Spike Jonze's "Wild Thing" of a movie

Oct. 20, 2009, midnight | By Warren Zhang | 12 years, 7 months ago

"Where the Wild Things Are" is a mixed ode to outlandish times

Considering all the films this year, "Where the Wild Things Are" is arguably the most subjective film. Director Spike Jonze has crafted a film that some audience members will revere as an instant classic while others will decry as a wasted adaptation. "Wild Things" is unlike any children's film in recent history. Instead of the family-friendly romp with arthouse pretensions as the marketing suggests, "Wild Things" is a fundamentally flawed probe into the psyche of a 9-year-old boy.

Max (Max Records) is a determined and boisterous child who gets into a heated and physical argument with his mother. As a result, he runs away from home and tramples upon a world of furry creatures. Upon meeting the Wild Things Max connects with them, forming relationships and they soon declare him their "king." Through his interaction and escapades with them, Max becomes increasingly attached with that world, progressively going through emotional and mental growth. Soon, however, conflicts arise when Max and the Wild Things conflict over Max's behaviors and other doings.

What Jonze and cinematographer Lance Acord undoubtedly excel at with "Wild Things" is filming a remarkably beautiful and vibrant setting. Handheld camera motion and amazing computer graphics (CG) work on the faces of the Wild Things and added to the picturesque Australian background where the movie was filmed combine to make "Wild Things" the most cinematically-incomparable films this year. Yet a few flaws in the CG prevent Jonze's latest from reaching visual perfection. For one thing, the animatronic work done on two smaller Wild Things look appallingly fake, even worse than the animals in the 1999 "Animal Farm."

The scoring, likewise, is well done with a few blemishes. Composers Karen O (of the indie band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Carter Burwell compose effective and mesmerizing songs that soundly complement the action on screen. Unfortunately, one of the songs incoporates sounds reminiscent of the main theme of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," providing a needless distraction from the motion picture.

Acting is more of a mixed bag. Max Records gives the best performance from a child actress since Abagail Bresin's role in "Little Miss Sunshine." Record's nuanced performance makes Max feel like a real, living child instead of the usual canned and trite performances child actors provide. The rest of the cast suffers incredibly from being forced to communicate the childish dialogue featured in the script. Catherine O'Hara (as the sarcastic and cynical Judith in this film) is a great actress but when she has to speak with Max about an imaginary gizmo called a "Recracker," the performance comes across as forced rather than natural.

The script, a collaboration between Director Jonze and writer Dave Eggers, will really polarize audience members. The story starts out with following Max around on a normal day. There's a Bourne-esqe "action" sequence involving Max wrestling with his dog, a snowball fight, and some more antics. After about 20 minutes into the film, Max escapes from home and it is at this point that the script introduces the titular Wild Things. Voiced by an all star cast, including James "Tony Soprano" Gandolfini, the Wild Things represent Max's different emotional components as he tries to create a new, better life with the Wild Things in a role as "king."

The biggest problem is that the writing duo of Jonze and Eggers has turned Maurice Sendak's 10 sentence long picture book into a lengthy children's movie without injecting substantial elements to the plot or character development. Without instantly identifying with Max at the onset of the opening scene, it's rather difficult to engage with the movie. If you don't already like Max when he first shows up on screen, nothing that happens over the course of the film will make you like him. Without any emotional investment in Max, the paper-thin plot crumbles apart and "Wild Things" wanes miserably.

However, if you can sympathize with the plight of an overly-imaginative, attention-craving 9 year old boy, you will overlook many of the movie's faults. "Wild Things" will transport you back to a time where you only craved a mother's love or make you revisit a phase that's not worthwhile.

"Where the Wild Things Are" (94 minutes) is rated PG for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

Warren Zhang. Warren Zhang is Silver Chips Print's charismatic stallion of a news editor and ombudsman. He enjoys being awesome and reviewing (read: destroying) movies in his spare time. More »

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