If you're unfamiliar with Maurice Sendack's classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are, here's the premise: our young troublesome Max, upset with his mother, takes a boat journey to a fantasy island where rough-housing beasts make him their king, until he decides to go home. That's all there really is, but the layers of meaning that Sendack extracted from this seemingly bare premise are remarkable, and earned his book the much-deserved acclaim it enjoys today. As wonderful as it is, however, the ingenious simplicity of Where the Wild Things Are does not seem to lend itself to a feature-length screen adaptation. The poignancy of Sendack's book was in its brevity, and even though the film is relatively short (about an hour and a half), that charm is unfortunately lost.
Yet, there are things gained in Spike Jonze's and Dave Eggars' script. In Sendack's book, the eccentric illustrations of the wild things make it hard to think of them as human, but they do indeed represent the feelings of anger and fear inside everyone. Jonze and Eggars have humanized the wild things and given each one a personality of their own, representing different facet's of Max's psyche. You can hardly expect young children to fully appreciate such Freudian implications (some of the kids at the theater I attended seemed off-put to indifferent), but Jonze has to be commended for not dumbing it down.
He must also be applauded for choosing to go with real costumes/puppets for the wild things instead of pure boring CGI. The physical connection between Max and the wild things establishes an intimacy that couldn't have existing otherwise. Thumbs up to the creature designers. Not to be forgotten is Lance Accord for his beautiful photography, and musician/singer Karen O for her dulcet tones. She makes the soundtrack one of the year's best.
For all its ambition, “Where the Wild Things Are” didn't leave me particularly warmed or fulfilled, but nor did it leave me cold. I don't feel the Academy will go nuts for it; maybe a nod for Karen O's song “All is Love”, possibly one for Cinematography.
*** out of ****