Everyone has that certain story they read in elementary school that they instantly fall in love with. For me, it was “Where the Wild Things Are,” and I’m pleased to be able to say that the film adaptation of this classic tale is every bit as emotional and thrilling as the story itself.
Max (Records) is an extremely rambunctious child with an incredibly active imagination. While the older kids around him are busy dealing with the problems that come with being a teenager, Max is content to build a snow fort and let his mind take off. Yet for everything that Max is able to conjure, he is still alone. His sister doesn’t have the time for him and his mother (Catherine Keener) is frustrated with Max’s wild ways. When an altercation between Max and his mother results in him biting her, Max runs off to a distant land where he meets a group of wild animals, each with their own distinct personality. But as much as he loves his new-found friends, he is not one of them and eventually the time will come when he must leave.
Every performance, whether it is given by human or animal, is perfect. Records proves himself to be an amazing child actor. The range of emotions he’s able to go through is truly astounding to watch. This is a kid who definitely has a career in Hollywood ahead of him. The voice work by James Gandolfini as Carol, the animal with which Max becomes the closest, is refreshingly mellow and laid back, yet is not afraid to let loose and show his truly wild side. Keener, though only in the film for about 10 minutes, portrays the genuine emotion and frustration of a mother at her wit’s end.
Jonze must be commended for fashioning such a superbly crafted film from a book that has around 10 sentences throughout. When it comes to film adaptations from short children’s books, more often than not the result is a bastardized version of the source material. Fortunately, Jonze does not do that here. Working closely with author Maurice Sendak, Jonze was able to create a world that complements instead of destroys Sendak’s original vision. Jonze also went about the creation of the animals perfectly, with real costumes and only using CGI for facial features. Had he used CGI for anything more than this, it would’ve put a serious dent into an otherwise great film.
The soundtrack by Karen O and the Kids gives an exciting and adventurous charge to the film, filling it with songs that fit the on-screen action perfectly. It’s a great soundtrack to truly let the wild rumpus start. The music also complements the cinematography, which is really where “Wild Things” stands out. By using hand-held cameras and creating somewhat shaky footage, we’re able to get inside the wild world that Max inhabits.
There’s been a bit of talk about whether or not this film may be too dark for kids. After actually seeing it, it does contain some thematic elements that, while not inappropriate, may go over a child’s head. The way Max acts out may be a bit darker than some people might expect. Instead of just a mischievous child, Max seems to exhibit some behavioral problems that will probably affect him into his teenage years. This film isn’t a lesson in child psychology, though. By seeing Max at his worst we’re able to appreciate him at his best.
At its heart, “Wild Things” is a film about what it is to be a child, the difficulties we all face, the disappointments we encounter and the responsibilities we must hold ourselves to.