Even though I had heard nothing but good things about this movie, I was still asking myself, “How much could I possibly enjoy it?” Well, as it turns out, I could enjoy it quite a bit. And I did enjoy it…quite a bit.
Where the Wild Things Are is about a boy named Max. He’s lonely. His mom loves him deeply, but finds herself busy with work and trying to have a normal relationship with her boyfriend. Max’s sister is growing up and has less and less time for him. When his mom invites her boyfriend over for dinner one night, she and Max get into a fight. When she sends Max to his room, he runs away. Alone in the woods, he finds a rowboat and sails off. After being tossed through a storm, Max spots an island. He sees fires burning in the distance. This is where the wild things are (clever, yes?). After introducing himself, the wild things quickly make Max their king. Together, Max and the wild things set off on a wild adventure.
It’s taken more than twenty years for Where the Wild Things Are to make it from the page to the screen, and I think that in the end, it was better that way. Sure, Disney could have rolled it out as one of their yearly animated features they used to do back in the day, but it really wouldn’t have done the story justice. Director Spike Jonze has kind of brought about a perfect storm. The acting, the music, the visual effects. You watch the movie and ask yourself what they possibly could have done to make the movie better.
Max, played by the aptly named Max Records, shows that even at such a young age, he’s got real depth as an actor, as most of onscreen time is spent with a group of animatronic robots. He portrays the deep loneliness felt by children at that nebulous age before they lose their innocence without being obvious or overt about it. Because Max’s mother, her boyfriend, and his sister spend so little time onscreen, you’re constantly drawn back to his performance. I thought it was fun to try and place the film’s voice actors. The one who I was most impressed with was James Gandolfini, who made me forget that I had spent years watching him cheat, kill, and steal on The Sopranos.
One of the most amazing things about the movie was the costume and set design. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop provided the animatronic Wild Things, and they look absolutely incredible. Really, what you’ve seen in the commercials is only a glimpse. This is why I think that only now could the filmmakers do the story justice. Before, costumes like these would only have looked ridiculous. I can’t wait to watch the making-of features I’m sure the DVD will be full of. The film’s soundtrack, put together by singer/songwriter Karen O is the perfect mix of upbeat and thoughtful, and sets the tone of the movie perfectly.
Aside from everything else, what I liked most about this movie is how good it makes you feel. It’s completely free of all the sex, drugs, and violence we see in so much of our media today, and it just felt good to sit back and bask in it for an hour and forty minutes. When it’s over, you walk out of it feeling like you’ve taken something away with you. Although he initially leaves his family behind, Max’s time with the wild things teaches him how much he really needs them. It’s a lesson the movie teaches without feeling preachy.
Although this is a kids’ movie, you’ll want to be careful about which kids you take to see it. I was actually surprised at how scary some of the sequences could be. Just remember, forewarned is forearmed. Taken as a whole, Where the Wild Things Are is the sort of movie that only comes along once in a long time. It’s a spot-on portrayal of the frustration and wonder felt by children, and a touching story of the difference love can make in our lives. It’s a beautiful film that families are really going to enjoy.