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Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
For mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language
Catherine Keener, Max Records, Catherine Keener, Max Records, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker
Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers
Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
A classic story about childhood and the places we go to figure out the world we live in. The film tells the story of Max, a rambunctious and sensitive boy who feels misunderstood at home and escapes to where the Wild Things are.
Where the Wild Things Are (2009) | Review
Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers take creative liberties with Maurice Sendak's short fable while remaining faithful to its emotional epicenter. Youthful exuberance, rebellion, and angst prevent this film from being pigeonholed as typical kiddie fare—evidenced by the number of adults with small children exiting the screening of this film early.
The film opens with young Max (newcomer Max Records) full of hyperactive energy in a series of motion-sickness-inducing hand-held camera sequences. He builds a snow fort, attacks his sister and her friends with snowballs, and faces the inevitable come-uppance of his actions. Full of anger, isolated and lonely, Max lashes out against his single mother (Catherine Keener) and flees the family home clad in a wolf costume. He jumps in a sailboat and navigates a turbulent sea, landing on an island inhabited by six ominous creatures. Records is a gem in his first film role and brings a frailty and vulnerability to Max. Jonze wisely chose to use costumed actors instead of going full-on CGI. (The only CGI used was for the emotional expressions on the creature faces.)
Confronted by the sharp-toothed beasts, Max bravely proclaims himself as their king with the rallying cry of "Let the wild rumpus start!" Max quickly recognizes that the beasts' immense size, razor sharp claws, and menacing features belie an underlying sensitivity, insecurity, and loneliness much like his own. Between sequences of wild play, dirt-clod fights, and fort building, Max connects with the largest of beasts named Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini). The two become linked as kindred spirits, sharing the same feelings of bottled-up frustration, fear, isolation and anger.
Likewise, the creatures discover that Max is flawed as well. On first examination, he represents to them a powerful king who would unite them and make everything right. Upon closer observation, he reveals himself to be just a child full of immaturity, doubt, vulnerability and weakness—just like them. Max's kingly role is as flimsy as the makeshift crown that rests so awkwardly on his head. So it is whenever trust is misplaced on functional saviors that cannot satisfy our deepest need. The creatures, and Max himself, conclude amiss that there is no such thing as a "king"—no transcendent one to make sense of this world and our struggles. Here the film falls short of finding redemption for both Max and his creature friends. Carol's gut-wrenching wail as Max departs the island reveals the depth of longing the heart has for reconciliation and salvation.
Though unsatisfying in its conclusion, Where the Wild Things Are is a stunning visual exercise full of captivating images and breathtaking sequences. Max's wild journey through his kingdom of adolescence will resonate strongly with teens and any adult who can remember their childhood. The film doesn't give us the answers but the questions it poses are universal and timeless—"let the wild rumpus start!"
Copyright © 2009 Hollywood Jesus. All rights reserved.
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