Published Oct 15, 2009After a bumpy ride to completion, Spike Jonze has turned in a beautiful, visceral, resonant adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic picture book. Max is an imaginative eight-year-old boy and Jonze immediately taps into his rambunctious energy, opening with a fast shaky cam following Max barrelling down the stairs after his dog.
The kinetic impact with which Jonze captures Max at play is surprisingly ferocious, a theme not dulled as the film progresses. Desperately seeking attention from his older sister and mother (Catherine Keener), Max dramatically acts out until the rage of his family's emotional neglect overwhelms him and, clad in his signature wolf suit, he flees home. Sailing across an immensely violent sea, Max comes upon an island, and the Wild Things.
In this land, Max's vivid imagination is his greatest tool, using his wits to gain the friendship of the Wild Things, and avoid being eaten. He forms a fast friendship with the adorably rotund but hot-tempered Carol, voiced to wheezy perfection by James Gandolfini. Catherine O'Hara, Chris Cooper, Paul Dano and Forest Whitaker round out the rest of the fantastic Wild Thing voices. Each actor finds such a distinct and innocent voice and tone for their character that it's difficult at first to detect just who's playing who, aside from Gandolfini and O'Hara, the latter of whom absolutely nails the comedic beats.
The Wild Thing designs are wonderfully solid costumes that look very lived-in, giving Max something real to play off of, burry his face in and climb on, but the seamless CG work on their faces allows for a complex range of emotional displays animatronics could never match.
Young Max Records anchors the film with a soul-stirringly honest and emotionally invested performance of a calibre impressive at any age. If you've read the book, you know how it ends. If not, you should be able to figure it out.
Where the Wild Things Are is about lessons taught in strange journeys of the mind, even though its destination is one that should tug directly on the heart strings of people from eight to 80. This is a weird, touching, transcendent and sure to be timeless cinematic experience. (Warner)