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“’Where The Wild Things…’ Wild Indeed”



Director Spike Jonze sneaks into the recesses of an adolescent’s soul and capture the frustration and defiance a nine-year-old feels when he has no control over his surroundings. “Where The Wild Things Are” is an energetically shot love story between a boy and his only friend, his imagination.


Max (Max Records) lives with his teenage sister and single mother (Catherine Keener). Mom loves her boy and cherishes his stories, but can be exasperated by his tantrums, which at one point includes the bratty impulse to stand on the kitchen table, arms folded and demand "Feed Me WOMAN." Feeling a lack of attention and respect, Max runs far away to an island filled with wild creatures. These monsters at first threaten to eat the tiny weenie lad but he proclaims himself king and they acquiesce.


The Alpha Male, Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), requires the structure of being led. Carol suffers from loneliness (with sociopathic tendencies) having scared off his beast girl friend KW (voiced by Lauren Ambrose). Max and Carol form a bond (tenuous due to Carols erratic behavior) and Max learns how his own acting out must affect his mother.


“Where The Wild Things Are” plays as an aggressive male version of “The Wizard Of Oz.” In both films, a storm drags a child to a remote spot where the characters met reflect the child’s own longings and fallacies.


Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggars capture Joseph Campbell’s mythology utilized as a framework for George Lucas's “Star Wars” saga, including the introduction of the journey, the mentor, the catharsis. Despite the fable aspects, Eggars and Jonze keep it realistically in a child’s head, with all the creatures reacting as nine-year-old would envision.


The energy in Jonze’s camerawork matches Max’s ferociousness. As if tied to a rabid dog, it chases Max through the forests as his face explodes with exhilaration.  The camera adores the young boy and projects every nuance of the boy’s discovery of this wild new world.  As a warning to parents though: the frenetic camerawork and moments of ferocity may frighten those under nine.  Jonze uses the childlike songs of Karen Orzolek to find the perfect tone of childlike exuberance. It’s reminiscent of Cat Steven’s music during the montages in the 70s counterculture classic “Harold And Maude.” Despite the PG rating, parents may want to see the film first alone to see if their own child can handle the intensity.


The movie riskily places the entire film on the shoulders of a young newcomer, one more than up to the task.  His eyes project all the aggravation, innocence and bewilderment in this adventure.  Jubilant, at times meditative, and never precocious, Max Records is quite a find.


It’s easy to forget that the creatures are not real people. Though a combination of life-size Muppets and animatronic facial expressions, these characters leap off the screen because they’re so well animated, written and voiced by Gandolfini, Ambrose, Paul Dano and Catherine O’Hara.  The interactions between Max and the creatures (particularly Carol) illustrate chemistry that many real actors can’t find on screen.


“Where The Wild Things Are” has the makings of a classic.  Spike Jonze stuck to his vision, despite two film studios interference, and though it’s a challenging film, with jump cuts and a protagonist who can be a little monster, one that may take time to hit the zeitgeist.  Once it does, it will bore into the culture consciousness and never let go. Grade: A

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