- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by David Medsker
hile armchair critics wondered exactly what steps Spike Jonze would take to flesh out “Where the Wild Things Are,” Maurice Sendak’s 37-page, largely wordless tale of an ornery child who creates a world where his wild antics are not only encouraged but celebrated, it’s a safe bet that no one was expecting a sobering meditation on the effects of divorce on children. But that is exactly what Jonze has done, and gorgeous though it may be, it is woefully lacking in terms of emotional weight.
Max (Max Records) is a lonely boy. His older sister Claire (Pepita Emmerichs) is too into her own friends to give him any time, and his mother (Catherine Keener) is too busy with work. (Dad is not spoken of or seen.) Max acts out when his mother is entertaining her new boyfriend, and runs out of the house. He winds up in some woods and sees a sailboat on a lake, which he takes and sails to a strange new world filled with giant monsters. After conning them into thinking he has magical powers, the monsters make Max their new king, and Max comes up with grand plans to build a new shelter for all of them. But Max slowly realizes that he does not have all the answers to the Wild Things’ questions, and ultimately comes to grips with his own mistakes.
Jonze and screenwriter partner Dave Eggers assign the Wild Things with various aspects of Max’s personality (along with one representing a family member). Carol (James Gandolfini) is impulsive and hot-tempered, Judith (Catherine O’Hara) is pessimistic, and Alexander (Paul Dano) feels ignored. This is a rather deep psychoanalysis for a so-called children’s story, and that is part of the problem; since Max is in charge of how his adventure goes, it is highly unlikely that he would willingly come face to face with his own worst qualities without some outside assistance. The Wild Things also speak and think in a manner that is slightly beyond Max’s capabilities which, again, as Max’s creations, isn’t possible. And what was with the giant dog?
From an art direction standpoint, however, Jonze knocks the movie out of the park. The locations are beautiful but simple, the new fortress Max and the Wild Things create is otherworldly, and the Wild Things themselves look spectacular. Newcomer Max Records handles the role of Max with aplomb, which is a good thing because he receives very little support. Some of that comes from the editing – Mark Ruffalo and Michael Berry Jr. get a line of dialogue apiece – but it mostly comes from a spotty voice performance by Gandolfini.
Jonze, Eggers and Sendak have gone on record saying that they don’t care if children are scared by “Where the Wild Things Are,” but they shouldn’t be as concerned about their movie scaring children as they should about it boring them. There is a lot of time spent exploring and analyzing emotions, but very little time spent feeling them. What a shame.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
The film’s Blu-ray release boasts a solid collection of extras including the 24-minute animated short, “Higglety Pigglety Pop!,” the HBO First Look special, interviews with author Maurice Sendak, director Spike Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers, and a behind-the-scenes look at the unique bond formed between Jonze and Max Records. Rounding out the set is a music featurette with co-composter Carter Burwell, a short featurette about the “Absurd Difficulty of Filming a Dog Running and Barking at the Same Time!,” and much more.