Overlooked Film of the Week-#38
Where The Wild Things Are
I am pretty familiar with Maurice Sendak's book "Where The Wild Things Are." Working at a day care, and having some kind of story time three times a day, I have read "Where The Wild Things Are" before, its actually one of my favorite books to read them. The kids themselves love it, and what's not to love? Its a pretty simple story with very catchy illustrations. A boy gets grounded, then a forest grows in his room, he finds the Wild Things, he rules over them as king, he gets bored and misses home and then he leaves. It short, sweet and to the point. Part of the fun of telling the story is my children's reactions to it. I always ask if they thought that Max imagined everything or if something magical truly happened in his room, and everybody always says he imagined it.
When a live-action version of the story was adapted to screen in 2009, and I was curious more than anything else about how director Spike Jonze would adapt this short book into a full-length movie. The movie itself is short, only running about an hour and half. But Jonze brought this story to life in a way that nobody could have possibly imagined. This film appeared very high my personal list of favorite films in 2009 as well as my list of films of the decade. It was that powerful of a piece, and that love was reworked into my brain as I watched it again this weekend.
What Spike Jonze did was make a film about childhood, not necessarily a children's film. When we meet Max (Max Records) in the film, he's a lonely boy but with a huge imagination. He's not a golden boy with a family living happily ever after. He lives with a mother who is always too busy keeping them steady for her children that she often doesn't see Max, he's got an older sister who is inadvertently mean to him and father who is clearly out of the picture. Max has so many emotions he wants to express to his mother, but he has no idea how to do it. He doesn't want dinner at dinnertime, he wants his sister to apologize for her friends destroying his snow fort, he doesn't like mom's boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo). Max Records expertly captures what it is like to be a energized, confused young boy and we believe every emotional beat he displays. All of Max's emotions boil over on the night he snaps and runs away. He finds a boat next to a stream, gets on it and floats away. Before Max knows it, he's in a huge ocean, drifting toward a mysterious, big island with lights at the top. Not a lighthouse though, it looks as if something is on fire.
We are quickly brushed onto this island, full of "Wild Things," voiced in awesome detail by Chris Cooper, Catherine O'Hara, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, Lauren Ambrose and especially the late James Gandolfini, who clearly steals the show based on voice work alone. The detail of the animation for the Wild Things is unbelievable and immensely awe-inspiring. The biggest thing I took away from "Where The Wild Things Are," is that once Max gets to the island, the film suddenly doesn't turn into a typical, kid adventure. I had a very confused reaction to the film when I first saw it, simply because it wasn't the film I expected it to be. The film makes very mature comments on friendships and family and that struck me deeper than anything else the film offered.
Its amazing how quickly this film sneaks up on you and the emotional toll it puts on me is nearly unbearable, but its a brilliant, beautiful film with a sincere warning at its core. Should children see this film? Honestly, that depends on the parent, and what they understand and don't understand about the world around them. If it were up to me, I don't think I'd show this to my kids until they were at least 7, but that's my emphasis. There are moments that will be a tough sell for them, but ultimately it boils down to the parents decision. I think parents should be mature enough to discuss every emotion their children feel after this film, because this film will definitely wound them in some fashion. But that doesn't mean the film has nothing important to say, it does and it says it beautifully.