Maurice Sendak’s Children’s Book Where The Wild Things Are is a staple of young childhood in the United States, as well as all across the world. A simple book containing fanciful illustrations of an imaginary world created when the main character, Max, gets sent to bed without his dinner. The book very concisely describes the adventure of Max and his imagination.
Since the book is fewer than 20 pages, I was curious to see what the film added to the book to create the cinematic experience. It turns out that not only did they add more material, but they also added a wealth of character development, emotion, and visual sensation to ensure everyone in the audience went home with a smile.
The film starts out in the “real” world, showing how different Max is and his struggles with being accepted by his sister and his mother. The first twenty-five minutes is a very strong portrayal of a kid who is different and feels alone, but is never afraid to go along wherever his imagination takes him. After biting his mother in the middle of a temper tantrum, Max runs away and this is when he meets the Wild Things (Don’t worry, Charlie Sheen does NOT make an appearance).
The Wild Things are a group of creatures, nothing you have ever seen before on this Earth. Max quickly gains their acceptance, and they name him King after he promises to take the loneliness and sorrow away. However, as we know, Max is promising things he cannot deliver on, as he’s just a regular boy. He develops friendships with most of the creatures, and each of the creatures has their own very distinct personalities, which adds a layer to this movie that I think most “Children’s” movies lack. There is an emotional core underneath each damaged character, and their pain and torment is expressed so uniquely that your eyes will never waver from the screen.
First of the Wild Things is Carol, voiced by James Gandolfini. Now, I’ll touch more on this later, but this is the most brilliantly voice acted movie I have EVER seen. And the first of the many reasons for that is Gandolfini. His voice acting here is unbelievably amazing. He creates a character in Carol with some major issues, and this is a completely fictional creature we’re talking about here. It’s not like those roles that the Academy loves to bestow so many awards for, of an actor basically doing a glorified impersonation of a famous figure. Here, Gandolfini creates a character that is touching, but also tragically crippled by his rage. Not only is the voice acting collectively in this film the best I’ve ever heard, but Gandolfini’s in particular is the best I’ve EVER heard. It’s real, and genuine, and tragic. It’s an amazingly sympathetic character, and creating that has to be tough for an actor only supplying the voice. Gandolfini hits an absolute grand slam here.
The rest of the voice cast is stellar as well. Such names as Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, and Academy Award winners Chris Cooper and Forest Whitaker provide an intimate depth to these creatures that makes them so real and fantastically surreal that I honestly can’t imagine them now sounding any different. In the book, the creatures don’t even have words to speak, let alone characters to create, and each of these actors does an amazing job making their creature an individual. They are all so different. A big surprise was Lauren Ambrose, the voice of K.W. I am not familiar with her work, but if she handles her other roles with such a delicacy, I’m in for a real treat if I search out her other work.
The visuals in this film are absolutely sublime. The film began shooting in 2005, so that gave Spike Jonze and Co. nearly four whole years to get this film into its presentable form. And it’s an absolute joy to watch. The colors are subtle but rich, and the puppets for the Wild Things are unbelievably intricate. There is something to be said about watching a creature that is ACTUALLY a creature, and not CGI. I know some CGI was used for expressions and the like, but the creatures are just actors (not the voice actors, I believe) in costume. There is something very human about the movements and mannerisms of the creatures, and its something that can’t be manufactured in a studio with a computer.
Spike Jonze has an absolute gem on his hands, and he shows a remarkable poise behind the camera. It’s obvious he cares about the subject matter, and it’s obvious he wants to do it great justice. What he creates is a one of kind environment, one that has never before existed and will never be seen again. It’s real, but it’s so imaginative. He honestly creates a world that many of us were able to create as kids in our own minds, and he puts it out there for millions of people to see. And he does a phenomenal job. He has worked his way quite easily onto the list of directors I trust with any project. After tackling something this major, you know the guy is devoted and capable of anything.
This film is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s the first ever Independent Children’s Movie for Adults, and it crosses so many demographics the studio must have been wetting themselves dreaming of the Box-Office take for this movie. It’s a fiercely emotional movie, one that calls on a time in your childhood imagination and allows you to relive how simple and how complicated it was to be a kid.
The visuals are stunning, and the voice acting is the best you are likely to hear at this point in the development of film. What you should expect is an emotional journey, and if you read and read and read the book as a kid, you’re going to be amazed how real these creatures become in the film. Spike Jonze has himself a modern masterpiece here, and I only hope the movie going audience appreciates this film as much as I did.
Score: 9.5/10 (Transcendent)