Where The Wild Things Are – movie review

Director Spike Jonze has taken the novel approach of redefining the phrase “Kids Film,” this is an important key to one’s appreciation of Where The Wild things Are. Normally those two words together conjur simplistic, garish entertainment – cartoon zebras, pratfalls, product placement, logos printed on lunchboxes, and so on. “WTWTA” is not that sort of a Kids Film.

Taking its inspiration from the popular children’s picture book, Jonze’s film expands those illustrations into a surreal universe created in a child’s mind. Freed from the constraints of adult logic, the film flits from laughter to despair, from playing in the snow to fighting on a beach. Non-sequiturs and surreal flourishes aplenty, Max’s make believe island his playground – this time, the Kids Film is one that forces an adult audience to regress to a state of blissful naivety.

It is somewhat inevitable that a 2 hour film based on a ten sentence book is light on plot, but it is admittedly adherent to the book – 9 year old Max (Records) is sent to bed without his supper after shouting at his mother (Keener), wearing his best fancy dress wolf outfit, he runs away and finds himself in the company of the Wild Things. Jonze has given the scary monsters names and personalities- slowly it becomes evident that each represents a facet of Max’s psyche, be it argumentative, needy, insecure, or brash and inconsiderate. The Wild Things are psychologically complex individuals – their spats and arguments will probably be taken at face value by a younger audience, whilst grown ups will appreciate the depth and subtle nuances in the dialogue.

Shot in a fire-ravaged forest in Melbourne, the film is beautifully textured. Watching it, one can’t help but admire the attention to detail and craftsmanship on display, and that’s before we even talk about the eponymous beasts. The Wild Things are a genuine marvel of technical wizardry – the Jim Henson company constructed the life-sized creatures which were filmed in situ, but then their facial expressions and dialogue were augmented seamlessly in post production with CGI. They have genuine weight and a believable bulk as they are smashing up trees or play-fighting, but no subleties are lost in a tender moment.

Can you imagine mediating a violent argument between Snufalufucus and Big Bird from Sesame Street over whose plans for fort building are better? Well, now you don’t have to, because this is as close as you will come.

Where The Wild Things Are is a love letter to a lost childhood, when things didn’t have to add up, where you could spend all day rolling in the mud and all night reading by torch-light in fortress made of bed sheets and cushions. It is heartening that in a time of reboots, remakes, franchises, and cash cows, a film as idiosyncratic and unique as this can still get a $70 million budget from a major studio. Those that enjoy this film will be sure to cherish the nonsensical adventures and will happily revisit it time and time again.

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