Everyone in their lifetime has probably read the classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are, written by Maurice Sendak about a wild child who runs away to a strange land inhabited by wild creatures. When this film version was first announced, I was excited about it, but when I had heard about how divided it was (mostly about the fact that the story was a little darker), I held off on watching it. Thanks to a recommendation from a fellow friend on the RT community, I eventually decided to watch this to see where I would fall on the opinion of this divided film. And in my perspective, while it's by no means a cinematic masterpiece, Spike Jonze's take on this classic story is enjoyable and surprisingly heartfelt.
The film, like the book, is about a depressed, lonely, and obnoxious child named Max (Max Records). When he's tired of his family life, particularly his mother's (Catherine Keener) love life, Max runs away from home, finds himself a boat, and travels to the world of The Wild Things, a group of strange creatures who make the boy their king. The more Max is in this world, the more lonely Max feels about his mother.
Mark Ruffalo (before playing The Hulk in The Avengers) makes a small role as the mom's boyfriend, and the wild things are played by talented actors, such as James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whittaker, Chris Cooper, and Lauren Ambrose.
Coming from a fan of the classic book, this adaptation is pretty impressive. Director Spike Jonze successfully manages to create this fantastic world of the wild things. and it's pretty impressive, along with the cinematography in general. The criticism I've most heard about this film is how darker the story is. The scenes with Max and his mom were more emotionally intense and some of the moments with the creatures are nightmarishly freaky, particularly a moment where one wants to eat the little boy. But to be honest, I had no problem with these darker, more intense moments of the film. Would it have been PG-13 had it have been a little more darker? Yes. But I think the PG rating was accurate here, despite the darker moments. Spike Jonze admitted that he didn't intend to make this a children's film, but a film that influences the child in all of us. And I think that's what Jonze was trying to do, and I congratulate Jonze for the risks he made on these darker moments.
Child actors these days are a mixed bag. While children in Hollywood can be incredible in their young years and show potential in the future of the film industry (such actors include anyone involved in the Harry Potter films, Asa Butterfield, and Halle Steinfeld), most child actors today are just plain annoying (Noah Cyrus and every child involved in Super 8 (Elle Fanning was the sole exception). Where does Max Records fall into? Well, he falls into the list of potential in becoming a phenomenal Hollywood star. Seriously, Records could really act as Max. Call it luck that he played a character also named Max, but Records shows his emotions, anger, and loneliness without overacting the role like most child actors do today. Catherine Keener was also exceptional as Max's mom, and her scenes with Max are some of the best. The cast playing the wild things, including James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whittaker, Chris Cooper, and Lauren Ambrose, are all great in their voice roles, especially Gandolfini as Max's friend/buddy Carol (weird name for a male creature, but whatever) who helps Max out in "ruling" the land.
While I was impressed by the world of the Wild Things, the thing I wasn't too fond of where the visuals for the creatures themselves. I give the visual makers credit for making them look good, with the combination of CGI, puppetry, and actors in the suits. But there were some things where it didn't look that convincing, such as times where the creatures are playing around. It was like I was watching some weird psychedelic freakshow from the 1960's. The creations weren't horrific, but I wasn't completely satisfied. What annoyed me the most about the film was the music. While I liked the score itself (by Carter Burwell, who's emotionally sounded score was actually pretty good), what ruined it musically were the use of annoying pop songs which kind of ruined the dramatic flow of the heartfelt moments of the film. These songs might have worked in a comedy, but not in a film that's supposed to warm your heart.
I wasn't completely satisfied with the visual creations of the wild things, and the pop songs throughout are utterly annoying, but in the end, Where the Wild Things Are is nowhere as bad as some of the haters say it is. Yeah the film is darker than the book, but for the first time in a long while, after watching this film, I realized how great my childhood was and how imaginative I was. Like Max, what we can take out of this film is that childhood is an important factor in our lives. It's not perfect, but Spike Jonze's take did not disappoint.
Thank you Alex A. for the recommendation on this highly enjoyable film.