By Amelia Blevins
Meet Max. In Spike Jonze’s long-anticipated adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, the only description for young Max (Max Records) is wild. As a young boy with a temper and feelings of neglect from his mother (Catherine Keener) and older sister, Max runs away from home to an imaginary land where he is named king.
Though the Wild Things are spot-on clumsy images of Sendak’s original illustrations, they truly come to life through their talented voice actors. Max befriends Carol (James Gandolfini), Judith (Catherine O’Hara), Ira (Forest Whitacker), KW (Lauren Ambrose), Douglas (Chris Cooper) and Alexander (Paul Dano) and convinces them to make him their leader, giving Max the center of attention that he rarely has at home. As king, Max wants what all children want: to have fun with his friends. But after a few nights of wild rumpuses, Max’s leadership takes a turn for the worse when Carol doesn’t like the way things are run.
Jonze and Dave Egger’s adapted screenplay subtly mirrors Max’s feelings of neglect from his family through Carol’s realizations that Max the king cannot please all his friends. While this metaphorical journey is moving on some level, it does not pack enough of a punch to be understood by all audiences nor does it bring the story to a satisfying cathartic climax as would satisfy an older audience.
The movie, while not overtly frightening, plays with themes of loneliness and family problems that some parents might not feel are appropriate for their young children. However, for an older audience already familiar with these ideas, the film lets us revert to a time when we all wished to run away to a place where all our thoughts were heard and applauded by our friends. The film captures both the hindsight of an adult through Jonze’s perspective and the very real presence of young Max’s misunderstanding even in a world he has created for himself.
The film’s visuals are stunning and magical, with both a childlike clumsiness and an indie film’s surrealism. The muddy palette of colors adds to the adaptation’s darker themes of loneliness and keeps the fantasy from straying too far from reality. With the added bonus of a soundtrack written by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Where the Wild Things Are is a soft, atmospheric, yet uniquely childlike success.