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December 22, 2009 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Where The Wild Things Are

film

It’s not easy being a kid, especially a nine year old. I have faint recollections of my nine year old self, but I do remember being frustrated. Be it in school, where I felt like my classmates were holding me back; be it in the playground, where I was falling prey to numerous less-than-savoury influences in the form of other school chums; or be it at home, where I felt my parents simply didn’t understand me – I was a frustrated nine year old. That frustration boiled over into downright anger at society, and after a few too many angry Wherethewildthingsareoutbursts at home and teachers repeatedly informing my parents that I was having problems in class, I was shipped off to a boarding school for three years, where I was no longer the big smart guy. I was small, weak, just like everyone else – and it just pissed me off more. Looking back, I’m glad I went to the boarding school (though I’m simultaneously not glad, if you get my drift – it was a horrible place), as I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t. But watching Where the Wild Things Are brought back all these memories of the person I was – and it was then, walking the streets after the film and reflecting on my childhood, that it hit me; for me, at least, Where the Wild Things Are is the definitive film about what it means to be a kid. Spike Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers have taken a classic children’s book, one I loved back in the day, and crafted something universal; something honest; something true; something brilliant.

Max Records plays Max, a hyperactive, attention-seeking brat to any uneducated outsider – indeed, after the opening shots, wherein Max chases his family dog through his house with a fork, one may be biased against the boy and his wanton disregard for his safety and the safety of Poochie. However, the next scene, in which Max builds an igloo and starts a snowball fight with his sister’s friends, sets up what is a moving and painfully truthful portrait of a boy growing up in a world that’s changing its opinion of him too quickly for him to adjust. Jonze and Eggers present in frank detail exactly what it is to be in that awkward transition stage Wherethewildthingsare2when the world wants us to grow up but we don’t know how, and Records is their immaculate vessel. He traverses so many emotional states it’s hard to know which is the ‘normal’ Max – but then, as he says at the end of the film, “I’m just Max.” Where the Wild Things Are is, boiled down to its very essence, a coming of age story, wherein our young hero learns the value of self and the value of family.

However, Where the Wild Things Are separates itself from lesser children’s films (Cars comes to mind) by not being a children’s film – it is, instead, a film about childhood, about parenthood, and about each group’s perception of the other. When Max bursts into the lives of the Wild Things with a memorable ‘house-smashing’ scene, he escapes being eaten by becoming their King – a paternal figure required to get rid of all the sadness from the island. But even though he rallies them around him for a short period of time, the group bonding over a shared figure to look up to, the cracks in the relationships of the Wild Things are too big to ignore, and Max soon finds himself in a reconciliatory role he can’t possibly hope to live up to. Jonze and Eggers aren’t heavy-handed about the dual message that this conveys, and it’s a triumph of the film that one can come away from it having learned something even if they aren’t a child like Max or a parent like Max’s mother. The film says to its adolescent audience that there’s a world out there that requires a maturity that they may not have yet, but that their parents do, and they should go easy on Wherethewildthingsare3their mum and dad because of that; to its audience of parents and adults, it says emphatically that children shouldn’t be forced to grow up too early, and that kids aren’t impossible out of intent. These messages may seem obvious, but Jonze and Eggers know that they’re not obvious until the audience is told them, and its this elusiveness of the obvious that they use to their advantage in order to make the film’s overall thematic structure much more affecting and truthful.

Of course, none of this would matter if the actual film was bad. Thankfully, Jonze and Eggers have crafted a film that is truly remarkable in its refusal to be pigeonholed. Jonze’s idiosyncratic direction has always made the fantastical seem real palpable, from a portal into John Malkovich’s head to a mouse inside Kanye West’s gut, and the Wild Things and their environment are Jonze’s crowning triumph. With judicious use of computer-generated imagery and some absolutely stellar voice-acting, the Wild Things come to life with a simple, childish energy that makes their low points as devastating as their high points are joyous. They’re as real – Wherethewildthingsare4perhaps even more real – than any person in the film, and Jonze, Eggers and the talented cast manage to create a realistic community of large children that are never two-dimensional or ingratiating to watch. Special mention must go to James Gandolfini, a man whose talents know no end and whose performance here as Carol is one of the most poignant, downright emotional performances of the year.

