Oct 16, 2009

Wild Rumpus! - Where the Wild Things Are Review

Where the Wild Things Are is what a love letter to your childhood would look like.

Thanks to the IMAX Theater Palisades Center for inviting me to their premiere screening of the film so I could get my review out to you lovely people early. And it's a really good thing because I'm still digesting it several hours later.

Where the Wild Things Are (hereby WWTA) is the long-awaited film adaptation of the children's book by Maurice Sendak. The book, which only contains ten lines of dialogue, has become a must-have for any shelf. The film on the other hand I regret to say will not wind up in everyone's home.

Personally, I loved it. It's one of the best films I've seen all year and I'm sure I'm going to be thinking about it heavily for the next few days but as much as the studio would have liked it to be, WWTA is not an all-ages film. Kids in the audience who were jumping up and down with excitement, wearing gold paper crowns before the show started were definitely subdued afterward. Whether that was because it went entirely over their heads or they understood it so well that they were just as deep in thought as I was remains to be seen.

When I say this film is a love letter to childhood, I really mean it. The very first minute sucks you in and establishes a tone that will be present throughout the entire film. You remember what it was like to be a kid, right? At least you think you do. For example, many of us comic book fans try to hold onto the feelings of our youth by collecting toys that remind us of the simpler days, when force fields held because you said so and your favorite teddy talked back, but that only goes so far. Maybe you found that long-lost toy from your childhood one day and giggled with unbridled glee when you got to play with it again but it was fleeting. WWTA felt like I'd traveled back in time to my younger self for an hour and a half and it felt as real as it did back then. I didn't need to remember what it was like to be a kid, I was a kid.

The film's powerful effect was accomplished by a perfect mix of factors - first and foremost, it's director. I truly believe that no one could have made this film other than Spike Jonze and it feels almost like fate that Sendak waited so long to approve a director. I'm still in awe of Jonze and writer Dave Eggers' ability to take the diminutive source material and turn it into something this spectacular.

Of course all of that would be nothing without the right actors to perform it. Max Records, who takes on the brunt of the work as the main character Max, does so effortlessly. He's you, he's me, he's every child who ever lived. This might wind up being the crowning achievement of his career but if it does, it's worthwhile. The Wild Things are played by an eclectic bunch of actors; Catherine O'Hara, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker and Michael Berry Jr. all bring different things to the table as far as delivery while Lauren Ambrose and Paul Dano's youthful perspective gives the group a calming touch. James Gandolfini is literally a monster in this role and at times scared me just as much as Tony Soprano did. He was the perfect choice for Wild Thing Carol.

The most obvious draw of this film are the visuals. Breathtaking is the first word that comes to mind. Location and cinematography were very kind to WWTA and made it easy to accept giant hairy monsters as best friends. The Wild Things themselves? Wow, just wow. A combination of live action, suitmation, animatronics, and CGI were used to make these creatures that strongly reminded me of the assorted characters from The Neverending Story and Labyrinth. It's no surprise really, Jim Henson's Creature Shop were responsible for the suits. The combined effects allow the Wild Things to feel tangible and genuine, right down to the actors expressions mixed in. It's subtle but you can absolutely see each actor's face in their respective monster.

The last piece to the puzzle is something that can easily go unnoticed in some films but is 100% indispensable to WWTA - the music. Karen O lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Jonze's ex-girlfriend, wrote the soundtrack (which I will be purchasing shortly after finishing this review). It's playful, joyous, sorrowful and nostalgic all at the same time.

Where the Wild Things Are did not fail to live up the the lofty expectations I had for it. It far surpassed them in every way, shape and form. I went in thinking I'd see some delightful creatures who put a smile on my face (they did, several times over), I walked out dissecting the many faceted layers of a child's psyche, something we've long since forgotten we all were once slaves to. How can so much limitless imagination, fear, bliss, fury and love can one little person hold inside them? Did you forget? Maybe it's time to remember.

Where the Wild Things Are opens in theaters and IMAX today.

