Where the Wild Things Are

Year: 2009
Production Co: Legendary Pictures
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Spike Jonze/Dave Eggers/Maurice Sendak
Cast: Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, Mark Ruffalo

It's a big ask adapting and updating Maurice Sendak's book, not only very beloved but with only a handful of pages and (though I was admittedly a kid at the time), no subtext that I could see other than the idea that kids have great imaginations. Spike Jonze was a good choice for the role after his kooky-yet-warm work in Being John Malkovich and a back catalogue of classic music videos.

As in the book Max (Records) fights with his mother (Keener) and wishes he could go off to a world of his own making, so he does so. Instead of it growing in his bedroom, he crosses an ocean to an island owned by a clan of eight foot tall beasts who are much like kids themselves.

The movie has to do a lot more than the book to fill an hour and a half. It gives the wild things names, personalities and little playground dysfunctionalities I didn't think really worked. The basic narrative's there but everything else feels like padding.

I also wasn't sure if it was a kids' movie or a movie about kids for adults. There seemed a lot of metaphor that would go over young heads and most of the children I shared the cinema with got restless very quickly. Part of the reason for that I think was because kids these days are only receptive to hyper-real, Finding Nemo -like riots of colour and movement, not the sand-blasted colour palette of the Victorian bush and coast. The characters were the only things that made it a fantasy world, and even they seemed too real.

On the upside, the creature effects are second to none the mixture of guys in suits, puppetry and CGI making the creatures look and move as real as can be.

I've read a theory since that the Wild Things are aspects of Max's personality, one that perhaps makes sense and may have been Jonze and co-writer Eggers' intention (or even Sendak's, although he didn't give the creatures anything except different shapes).

I also got the feeling before it was even over that much smarter film theorists than me would be picking up on the social comment and subtext that might be obvious after a few viewings (it undoubtedly will so if you read Eggers' forthcoming book based on the script).

But I just kept feeling it was full of stuff that didn't need to be there, taking a long time to tell the same story a 20 page book already does.

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