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Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

There's one in all of us.

Directed by:

Spike Jonze

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 101 minutes

US Certificate: PG

Country: United States

All I remembered about Maurice Sendak’s children’s book Where the Wild Things Are was the pictures, which probably says more about me than about the book or story itself. It sent me in to Spike Jonze’s film version with very little in the way of pre-conceived notions, however, which is definitely the way to go in.

I re-read the book after seeing the film, and as it’s only ten sentences long, Jonze obviously had to stretch some things. The basic premise remains the same, however; a very imaginative young boy named Max (Max Records) gets into some trouble and creates a world inside his head that’s full of monsters. He becomes king of this monstrous world, only to miss his family and return home when he becomes lonely and homesick.

Now, it’s not that this movie isn’t a “kids” movie; there are some children who will, no doubt, enjoy it immensely. Others, I’m afraid, will be terribly bored, and not because they lack in imagination. This is a tough sell from the beginning. Max is sort of a brat—no different than a lot of nine-year-old boys in that regard, but still, a little unsympathetic. Also, since the monsters are representations of different aspects of Max’s personality, they’re all a bit whiny as well. The creatures LOOK fabulous, and there are some wonderful moments of excitement and abandon that, accompanied by a quirkily perfect soundtrack, capture the best parts of childhood beautifully, but there’s such a lonely melancholy permeating the rest of the scenes that it’s almost uncomfortable to watch, like when you’re not quite sure where to look during an argument between your friends and you kind of just want to leave.

But, before anyone walks out, there’s a lot of good to be found in this forest. Who DOESN’T love hearing James Gandolfini as a big, destructive monster? Catherine O’Hara as the naysayer of the group, Judith, is often very funny and throws out the best lines of the movie. And really, even if the mood of Max’s imaginary world is a bit of a downer, this odd, vaguely nostalgic melancholy isn’t the typical motif for a much hyped and much anticipated movie that, deservedly or not, has been marketed to children. Again, though, Jonze is either doing something admirable and brave by NOT catering to the easy-out of a simple made-for-kids film OR he’s making something artsy and pretentious. It’s hard to determine which, really, and it all just leaves a strange feeling lingering in the air. As a whole, the film is a conundrum, never quite finding its footing, but still ultimately worth seeing.

It's Got: Wonderful music, some exhilarating music, funny and fabulous looking monsters

It Needs: A more likable Max, a little more of something intangible

Alternatives:

Inkheart, The Neverending Story, The Wizard of Oz

Summary

Not quite a kids’ movie, but not exactly for adults either, this little boy and his monster friends are surprisingly melancholy, interspersed with some subtle humor, in a film that’s interesting but lacks some inexplicable spark.

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