Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

How do you make a children's book of a few hundred words and a couple dozen drawings into a feature length movie?
You add your own wild interpretation to the source material and turn a children's book into a movie no one should take their child to.
In spite of robbing the youth of another potential kids' classic, Spike Jonze has created a visually compelling film that is clearly aimed at the grown kids who read the book when they were young, and not at kids who have recently enjoyed the book.
Where The Wild Things Are is probably the best looking film of the year. Art direction, special effects, cinematography, costumes and every other visual aspect of the movie are nearly perfect. Jonze and company have created a look to the film that somehow both captures the aesthetic appeal of the book and expands it to a much larger and darker adventure.
This interpretation is much more grown-up and desolate than I was expecting going in to the theater, but that is apparently what Jonze was aiming for. He hit his mark.
Following Max (Max Records) through his family troubles and his inability to fit in, the story adds more background to why Max needs to create this world of his imagination. Max's world seems to become filled with joy as he enters and becomes the king of the land, but soon crumbles around him as the menagerie of dysfunction unfolds before him and the friends he has made are revealed to be neurotic and insecure, just like the people in Max's real world and Max himself.
The beauty on the screen can still not make up for the lack of interesting story. There are a lot of slow points and an inconsistent pace to the movie overall. There is little in the story that is even near as compelling as the visuals on the screen.
In spite of his age, Records delivers on the lead performance like a seasoned actor and shows the complexity of childhood through the surreal lens of a Spike Jonze film.
The supporting cast, mostly voice work, all complement this with solid ensemble performances that you would expect from names like James Gandolfini, Forrest Whitaker, Chris Cooper and Lauren Ambrose. The real stand out supporting role is Katherine Keener as Max's real-world mother. She balances a compassion for Max's eccentricities and quirks with a clear inability to truly know how to deal with the same.
Where The Wild Things Are is enjoyable to watch, even while it holds more melancholy than anyone could imagine in the original book, just getting lost in the dreams of a child that still lives in the back of Jonze's mind is well worth the price of admission.
I'm giving it a B+.

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