by NIR SHALEV
Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book only contains 48 pages and 338 words, but writer/director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2009)) was able to adapt it into a 90 minute-long spiritual, and emotionally complex story about growing up.
Through a clear lens Max (Max Records) is a crazy kid. He tortures his pet dog, dresses up as a monster, and runs around screaming for half a day, every day. When he doesn’t receive any attention he throws an even more annoying tantrum and eventually runs away from home. He then boards a boat that takes him to an island inhabited by large, furry monsters (masterful products of the Jim Hanson Work Shop). Those monsters are personifications of his personal self, his emotions, and his view of himself through the eyes of others. There he crowns himself king of the monsters and eventually learns that being the king isn’t all fun and games.
The film sounds like it’s appropriate for family viewing and it is, but definitely will go over the heads of those younger than the ages of eight or nine because of the complexity of the visual metaphors that are Max’s psyche; his id. Max Records plays Max like a normal kid that may or may not become a serial killer, at first. He grows from being a child to a boy, and to a young man, and learns about responsibility and that what he’d inflicted upon others is terrible.
The monsters live in forests, deserts, and eventually a humongous wooden fortress that Max had engineered and built with their help. The cinematography is gorgeous, even for a family film about furry monsters. The camera style is handheld and it throws the audience into Max’s world. There is a combination of CGI and classic compositing but I do believe that there’s very little CGI in general, knowing that Jonze likes making films that look good; the less CG the better.
The film did well with critics but a lot of audience members thought it to be boring and lacking a plot. It’s not entirely plotless because the story surrounding the plot is huge, in terms of a great achievement in character development, a grand visual style, and it being largely symbolic and metaphoric. I found it profound, visually stunning, and cleverly imaginative.
The DVD version has a series of “Where the Wild Things Are” shorts by Lance Bangs and starring Spike Jonze and Max Records and the Blu-ray disc edition has the aforementioned and also a short, live action/animated version of Maurice Sendak’s Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life and an HBO produced, behind the scenes featurette on the making of the film.
Other new releases this week: 2012, Cold Souls, Ponyo, We Live in Public