Monday, November 02, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

I never expected Spike Jonze to make a grown-up movie about a children's book, but that's what he's done.

The film version of Where The Wild Things Are takes the 388 words of Maurice Sendak (which would barely fill two pages of a regular book) and turns them into a 94 minute feature film. In the process, he turns a children's story into a dark, heroic fantasy--a film for grown-ups, not children, although older children will still like it very much.

The island where the wild things are is no longer such a benign place, and the wild things are not so easily tamed. Sendak's classic book placed Max's journey nominally into the mythic context of the hero's journey, and Jonze chooses this aspect to expand into a full-fledged conflict. The wild things are lonely, angry, and frustrated--they don't know how to love or be loved, although they desperately want to do both--and in this way, they are a mirror of Max's own personality.

So it's the hero's journey, but as Max struggles with the wild things, he's really struggling with himself. It's beautiful, often very funny, and just as often very sad. I don't cry in movies, but I was near tears many times, seeing so much sadness and so little understanding of what it means to be happy.

I know I'm making it sound like this film is just a gigantic buzzkill, but that's not the case. It has many moments of exuberance and buoyance, moments that make the sadness all the more poignant. The wild things are nothing short of wonderful, both in their physical appearance and the voice-acting, which is just superb.

So it's not the book, nor could it be, but it's a tremendously faithful and respectful adapation, an incredible creative achievement. It's just not made for children, and I think that's why the reviews have been mixed. Eli 8.2 really enjoyed it, but I wouldn't recommend taking anyone who is younger, because like I said, it's very dark in places.

If you are a grown-up who still feels like a kid sometimes, though, this will be an overwhelming and wonderful experience.

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