Friday, October 16, 2009

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

There aren't many films made about childhood that don't speak down to the kids in the audience, this is one of those rare films. Where the Wild Things Are is quite simply a film about childhood, told in a deeply affecting way, speaking directly to the kid in all of us instead of speaking down at us.

The film is based off of the classic children's book of the same name, following a young boy named Max, who after a fight with his mother, runs away from home to the land of the Wild Things (big furry creatures supplied by the Jim Henson Creature Shop). That's the story, plain and simple. Of course the biggest question is how well does a nine sentence book translate to a 90 minute movie? Surprisingly enough, splendidly.

While the first 20 minutes set in the real world kind of run their course a bit, the film really picks up speed once Max is crowned King of the Wild Things and the film doesn't slow down till the credits roll. Director Spike Jonze should be commended for maintaining the very essence of the book while making something that is very much his own. The film is a visual feast. Jonze has created a gritty fantasy world, one that can be both beautiful, and foreboding, but it is within the characters that this film finds its strength.

There are really only a handful of human characters in this film, the rest are the Wild Things themselves. Each Wild Thing has a distinct personality. Unlike many kids movies, the Wild Things are not caricatures of fake people, but rather they are real people deep down. The feelings, the emotions, the thoughts in which the Wild Things express, are more human than most human characters in similar children's fantasies. My personal favorite of the Wild Things is the hippy-like KW, voiced by Lauren Ambrose, but all have their moments to shine.  And if an actor could get an Oscar nomination for voice-over work, I'd campaign James Gandolfini for Best Supporting Actor as the leader of the Wild Things, Carol. Then there is Max himself, played funny enough by a kid named Max Records. Records is simply marvelous as Max. He's at that ripe age where he isn't afraid to express his emotions and he is able to carry a film on his back better than many adult actors. It is through Records that we identify with this film. The childhood arguments. Games of pretend war. Being outgrown by our older siblings. Being hurt by our parents or our friends through the lies and pettiness of childhood. It is all there in Where the Wild Things Are.

Where the Wild Things Are is simply put, a wonderful film. While I found the segments taking place in the real world a tad slow-moving, once we reach the island of the Wild Things, it shifts into high gear telling a beautiful tale laced with genuine heart.

I give Where the Wild Things Are an 8 out of 10!

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