Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

Where The Wild Things Are movie review
Photo Credit: Where The Wild Things Are / Warner Bros Pictures
Max is a lonely nine-year-old boy struggling with his befuddling childhood. His parents are currently divorced, his mother is struggling to balance his wild behavior and her teenage daughter's dismissive attitude. After running away one night during a disastrous home-date his mom was attempting, Max journeys to an island facing off against and befriending the Wild Things; a variety of furry monsters from his imagination.

Where The Wild Things Are is a generational children's book written by Maurice Sendak. A film version was attempted for years on end by different studios due to many of them not reaching the high approval of the author. The book itself has less than 200 words, mostly captivating readers with its adventurous imagery. Following director Spike Jonze into the wild rumpus of Sendak's mind, this final approved version shows childhood that is coming to the age of acceptance to adulthood.

After a long-awaited anticipation to see the movie (almost six years!), I confess to be frustrated by Jonze's work on this one. Known for his complex fanciful style, I thought this would be right up his alley. Anyone who has seen the trailer is mesmerized by Karen O and the Kids' brilliantly whimsical soundtrack, and significantly realistic and fantasy-like special effects. Child star Max Records carries the film with an impressive leading role and Jonze's realistic and raw direction. And, yet it felt heavy in its attempt to tell a psychological story rather than to let us feel one.

Simultaneously the movie is trying to do two things: visually entertain kid audiences who might not understand the depths of the story, and expand details on the book with elongated conflict and issues for our boy king for adult moviegoers. Both would work far more successfully if the conflict didn't feel so forced. For all the enthusiasm and vivid storytelling Max expresses throughout the film, the boy's adventure turns into a violent and uneasy nightmare.

Control, disbandment, and jealousy start seeping into Max's dream world. Any moments of pure liberation is confronted with new conflicts. Max's initial royal rumpus was one of my favorite parts, and then the movie began recycling the enjoyment of watching the Wild Things tear apart the forest to make a grand fort designed by their king.

Visually the film delivers on so many levels as well as the soundtrack. And, I appreciate Jonze's loose cinematography, but the imbalance of the layered story and its expression made me continually frustrated and unfulfilled. Max's escapism is as complicated and morose as his real life. What might've felt like a kid going into his backyard and dreaming up animals and places to get away from home - something we've all done growing up - becomes more of a kid acting out of control for out of control's sake with monsters who were more scary than safe? Where the Wild Things Are has a heart somewhere, but it's difficult to identify where it roars best.

Rating: ★★☆
Have you seen Where The Wild Things Are ? What are your thoughts?

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