Saturday, October 24, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are: A Review

Where The Wild Things Are is a strange, beautiful beast. Like its characters, it is delicate, fuzzy, and stronger than it knows. It is difficult to categorize, altogether fascinating and demands your attention. Many films attempt to capture the childhood experience by stitching together syrupy scenes of children playing and riding their bikes, that ring false and generic. I can scarcely remember a film that encapsulated every child-like emotion so perfectly. Boys are not the self-sustaining bundles of joy that they are often caricatured as, nor are they as deranged as they can be portrayed (see:KIDS). Boys are sensitive and frustrated creatures, or at least I was. I vividly remember desperately trying to get attention, or wanting to tear my room apart and run away when I was sent to my room. I recall fleeting bursts of uninhibited fun followed by feelings of confusion and helplessness. The fact that Spike Jonze was able to expand a ten-sentence story into a feature-film while retaining and in some ways enhancing the heart of the source material is the highest compliment I can bestow upon him.

After being sent to his room for an outburst with his mother, Max runs away and finds himself transported to another world where he stumbles upon the Wild Things, an unruly group of giant furry beasts. Max is able become their king, but while he gains the attention and the power he desires, he quickly finds that being in charge isn't as easy as it sounds. He has fun with the Wild Things at first, running through the forest and having dirt clod fights, but these scenes also underscore the danger he is in. The Wild Things play too rough with each other and narrowly avoid hitting Max and crushing him in a pig-pile. It quickly becomes apparent that Max needs to establish some semblance of order. However, as a 9 year old boy he has no sense of tact or the feelings of others as he promises to keep out the sadness and plays favorites in the same breath. Familiar feelings of jealousy emerge within the ranks and Max is forced to reconcile these or quite literally, be eaten up.

Cinematographer Lance Acord does a great job in capturing the kinetic energy of Max and the Wild Things, following Max into tunnels and through the forest smoothly and effortlessly. Likewise, Karen O's voice is the perfect accompaniment as she careens from invigorating to sobering and back again. Finally, the voice acting is top-notch, the most notable of which being James Gandolfini as Carrol. He is the perfect voice for the petulant Wild Thing. Catherine O'hara is also fantastic as the sarcastic, jealous Judith. All of this comes together beautifully, but those who are hoping for a more traditional narrative may be disappointed. This is not Pixar. It is scary and frustrating, but above all, real.

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