Friday, October 23, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are--Review

I wrote this review for the Statesman but it got bumped because of space and will likely never see the light of day so I'm passing it in full form to my loyal readers.

I remember my mother reading "Where the Wild Things Are" to me when I was young. Even today when I visit my parent's house I see figurines of the Wild Things and Max, their king, engaged in a wild rumpus across the kitchen window-sill. The book's entire content amounts to a fair-sized paragraph, but it is not the words that have endeared the story to us but the images.

So too, with the movie.

Spike Jonze's understated film is essentially 90 minutes of nostalgia. The familiar children's story of a few pages is not so much added to as it is spread across a mosaic of ethereal scenes. There are names, actions and dialogue created solely for the sake of the live-action film, but they don't seem to matter in that the intent is not its plot. Wild Things is a tangible representation of a child's mind. All of the creativity, energy, recklessness, excitement and fear of youth are placed before us in the form of fairytale creatures simultaneously strange and familiar.

In the wake of recent film adaptations of children books (e.g. the abysmal "Polar Express"), Jonze's work is a breath of fresh air. Even compared to the productions of all that is Hollywood, the film is daringly unique. The Wild Things are no product of computer generated wizardry, and the film revels in its own simplicity. Each creature is given a distinct set of personality traits to collectively mirror the pensive and rambunctious Max (effortlessly portrayed by newcomer Max Records) and during every scene a precarious danger lurks beneath the carefree frivolity. In an instant, Max's de facto confidante Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) shifts from gentle giant to ominous beast. On first meeting the Wild Things, the mood veers from dark danger to flighty glee and immediately back, and the creatures encircle Max to eat him, decide instead in favor of coronation and then draw his scepter and crown from the charred remains of prior kings. This is no warm-fuzzy children's movie. Although there is nothing in the content to warrant more than a PG rating the tone is often and abruptly very dark and the threat of the Wild Things is present in the occasional violence, anger and even dismemberment.

Unfortunately, cinematic poetry and dazzling shots can only carry a film so far. Every scene is bursting with emotion – especially impressive considering that the bulk of the movie has one human character played by a child surrounded by oversized puppets – but it is all to easy for one's attention to slip through the story's cracks and wander.

Even so, this is a beautiful film that calls forth the child inside all of us. Credit is given and due for a film that shatters the mold and creates a world of its own. Jonze excels even more by creating his world of hard, tangible life in lieu of green-screens and million-dollar FX shots. Watching Wild Things you'll find yourself smiling and not knowing why, laughing when no joke is told and engaged when no sense of plotline demands it. Jonze reminds us of what it is to be young, when the world is simple, exciting and scary: run around, yell, build a fort, throw a snowball, make a dog-pile.

Let the wild rumpus start. A-

1 comment:

  1. The cinematography of WTWTA was impressive, no doubt, but it seemed to be missing a "spark" of some kind... maybe it was just too low energy from beginning to end for me (or at least after the first ten minutes)