Where The Wild Things Are (PG)

Spike Jones is the latest brave soul to take on Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things are, this time as a feature-length film. It is a very bold venture as there have been many attempts in the past to bring Sendak’s wonderful tale to the big screen. The book itself is barely 200 words long and for it to transfer successfully to cinema it would need a bit of buffing up and Spike Jonze has done exactly that. The original book was one of the rare children’s books that properly delved into the mind of a child; indeed this, In the Night Kitchen and Outside Over There have been described as a sort of trilogy as they examine anger, change and other difficult characteristics that affect children as they grow up. It is not just aimed at children though as the monsters in the story are based on various relatives of Sendak and they represent the flaws in adults and how this impacts on everyone around. Despite being an enormous success on its release it was deemed too scary for children at the time as the major theme of anger and fury is dished out abundantly throughout. Thankfully Spike Jonze has stuck very faithfully to book and explores Sendak’s themes in greater depth and length. It is possibly the best adaption of the novel and captures the emotion, beauty and revolutionary approach to storytelling that Sendak achieved in 1963.

Where The Wild Things Are is about a young man’s journey into a land where he can avoid the anger and sadness in his real life. After falling out with his family due to their own selfish mistakes Max (Max Records) does a runner in a flurry of anger only to find himself in a world populated by various creatures intent on having endless fun. They soon see Max as their leader and someone who can make them happy forever. Max is now a leader of adults, he has to deal with their various social issues and problems but also keep them entertained and happy; however realises that leading the soft-minded is not an easy task. WTWTA is a truly emotional journey that encompasses all aspects of growing up and even shows us the desire of adults to recapture this youth. It is essentially a microcosm of childhood in all of its ups and downs, warts and all. Each monster is a characteristic, quiet, happy, angry and so on, kind of like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs…just eight foot tall with claws and super strength; really, it’s uncanny! After understanding the monsters and what they represent can Max understand himself. It also features some very sad and scary moments rarely seen in modern watered-down kids’ films.  It seems like kids films this year though have become more grown-up with films such as Up focusing on bereavement and Mr Fox with its similarly dark plot. It is a film just as much for adults as it is for kids, but I suspect adults will probably get more out this film, especially parents.

Max Records gives an energetic and well acted performance as Max, who has the difficult task of leading these fragile but loving creatures. Katherine Keener, who has worked with Jones before most notably in Being John Malcovich, is Max’s mum Connie. The voices for the monsters consist of James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker, Catherine O’ Hara and more. All the voices are done brilliantly and each one brings a truly human feel to the characters that you’d think could only come from entirely live-action characters. I Think this has been the best film for all-round acting performances this year as they are brilliantly developed and you are attached to them from the off!

WTWTA also looks and sounds beautiful with a mixture of CGI, animatronics and live action. It looks absolutely staggering! Jonze expands Sendak’s world on an epic scale and the monsters look so finely detailed. You could get away with making this a silent film quite easily I think as the look of this film is so entrancing. The scenes with the monsters playing and their giant fort are so well detailed and exciting, it’s obvious that the budget for WTWTA was massive (some $100 million or so!) but it seems like it was worth it.

Some problems do arise with Jonze’s adaption however; with the novel only being 200 words long some parts of the film which expand on the novel can appear drawn-out and a bit lengthy for younger viewers. This is no fault of Jonze or anyone else, the film needed to expand on the original story and it does a great job but there are scenes that appear not to advance the story to any great extent. There is also the issue of the film’s audience as it is clearly aimed at adults almost as much as it is to the kids. I did hear in the cinema a baffled younger kid, roughly about 5-6yrs old, constantly asking her mother what was happening to which mum replied ‘shhhh’. Just about sums it up I think! I still think it appeals to kids greatly (Especially with the humour and the fun banter the monsters get up to) but only after a certain age.

Overall WTWTA is a very insightful and intelligent adaption of Sendak’s novel. It is a very touching and funny film despite its’ serious undertones which will keep most hooked throughout. They were very lucky to have a director like Spike Jonze on board who has been able to extract so much out of the original novel and provide its’ best adaption by a country mile despite many having doubts about its ability to transfer to the screen. A very brave and bold film that will no doubt speak volumes to most kids and parents alike as well as Jonze’s usual fan-base; it is an all-round crowd pleaser and a very exciting ride.

Dave

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