball fight at home and then an argument; Max has a mud fight with the Wild Things and then an argument) and because his relationship with his new furry friends is left ambiguous, it lacks a satisfying conclusion.
It does a great job of recreating the feeling of being a child – misunderstood and impotent to express yourself, but for a film 100 minutes long, there needs to be something meatier to hold your attention.