14 comments:

Wes said...

Great review, Jill. To be honest, I was shocked to hear that there was going to be a Wild Things movie upon hearing about it a few months ago. Really, it was the last thing in my mind that I was thinking should be made into a movie. Yet, when I sat to think about it, I came to the conclusion that it would be the perfect movie to capture the essence of childhood and innocence that we so often forget to remember in our present adult lives. Truly, if every adult living today would, just for a little while every day, look upon the world through the eyes of a child, with unbound imagination and reckless abandon, then I think that the world would be a much more fun and wonderful place.

Keep the news coming! You write the best geek news this side of the Mississippi.

J Antonelli said...

I wasn't going to go see it but after reading this review...I'd like to. I've been so disappointed in the past because I truly believe in the hype. I hope I too like this film.

DarkKnightDetection said...

I'm really curious about this movie now. I was super attracted by the power visuals I saw in the trailer, but from the sound of your review it seems there is a lot more to the film then just that. Thanks for the insight, I'm definitely going to get out to see this one...Plus, The Sopranos was one of my favorite television shows.

Amber Love said...

I haven't seen it yet. I barely skimmed your review because I don't want to bias myself should I actually get to a theatre! But I will say that the trailers look amazing.

daviedave47 said...

Palisades? As in that big mall off of RT 287? I drive past it all of the time...

Bobtimus said...

oh thank goodness for a good review on this movie. i saw it last week in a pre-screening as well. i brought a few friends along in hopes that we could all reminisce together. unfortunately, they did not get the underlying point of the movie and when leaving the theatre, like you said, they were scratching their heads trying to understand it all.

i personally loved the film and your review took every thought right out of my head. it was perfectly done. i cant really give my own review because yours stole all of my words. im quite upset about that by the way.

i had a hard time thinking about who the target audience for this movie was until i simply had to admit that the only people that will understand the movie are deep movie goers and hardcore WTWTA fans. Rejoice with me, Jill!

Mr. How To said...

So it was good!? Yay. I'm definitely going to go blow my money on this then. There was something about the trailers that were making me want to watch this. Its like the trailers had eye/ear crack.

But thanks for the review, I'm at least more optimistic about it now.

Anonymous said...

Great review! And I get the feeling, having not seen the movie yet, that it may well be more for adults than kids. I mean, the book was a nice one for kids, but to have Spike directing and all that underlies the premise of the book, I think kids may be expecting more entertainment, less, psychoanalyzation of their childhood emotions than what the movie may have set out to do.

Anonymous said...

great review Jill! I loved it but I agree with you this movies isn't so much for kids today but for all of us adults who loved the book as a child and are trying to recapture the feelings the book inspired,in that the movie succeeds brilliantly :)

Kai

Bunche said...

I was worried about this film from the moment it was announced, treasuring it as I have since being but a wee Bunche, but I've heard nothing but good buzz on it. After the spate of truly awful films that desecrated classic children's books, this is good news indeed and I'm glad that I can take my beloved five-year-old niece, Cleo, to see it.

The Nerdy Bird said...

Thank you so much Wes!!

I'm glad you all liked my review so much. Has anyone seen it yet?

Yes DavieDave, right off 287/87 or whatever that other highway is

Haha, sorry Bob!

Scotty said...

Hi Jill,

Loved the review and loved the movie. My girlfriend and I were the first two to buy tickets at our local theatre up here in the burbs of Toronto.

I've read the book so many times it feels like it's in my blood, while my better half hasn't so much as cracked the cover yet. She got almost as much out of it as I did.

Keep up the great work!

Wes said...

No, Jill. I haven't had the chance to see it yet. Partially due to the local theater closing down (good riddance too. That place was a dump), and the fact that i've just been too busy. I'll make sure to see it in some shape or fashion though.

Samantha K said...

I think Spike Jonze missed out on a great opportunity to make something that would be meaningful to adults and children alike; almost the entire movie seemed like nonsense to me