Directed by: Spike Jonze
Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini
After a rather severe altercation with his mother, boisterous young Max feels compelled to escape the confines of his own house in favor of somewhere special. His destination? An island inhabited by mysterious creatures known as the Wild Things, of whom welcome Max with open arms and promptly crown him as their new king. Enthralled by this turn of events, Max initially assumes his duties as king will be limited and easy to fulfill. Soon enough, he grimly realizes that being king is harder than he thought, thus resulting in an inevitable strain on the relationship he has with the Wild Things and disagreements abound.
One of the things I found most appealing about Where the Wild Things Are from the get-go is without a doubt the amount of effort it’d take to translate an easy, ten-minute read into a feature-length film, even with Jonze at the helm. While such a concern does frequently come into play at several points throughout the film’s unsubstantial narrative, it’s hard to deny that the true essence of Maurice Sendak’s classic isn’t portrayed in the fullest. Screenwriters Eggers and Jonze are ultimately to thank here, what with their ability to so accurately portray what it’s like to be an overly imaginative child hitting all the right notes whenever possible.
Despite a truly breathtaking visual quality to compliment the equally impressive script, the excessively bleak tone exhibited at several points throughout Wild Things most certainly won’t appeal to everyone. Being a huge fan of Jonze myself, I felt his direction was more or less spot-on and generally very appealing, but given the obvious juvenile nature of the source material, younger audiences will ultimately have a hard time appreciating such an approach. Additionally, the film’s runtime, although not too lengthy, does become a bit problematic seeing as how brainless a majority of it is, but if you enter the theater with an open mind, such a detail is relatively negligible.
As for the cast, the part of Max is brilliantly portrayed by newcomer Max Records, bringing just the right amount of emotion to the table whenever the script demands it, even if he does tend to go a little overboard at points. Thankfully, the efforts of the Wild Things are indeed rather terrific and manage to overshadow just about anything unfavorable in this regard, with Gandolfini stealing the show as the moody, indecisive Carol. All in all, I think it’s safe to say that these portrayals of Sendak’s beloved characters bring a great amount to the table when confronted with some of the film’s weaker suits.
So, when it comes down to it, the one question that should be asked is this: Did this film match my exceedingly high expectations? Well… no, no it didn’t, but I ensure you, I wasn’t disappointed. While I found it relatively easy to enjoy the more playful side of the narrative, the darker tone it possesses assuredly won’t appeal to everyone, especially younger audiences. Luckily, such a flaw can be overlooked to an extent thanks to the voice talents of a fantastic ensemble cast and the appealing childlike nature in which a majority of the film is presented.