Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

Hurt in a snowball fight with his older sister and her towering friends, Max (Max Records) lashes out and trashes her room in retaliation. Changing into his wolf costume, Max’s anger lands him in trouble with his exasperated single mum (Catherine Keener) who is trying to share a quiet bottle of wine with a male friend (Mark Ruffalo). Biting his mum and fleeing the house, Max finds a small rowing boat moored nearby and sets sail. Shipwrecked on the coast of a mysterious island, Max walks into the middle of a particularly destructive Teddybear’s Picnic. Finding himself on the menu, Max talks his way out of being eaten and onto the throne, instigating himself as king to the delight of the  eponymous Wild Things. Max gains an important insight into his own mother’s strife, however, when lording over his new kingdom proves unexpectedly challenging.

I don’t know about you, but for me there was a lot more to my childhood than Santa Claus, adventure playgrounds and the sweet, sweet taste of Calpol; my formative years were also chock-full of misunderstanding, angst and a good old dash of alienation. This is the reality of Spike Jonze’ adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, a film about children as opposed to a film designed specifically for children. Forfeiting the usual cartoonish shenanigans in favour of a much more melancholy portayal of childhood, it is a very contemplatative film that speaks of truths greater than Kids Will Watch Anything If It’s Colourful Enough.

None of this would have been possible, however, without the right child star. In the wrong hands, the character of Max could easily have proved an insufferable little know-it-all who goes around biting people and generally making his mother’s life a living nightmare. As it is, Max Records makes for a wholly believable and sympathetic protagonist who shares more than his first name with the film’s lead, together they are compelling and psychologically complex enough to justify the character’s tantrums and tall tales.

Records isn’t the whole story, however, with the Wild Things standing in for aspects of Max’s burgeoning personality. The film is at its best when requiring Max to confront his inner turmoil head on: namely through his developing relationship with lead Wild Thing Carol (James Gandolfini). Considering how two dimensional the Wild Thing could have been, it is amazing just how much depth the film’s sterling cast bring to each of each of their emotional manifestations. There is as much anxiety, anger and insecurity on show in the relationships between Carol, Douglas (Chris Cooper), Alexander (Paul Dano), Ira (Forest Whitaker), Judith (Catherine O’Hara), KW (Lauren Ambrose) and The Bull (Michael Berry Jr.) as you will find in any playground, office or retirement home the world over.

Beyond the wonderfully dense and uncannily naturalistic screenplay – an achievement considering Sendak’s book was only ten sentences long – Where The Wild Things Are is also a visual treat. Outfitting its cast in giant facsimile costumes and gently animating the Wild Thing’s faces for added effect, the filmmakers have brought Sendak’s characters to life with verve and panache. As Max crosses oceans, rumpuses through forests and traverses unforgiving deserts, the filmmakers do everything they can to keep your jaw planted firmly on the ground. Furthermore, showing a worrying disregard for Max’s own safety – parellelling the earlier attack on his snow-fort – there is genuine threat and a growing menace as the inevitability of Max’s confrontation with Carol begins to really hit home, the atmosphere as breathlessly oppressive as the landscapes the inhabit.

Boasting an array of intricate and genuinely fascinating characters – Judith in particular stands out as a manifestation of Max’s passive aggressive tendencies, waging war over a make-believe but perfectly observed re-cracker – Where The Wild Things Are is a beautiful, thoughtful and delightfully intelligent film that really will appeal to the child in all.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

One Response to Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

  1. Pingback: Tuftex Wild Things

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