"'Where the Wild Things Are' is a marvelous revelation of the mind of a child." – Movie Review.

By Sean Patrick Kernan

"It is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception and compassion and hope." Ursula K. Le Guin

The movie “Where the Wild Things Are” is, of course, an adaptation of Maurice Sendak's legendary children's book. However, the movie by director Spike Jonze lives the quote at the top of this page from sci-fi writer Ursula K. Le Guin.

In taking us on a journey through the wild imagination of Max in the wake of a fight with his mother and a disappointment from his older sister, we come to understand Max as he comes to understand himself. It's one extraordinary, revealing journey.

Max (Max Records) is an introverted little guy who longs for the days when he and his sister still played together. When he tries to recapture that feeling and is rebuffed in favor of boys with a car, Max turns his frustration into destruction.

His guilt, matched with the kind, understanding and patient reaction of his mother (Catherine Keener) offers the first of a few perfect scenes in “Where the Wild Things Are.” The peace between mother and son is soon undone; mom has a male visitor of her own, leading Max to run away.

In a departure from Maurice Sendek's wonderful pictures, pictures in which Max's bedroom melts away and slowly builds into a forest, Spike Jonze has Max run through the streets, wearing his favorite wooly footie pj's with wolf ears, finally taking refuge in a forest.

From there we aren't sure where Max really is. In his imagination an ocean opens before him and a small sail boat waits to take him far, far away. He arrives on an island and there he meets the wild things and learns lessons of family, community, love and compassion from the denizens of his subconscious.

It is at time a dark journey and credit Spike Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers for not shying away from the scarier moments. Everyone has dark places in their mind, even kids. For a child that dark place in their minds is even darker, mystical and terrifying.

The ‘Wild Things,’ voiced with wondrous vulnerability and heart by James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, and Catherine O'Hara, amongst others, are an impressive combination of old school effects and modern CGI. It's been a while since we've seen classic people in giant costume effects and the old school approach is perfect.

The CGI used to bring life to the faces of the ‘Wild Things’ fits perfectly on the giant costumes giving a real impression of life. Gandolfini's Carol is especially well rendered as he has the most complex and expressive role of all the ‘Wild Things.’

It is very easy to label the ‘Wild Things’ as different aspects of Max's psyche, the various ways he views the people in his life, so I will save the list. Let's just say that Director Jonze does a tremendous job of not laying the psychology on too thick. The film is more immersive and observant than sharp or incisive about Max's mind.

“Where the Wild Things Are” is a marvelous revelation of the mind of a child, capturing all the joy, wonder, confusion anger and longing that every child experiences and how the imagination is the most effective way for a child to deal with these developing emotions. I return to the quote at the top - perception, compassion and hope. Max creates these qualities within himself before our eyes in “Where the Wild Things Are” and it is a remarkable thing to see.


Sean Patrick Kernan is a film critic. Check him out at: http://www.myspace.com/number1ramjamfan. Email Sean at sean@zoiksonline.com.

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