There is something primal about children. When they are sad, they cry. When they are happy, they laugh. When they are angry, they shout. They are right there at the emotional core of humanity. They haven’t been tamed by the maturity of time, or learned to distance themselves in deference to the rules of parents or society. They simply feel and emote.
It is this primal core that the story of “Where the Wild Things Are” taps into.
The plot is this: a wild boy named Max runs off to an imaginary land of monsters and becomes their king. He has a lot of fun and then he returns back home. But the movie version takes that skeletal story structure and runs with it.
Director Spike Jonze (“Adaptation”) faced the dual challenge of adapting the beloved children’s book into cinema, and capturing the wild essence of childhood. He succeeds on both counts. It doesn’t hurt that he kept in touch with the book’s author, Maurice Sendak, to ensure he maintained the original vision.
While the essential story is still there, Jonze fleshes it out. He adds in some parental drama, as well as some motivation for Max’s imaginary journey. The script works amazingly well as it explores all the complicated emotions of being a young boy at war with the world around him. The result is a highly believable story.
Jonze lets the audience know right from the movie’s gloriously rowdy introduction, that this is not a typical children’s film. His creative camera work reflects his background in skateboarding and music videos. It is joyously chaotic as befits the subject matter.
In fact, the movie sometimes feels like a longer version of a music video, thanks to the almost non-stop score. And the music itself is a messy jumble of notes (and sometimes voices) that somehow sounds familiar. It is captivating and charming.
Even the monsters themselves are fascinating. They are terrifying and endearing at the same time. Plus they seem so real, not only because of the work of the Jim Henson Creature shop, but also because of how three-dimensional they are in the script. These are characters that the audience cares about and will get emotional over, if for no other reason than because the little boy Max does.
Max Records, the young actor who plays Max in the movie, does a phenomenal job tapping into his own wild emotional core to portray this character. He takes the audience right into everything he is feeling: joy, anger, fear, sadness and love.
“Where The Wild Things Are” is a beautiful tale that any child could enjoy, but it is also a striking piece of art. Every piece of it—the cinematography, the music, the set design—was painstakingly crafted with loving care. This film is obviously a labor of love and viewers will not be disappointed with the outcome.