Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 34 min.
Release Date: October 16th, 2009 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Spike Jonze Actors: Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper
ike a modernized “The Wizard of Oz,” Spike Jonze’s loose adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s award-winning book “Where the Wild Things Are” cleverly and imaginatively reinforces the idea that there’s no place like home. But swapping out a tin man, a scarecrow, and a lion for a monstrous chicken, goat, and bull loses much of the heart and parallels to reality, allowing the troubled young hero to reflect only upon his own faults – without necessarily learning to resolve his other familial issues. There’s plenty of amazing, surreal imagery and a brooding atmosphere, but little magic brightens this fantasy world. At least, there’s no singing.
Young Max (Max Records) feels distanced and alone when he’s bullied by his sister’s older friends and scolded by his mother. With an outburst of rebellion, Max runs away to a mystical land far away and encounters a group of giant monsters. After convincing them that he possesses significant powers and will be able to shield them from sadness and hostility, they crown him their new king. But as Max’s reign of fun gives way to struggles with his new family’s jealousy, rage, and fear, the little ruler must come to terms with his own anger and the mistakes he’s made throughout his journey.
The visual design sense of “Where the Wild Things Are” is easily its biggest appeal, skillfully combining computer animation and lumbering, monstrous costumes. The expressive faces and furry, ponderous bodies capture the essence of the original illustrations as well as exhibit the creativity of the translation into three dimensions. The various creatures are slimy, beastly, scary, and funny all at once.
The downfall of the film is the lack of original source material and a deficiency of plot. Very prominent music presides over the entirety of the runtime, along with a depressingly melancholy sadness. But ruling a kingdom, contending with dissension amongst the ranks, building gargantuan fortresses, and trekking through the desert, only serve as minuscule adventures that are devoid of substance. The notion of an out-of-control child getting a taste of his own medicine while learning about responsibility is intriguing, especially when mixed with the wordless poeticism of Carol (one of the giants, voiced by James Gandolfini) serving as Max’s inner demon. Though the ideas are creative, the collaboration with feature film doesn’t result in much complexity.
– The Massie Twins