The island the Wild Things inhabit is the stuff of dreams, a combination of incompatible landscapes with giant dogs roaming the dunes and crevasses, trenches and hills dotting the horizon. It looks spectacular, almost as though Jonze were filming a nature documentary with his lens rather than a standard Hollywood film, and it’s hard to count how many times my breath was taken by the vistas. They mirror Max’s character perfectly and prove a perfect setting for the unconventional narrative – gone are Robert McKee’s introduction-conflict-resolution plotlines (as so mercilessly skewered in Jonze’s previous film, Adaptation) in favour of a more realistic, more human development of and resolution of the issues at the centre of childhood. Jonze and Eggers have the guts to not leave everything tied up in a neat bow, and they have the skill to pull it off without seeming cheap or as if they’ve run out of ideas.

Where the Wild Things Are is one of the finest films of a stellar year. A film more in tune with the mind of a child than any I’ve seen, Jonze and Eggers have created, between them, an aesthetic, narrative, and thematic masterpiece. And all from a sixteen page children’s book that consists mostly of a ‘Wild Rumpus’.

Where The Wild Things Are
Written by Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze
Based on the book by Maurice Sendak
Directed by Spike Jonze
With Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker and Mark Ruffalo

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Comments (26)

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  1. Hank Scorpio says:

    “…an aesthetic, narrative, and thematic masterpiece.”

    watch better movies.

  2. Al Gangbang says:

    ^ ^ ^

    What he said.

  3. MBS says:

    I’m getting really sick of reviews that have personal pronouns in the first two sentences.

  4. piles says:

    Pfft… don’t listen to them. “Where the Wild Things Are” may not be the best of the year and it’s certainly flawed but it’s still a perfectly acceptable, original piece of escapism. Good review.

    And, to MBS, what is wrong with letting personal experiences influence your opinion of a film, and to include these in a review? I think it gives the writing context and personality, and without it critical writing is almost always dry. I’m guessing that that’s what you meant by your dislike of personal pronouns in reviews.

  5. Hank Scorpio says:

    yeah but he didn’t say it was a “perfectly acceptable, original piece of escapism” he said it was a “an aesthetic, narrative, and thematic masterpiece”

    also “and without it critical writing is almost always dry”

    lmao are you fucking kidding me

  6. smackdown says:

    more like piles and piles of bad comments

  7. piles says:

    He did indeed say it was “an aesthetic, narrative, and thematic masterpiece”, and although I don’t exactly agree with him, it is still a well formed review with ideas that are backed up. It’s not like he’s written “OMGZ I LUVD IT THE BEASTS WERE SOOOO CUTE”. There’s a bit of hyperbole here and there but it’s well written regardless.

    And yes, I do think that most of the best critics allow personal experience to influence their writing and all the better for it. Ebert does it all of the time, as does Rosenbaum and the like. It makes it more personal, and I like that. Of course, there are exceptions, but it’s no co-incidence that all of the impersonal reviews in EMPIRE and Total Film sound pretty much the same.

    And I see what you did there, smackdown. Verry witty.

  8. MBS says:

    @Piles

    It can certainly add colour, and perhaps even insight if the critic’s writing is good enough. But too often it is used – maybe accidentally – as self-indulgent naval gazing veiled as insight. That is my problem.

  9. robert parsons says:

    exactly, mbs. guy like ebert has a career of film reviewing to draw upon. who the fuck is adam goodall

  10. Paul says:

    @MBS

    Your opinion is wrong. Thank you. Bye.

  11. MB CHB & MD says:

    I hope the author of this review doesn’t listen to this dribble.

