Starring: Maxwell Records, Mark Ruffalo, Catherine Keener (The voices of) James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Dano
Director: Spike jonze
Writer(s): Spike Jonze, Dave Egger, Maurice Sendak (novel)
Cinematography: Lance Acord
Original Score: Carter Burwell, Karen O
Running Time: 101 Mins.
While I adored this year’s other filmic adaptation of a classic (but slight) and beloved children’s novel, Fantastic Mr Fox, I can appreciate that the criticism it attracted as far as not containing enough to actually make it both endearing to children and more importantly thematically understandable for anybody not familiar with Wes Anderson’s existential chatter (so not for kids then!). On watching the trailer for Spike Jonze take on Maurice Sendaks novel, Where The Wild Things Are, it seemed to become clear we had another Mr. Fox ahead, not a bad thing for anyone over the age of 18 but for anyone younger, in particular the very young of whom the book was aimed towards, it may well have become lost beyond the clever and unique visual realisation of the stories titular characters, again like Fantastic Mr. Fox…
This is can safely say is far from the case, Jonze realises that he is making a film of a children’s novel and is careful not to alienate them, in fact one has to consider that this was never an issue, the whole thing feels so effortless (in the best possible way), so naturally made, I was left wondering if anyone else could has truly captured the spirit of the book, only ten sentences long remember, and spun it our to over 90 minutes without making it seem slight, padded out or indeed unnecessarily stretched, all that and without adding much in the way of plot. What Jonze, and fellow writer Eggers, have done is take the theme’s of the book and enhanced them through event’s and in the most part chracterisation, of Max and the Wild Things themselves.
Plucked from obscurity, child actor Maxwell Records is quite simply perfect, real and conveying all those emotions a young boy experiences he encapsulates even the worst of these traits, whether it be anger, jealousy, a sense of fun, lonliness and a destructive nature without seeming annoying, this is no mean feat especially given that he is never really offscreen. There were rumours during the films troubled production taht the studio was unhappy with Maxwell’s performance, and at one point optioned reshoots with a different actor. Quite frankly it is impossible to see anything other than brilliance in the performance Jonze has coaxed from someone with no past acting experience.
The thing is that may just be the film’s coup, Max is not, in my eyes, acting, he in fact becomes Max, not in some Marlon Brando method way but simply by letting his own emotions flow freely, but in such a way that we can all relate to Max’s emotions, each and every facet is something we have all at some point in our lives felt, not neccessairly in childhood, but in the instances that it does you will feel nostalgia unlike that I would bargain a film has never pulled from you so effortlessly before.
It is in the Wild Things themselves that these emotions are delved into deeper, effectively portraying each part of Max’s psyche, so well realised (again this was apparently, and inexplicably, at one point a concern for the studio) they are played by people in suits and use only subtle CGI to enhance the facial movements, though you would never know, as it all seems so seam-less. For creations this large and lumbering it is a wonder you ever get beyond thinking of them as creatures, but here they are fully rounded character’s, even more of a feat given the aforementioned way Jonze uses each as a part of Max’s personality. To imbue each with both this quality and their own personalities is, on paper, a seemingly impossible task!
Each is voiced by a person who will likely be unrecognisible to most, the likes of Chris Cooper, Catherine O’Hara and James Gandolfini are not household names to most, this matters little, and in fact were we watching something onscreen voiced by someone as recognisible as Bruce Willis for example it could become hugely distracting, instead each voice is a perfect fit, Gandolfini and Paul Dno being the stand-outs but to draw attention to one or too feels unfair given each has their moment to shine.
It may all sound a little heavy, and lets face it, dealing with raw emotion can be in the wrong hands, but if at the age Max is your emotions are not at their rawest and most open, when are they? Meaning any child watching Where The WIld Things Are will relate, not in a morbid or troubling way but in such a way as they may consider themselves, seeing reason behind certain emotions, all this is attained in many films, most films have a “moral”, but to achieve it for all ages while avoiding patronising or alienating anyone, I can’t think of many individuals with this level of raw talent, apart from the folks at Pixar.
To offset any worry you may have of a depressing nature Jonze has not forgotton the sense of fun that comes hand in hand with childhood, living or reliving it, and the wild rumpus’s that involve a great amount of destruction of trees and flinging of monsters is pure Jackass, Jonze hasn’t lost his anarchic streak and in this case it fits perfectly, round it off with a great score by Karen O and two bookend sequences feeaturing Catherine Keener and we may just have a very late entry for film of the year.
There is no doubt about it, Where The Wild Things Are is the most emotional experience you will likely have in a cinema all year, and one of the best, thanks to Jonze and a an ensemble of elements fast approaching filmic perfection, capturing the anarchic spirit of fun we all have inside, alongside the worst times of lonliness this is a truly touching film.