Let the wild rumpus start! 'Where the Wild Things Are'

By Tatiana Craine

Every so often, something comes along that propels you back into childhood. It might be the smell of a campfire or looking at an old photograph. but sometimes, a rare film gem catapults you back to the days when snow forts and dirt clod wars were more than just games. “Where the Wild Things Are” does just that.

Director Spike Jonze brings the classic Maurice Sendak book to life, capturing the alternate magic and wistfulness of childhood in a mere 94 minutes. Max, a playful and often mischievous young boy is trying to balance his place in his family and his fantasy world. When his sister neglects to help him when he’s upset, Max naturally tracks snow all over her room and destroys a keepsake he made for her. On top of that, his single mother’s work-life and boyfriend provide Max with enough fodder to throw a tantrum and run away. When he runs deep into the woods, he finds a sailboat waiting for him at the shoreline. He hops in spitefully and braves a storm before sailing to a distant land inhabited by strange and gigantic beasts that all have a little bit of an emotional chip on their shoulders. Max becomes their king, and within their group, he finds a new, inviting family that consequently has its own set of problems.

The members of Max’s new family, a bunch of furry and feathered beasts, embody different emotions and feelings-lending truth to the film’s tagline that there’s a wild thing in all of us.

What makes the film really wonderful is that it never veers from Max’s perspective-that of a child. The film begins with a fun-filled snowball fight that all too quickly turns sour as Max’s fort gets destroyed. That sudden change in tone and emotion are so familiar to childhood memories, and Jonze nails that on the head. One minute everything is fine and the next, things have changed entirely. The whole film operates as such, and rather than being disorienting, the story flows naturally.

Too often these days, filmmakers rely solely on computer graphics to portray genuine emotions when computers just don’t show feeling as much as (nearly) real creatures can. Jonze’s collaboration with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and other special technological effects teams gave each of the Wild Things an otherworldly quality that looked more authentic than most recent computer-graphics based films. Besides the effects used for the Wild Things, Jonze and his special effects team managed to create phenomenal landscapes and sets as a backdrop for Max’s adventures.

The film is truly an ensemble effort. Max Records, who plays Max, meshes incredibly well with the other actors-suited and otherwise. Records has been in less than a handful of other films, and his big debut in “Where the Wild Things Are” couldn’t be more brilliant. Catherine Keener, as Max’s mother, glows maternally while still being easy-going and cool at once. And the Wild Things, all seven of them, have distinctive and effectual. James Gandolfini gives a concurrently warm and terrifying performance as Carol. Catherine O’Hara and Forest Whitaker play the sometimes woefully depressed odd-couple Judith and Ira. Paul Dano, Chris Cooper and Michael Berry Jr. turn in affecting portrayals as well. Lauren Ambrose plays KW, a kind-hearted and spontaneous outsider in the group that befriends Max.

Simultaneously inspiring and heart wrenching, the film is a beautiful experience-in all senses of the word.