Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Let the Wild Rumpus Start! Where the Wild Things Are Review

By Aaron Oda

When I heard over a year ago that Spike Jonze was going to be directing Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, I jumped for joy in excitement over the thought. Being the wildly inventive and creative director of such films as Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, I knew if anyone could pull it off, it would be Spike Jonze. Helping out in the writing process is Dave Eggers, author of the tragicomic memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
For those of you that missed out on the book as a kid, Where the Wild Things Are tells the tale of a misunderstood boy named Max, who, after lashing out at his mother, runs away from home into the woods. The woods then transform into a mysterious forest, leading him to a ravaged boat, which after a highly dangerous sail washes him to an inhospitable island. There he encounters the nine-foot-tall wild things, which seem to come straight out of the wacky universe of Jim Henson (in fact the wild things were made at Henson’s Creature Shop). Max then persuades the monsters to not devour him by saying that he, in fact, is their king. These wild things are not complete savages though, in fact, they are more human than monster, holding fragile emotions and with no parents around, constantly hurting one another emotionally and physically.
The rambunctious bunch are friendly and child-like, yet possess a true sense of complexity and confusion. The wild things have their own issues to deal with such as the affects of loneliness and letdown, as they soon find out that Max is not their king but a regular kid. It’s like they each embody a specific experience Max has had in his past home, the home he soon desires to be back at. This is what makes the film work so well. There is this sense of melancholy to the performances, a sense of baggage and childhood anguish. Max realizes that being in a family is hard and that although he loves the new friends he’s found in the wild things, he longs for real love, the love only his real mother can offer.
The whole atmosphere and mood of the film is just beautiful. Marked by hand-held camerawork and sun-stroked cinematography, the aesthetic look brings a romanticized and lo-fi quality to the picture. The darkness and messiness of the wilderness provide a visceral contrast for the viewer as well. The sublime, child-like soundtrack is wonderfully scored by Karen O, singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as well as some like-minded friends of hers. The music is dynamic and compelling, marked by strumming acoustic guitars, a children’s choir, and Karen O’s instantly recognizable voice. It also has sounds of sadness and yearning, making for a diverse musical ride.
Ultimately, Where The Wild Things Are is the story of a child’s innocence brushing up with reality’s hardships. It brims with creativity and the untamed spirit of our youth. Some may be turned off to the darkness of the film or the lack of narrative to the story, but it’s a right choice for this fairytale. The film feels like a daydream in a sunny afternoon, weaving and winding about with carefree attitude rather than a straightforward linear movie made for cheap laughs. In the end, it’s about a boy trying to understand himself and the joy and difficulties love brings. From its rousing energetic opening to the beautifully heartbreaking ending, Where The Wild Things Are is quite the journey, and in this reviewer’s opinion, possibly the best film of the year.

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