    But I think that the whole first paragraph is about the author’s innate hatred of the way that he (I assume that it is a guy, I may be wrong) was treated growing up.

    To that I say: HTFU.

    Thank You. Bye.

  12. Snap says:

    It’s MB ChB. Mucho Fail…..

    This author is a god. Don’t diss him.

  13. Tom M says:

    Who is Adam Goodall? He’s not a real person, just a reflection of ourselves and our desires. He’s that new bike you always wanted but never got, that cousin that was always tragically out of bounds.

    You ask who the fuck is Adam Goodall? I say, who the fuck are you.

  14. Anon? says:

    Great stuff Adam, really enjoyed it. I think MBS should have a go at writing their own review, seeing as they think they know it all.

  15. Herr Mellberg says:

    Who the fuck is Adam Goodall? A person? An idea? Or a state of mind? Profound questions.

  16. Nick says:

    Can’t say I agree with your review here, Adam. It’s about as far away from an “an aesthetic, narrative, and thematic masterpiece” as just about any film released last year.

    I thought it was a rather desparate attempt on the part of Jonze to appeal to some sense of “cool”: That cool book twenty-somethings grew up with; the cool director who presided over a bunch of cool music videos; the cool indie soundtrack; Max’s cool haircut (okay, that’s a stretch, but it bugged me).

    It was an exercise in unapologetic coolness that wasn’t nearly as clever as it thought it was. If anything, I felt it was smug and contrived.

    Just one other thing:

    “Great stuff Adam, really enjoyed it. I think MBS should have a go at writing their own review, seeing as they think they know it all.

    I really hate this argument—the “Oh, you didn’t like my album? Well, how many albums have you made then, good sire? I accept your surrender,” argument. It’s the same as Gareth from The Office saying “He threw a kettle over a pub, what have you done?”

    Don’t be Gareth.

  17. Electrum Stardust says:

    I salute the anti-whalers from New Zealand and other countries unreservedly.

    True- their precise strategies may not be perfect, as are the current international and domestic laws (of the respective countries affected) regulating the behaviour of human beings. However, the indisputable and most fundamental principle here is that any intention (not to mention action) to prevent killing and save lives is worthy of the highest respect, whether it’s the lives of “wild things” or ‘civilised’ humans.

    That said, no one who understands even the least about Asian history should be surprised about the latest “incident”, where even human lives are now at risk. Bearing in mind too that the whalers effectively have the the support of the most powerful navy in the region, and one of the mightiest in the world.

  18. smackdown says:

    lmao

  19. Electrum Stardust says:

    The only thing that anyone might find even remotely funny is the misplaced expectation (if any) that putting (human) bodies between the killers and the about-to-be-killed would somehow stop the killing. Sorry guys – that’s never going to work against these people.

  20. smackdown says:

    fw:fw:fw:fw:fw:fw: how u can help create pandora on earth

  21. Costas Thrasyvoulou says:

    While I wouldn’t go as far as calling Where the Wild Things Are a ‘masterpiece’ I think this is a well written review and that it is perfectly appropriate (and in fact fitting) for Adam to talk about his own childhood whilst reviewing the film.

    I think this really nails it.

    “However, Where the Wild Things Are separates itself from lesser children’s films (Cars comes to mind) by not being a children’s film – it is, instead, a film about childhood, about parenthood, and about each group’s perception of the other.”

    Good work Adam.

  22. Electrum Stardust says:

    A “film review” is, well, about both the “film” and the “review-er”, so it’s entirely unavoidable and indeed desirable for the individuality of the reviewer to come into the er… picture —- as long as a reasonable balance is maintained.

    P.S. Wild Things of Terra Unite!

  23. smackdown says:

    more like where the boring things are

  24. we-heart-adam says:

    Adam Goodall is most definitely a man… a beautiful man! Oh Adam, you are so wise! I would love to show you where my wild things are!!

  25. MBS says:

    @anon?

    …LOLS

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