Where The Wild Things Are
By Zach Patterson Tuesday, 20 Oct 2009

From the moment I saw the first preview of this movie, I knew I was probably going to like it. An acoustic version of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” in the trailer mixed with brilliant and surreal imagery by director Spike Jonze all but sealed it for me. Still, an excellent trailer and a good movie are two different things. And it’s understandable to be cautious on an adaptation of a classic children’s book that basically had no words, and change it into a full fledged movie with considerable characterization and depth to it. But this is a wonderful movie, and easily one of the best movies I’ve seen in ages.

The basic plot is simple. The protaganist is Max, a child who is a rowdy, imaginative boy that finds no one to play with, and after being shunned by both his sister and his mother, he runs away and finds a boat that sails him to an dreamlike land of giant monsters who look to him as their king. Here he finds playmates that indulge and act on his outlandish ideas, and will give him attention and praise that he wants. However, as his reign as king of the wild things wears on, he finds that there are many parallels between how they act and how he acted at home, and begins to realize how his behavior affected the people around him.

While the plot tells a general moral that most can identify with, the presentation and other meanings to pull from the movie are what makes it truly amazing. I really think this movie will mean different things to different people based on their childhood, and as such, may not regard it as highly, but I loved the ambiguousness of it. I could relate with Max’s outsider feeling as a child that grew up entertaining himself with fantasy worlds and often acting out and being selfish without realizing it. When Max flips out and runs away, it speaks to his impetuousness and cavalier attitude, which in turn serves him well when he confronts the wild things for the first time. Each one of the monsters seems to represent a different part of Max’s world, and they all welcome him as the boy who will keep the sadness away and keep everyone together forever. The idea of growing up and embracing the sadness that comes with it is also another theme that runs through the movie, as Max tries as hard as he can to keep his creature friends together, but finds that being king and doing whatever he wants to do is only making life worse for the group. In a way, this is a very sad movie, and it’s definitely not a kid’s movie. Rather, it is a movie about childhood, and coming to terms with growing up.

I won’t speak too much more about the meanings of the film, because I’ve read a dozen reviews now and each one seemed to take a different bit from it. Instead, I just encourage you to see it. The wild things look spectacular, as a mix of costume, CG, and animatronics. Each one is brought to love by not only a sense of gravity and actually being in each scene, but also by extremely expressive faces, combined with perfect voice acting choices. James Gandolfini plays the role of Carol, the enforcer/bully/leader of the wild things, in one of his finer performances. He has the softness needed, but also a very scary, very angry side that bubbles up and makes every character, and even the viewer, slightly scared of the results. He’s also rather naive and quiet about his feelings. The rest of the cast is really great too, in particular Lauren Ambrose as KW. She plays the role of outsider/cool older sister/mother figure and has a certain way about how she speaks that reminds me of the Simpson’s episode where Bart has a crush on the new neighbor Laura. Max looks to her for help and guidance often. All the characters have an iconic look to them, and their voices cement them as truly great and memorable. They don’t look shoddy or fake or feel unrealistic in any way, which is one hell of an accomplishment.

The sets are also lush and creative in the wild things world, and the fort they build really defies any logic or laws of gravity. Conversely, the real world seems to be rather dull and frighteningly drab, a harsh contrast that plays to the strengths to the movie. The music was all done by Yeah Yeah Yeah’s front woman Karen O, and it works extremely well as the score. It balances between relaxing and dreamlike, with occasional rambunctious parts that integrate very well with the movie.

I really loved this movie because it wasn’t dumbed down, and it wasn’t compromised, it wasn’t a sunny happy disposable children flick, and it wasn’t afraid to be sad or dark when it needed to be. It wasn’t a movie with a simple message that anyone could understand and that was beaten to death or plainly stated at any point. It’s a fun movie that can mean many different things to the viewer, and nearly begs for multiple viewings. It reminded me of films like the Goonies for its adventurous spirit, or The Neverending Story, for its ability to be sad, inspiring, fun, and heartfelt all at once. You should check it out, it is without a doubt a modern classic.

2 Responses to “Where The Wild Things Are”

  1. Brian Hohman Says:

    I want to see this so badly for a few reasons..
    1. I loved this book as a child and have it signed by Maurice Sendak!
    2. Spike Jonze directed it!
    3. Karen O helped with the music and soundtrack!
    4.Zach recommended it ;).

    During my 12 days off, I shall see this movie!

  2. Eric Kennedy Says:

    I think this may be the first movie I’ve gone out to see in the theater in a long time. Didn’t read much of your review Zach, because I don’t want to spoil it, but I’m going solely based on your word. Don’t let me down!

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