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Where the Wild Things Are Review

Shane Steinberg | Friday, October 30, 2009

Undertaking the formidable task of transforming Maurice Sendak’s timeless gem of a child’s tale, “Where the Wild Things Are,” into a film, visionary director Spike Jonze has managed to pull off a faithful yet refreshingly original adaptation in wondrous fashion. It beautifully frames the dreamy youthful spirit that its source material so vividly captures thanks to Jonze’s acute eye for the mindset of a child afraid of the world but eager to master it nonetheless. The result here is an imaginative take on an already wildly imaginative story that in the end is not a children’s movie, but a movie that examines childhood, explores it with such glorious precision, and will tug at the youth and sense of wonder in all of us.

The story follows Max, a confused and sensitive young boy who feels neglected and misunderstood by his family and sets off on a journey to an island where the wild things are. These wild things, strange and curious creatures that capture the unpredictability and range of children’s emotions, long for one thing: a leader. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Max, at odds with his parents because he feels too controlled, hopes for a kingdom to rule. Crowned the king of the wild things, Max undergoes a personal journey that allows him to realize the true meaning of responsibility and the importance of family.

The real triumph here is the life interjected into each of the wild things. Designed with a perfect mix of high-tech CGI and fur and paper-maché bodies, Sendak’s original illustrations are beautifully brought to life. And Jonze, hoping to put his own daring flavor into the equation, breathes life into each creature by giving each of them its own name, personality and voice. It’s the life he breathes into the creatures that ultimately separates the film from the book, as each of the creatures take on a tale of their own that meshes with Max’s, culminating in a journey of self-discovery more grand and complex in scope than Sendak’s version.

The film somehow manages to be an original take on an original story, which, in the end will divide audiences. Lovers of the children’s book will either gaze starry eyed at scenes of young Max interacting with the mammoth-sized but children-at-heart wild things, or feel betrayed by the film’s dissimilarities from the story and how they might detract from the overall experience.

It’s amazing though, this new-age “Wizard of Oz” is, in its insight and trueness to what being a child in a dysfunctional family is really about. What Jonze captures here is not a story but a feeling and a realization that comes with life’s true experiences: It’s hard being a family and growing up in such a scary world full of uncertainties and imperfections, but in the end, it’s all a journey of the self, accomplished with the help and understanding of those dear to us.

Take a classic child’s story and put a faithful, yet new spin on it and you’re taking a risk, but here, it’s all gravy. Simply put, this is a true gem of a film.