Some people will argue this is the best film thus far of 2009. I am almost inclined to agree.
Spike Jonze did an absolutely superb job on this one folks, and I really mean that. Where the Wild Things Are captures all the spirit of its childrens book counterpart without any of the cheesiness you would expect, and a surprising amount of drama. Who knew that Hollywood still has the ability to produce raw emotion?
Walking the line somewhere between the petulance of elementary school and the high school drama of later years, anyone with a sorrowful story to tell (and who doesn't) will feel the bruise on their heart just every so softly as Max struggles with growing up. Without a doubt, this movie has to be a supplement to the actual book, but in no way is it diminished in the transition from paper to projector.
For that reason I can't imagine that Maurice Sendak, the author, has many inhibitions about this movie. I have no doubt it's lack of a driven narrative will be mistaken by many for poor adaptation, but such a conclusion can only be found if a viewer allows themselves to be held within the traditional movie formula, which is never the case with any Spike Jonze film. The audience is here to share Max's internal journey, a dream in every sense of the word. And what dream has a concrete plot? In so many ways, Jonze's signature originality and genius intuition flow tragically enough that narrative almost becomes irrelevant. This film is a mirror and the audience wears the face of empathy. Mentally conscious viewers are in for one gorgeous treat.
Admittedly, young audiences may miss out a bit on the glory of this movie, if for no other reason than it refuses to be gratuitous. On the other hand, the stunning beauty of the monsters could easily hold attention for hours. The decision to go with puppeteered suits over CGI couldn't have worked out better for this movie. The casual, unscripted intimacy that Max and his monster chums revel in is a wonder to behold and such a revolution to experience after years of computer generated opaqueness. Carol and KW in particular are masterpieces; characters that you can actually imagine squeezing and being squeezed by. The overwhelming joy that their presence generates when they enter the screen for the first time is no mistake.
But hold your applause just a minute more, because the real crown jewel here is the performance of the year from Max Records as, well, Max. In the same way that Abigail Breslin totally owned her performance in Little Miss Sunshine (a movie that, obvious differences aside, bears some striking resemblances to this one) Records captures the spirit of Max with skill and bearing far beyond his age and experience. It is hard enough being a little boy who has to grow up, it is even more difficult to expand that experience into something visual and understandable. Marvelous is the first word that comes to mind.
A beautiful thing is hard to describe because its beauty is often an intangible thing. Such is true of Where the Wild Things Are. 4 stars Mr. Jonze, well done.
(And, for the record, I was misty eyed. You'll have a hard time not doing the same.)