I wanted to love Where The Wild Things Are, the latest from Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) adapting the beloved children’s book by Maurice Sandek into a feature length live action (live puppet?) slash animated film. And maybe I would have loved it if the movie bore any other name, like Locomotive: the tale of childhood or MAX. But to associate the movie with such an iconic story the whole of 10 sentences, seems to doom the movie to incompetence or inaccuracy in its portrayal.
Perhaps “wanted to love” is the wrong phrase. In fact, I held the movie in enmity, as I do with many movies, so as to brace myself for the disgusting movie that may ensue. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised by how little I do hate the movie. I believe, that first and foremost, Mr. Jonze* is a music video director; he understands how music interacts with the scene, how it can so perfectly capture emotion. And with a score by Carter Burwell (In Bruges, Raising Arizona) and a soundtrack by Karen O and the Kids, featuring artists from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Raconteurs, the Liars, Deerhunter, and in a not-so-ironic turn, an actual chorus of kids, who wouldn’t want a perfect musical side to this childhood entrée? But it’s too perfect and rather than underscoring the emotion the in-your-face perfection of the music dashes exclamation points at the end of every line.
Max, played delightfully by Max Records, dissatisfied by the prospect of growing older, runs away to an island inhabited by wild things and in one perfect monologue goes from being dinner to king. The Wild Things are played by a medley of brilliant actors (in this parenthesis bubble I would usually put the name of the actors, but I find that such information may curse you to imagining the actor in a sound booth, rather than amuse you, so I will just put crazy names from now on) who capture exactly one facet of Max’s personality or life. There’s Judith, a self proclaimed downer, Alexander striving for attention, The Bull constantly ignored, Douglas always dependable, KW, the Wild embodiment of Max’s sister who finds new friends, both on the island and in Max’s life, and finally Carol. Carol encapsulates Max’s penchant for destruction at their very first interaction, and as the movie progresses, his mastery of creation. The Wild Things literally try to create a perfect world, just as Max has done with the wild things of his imagination. But they can never escape reality. The movie affirms the therapeutic power of destruction and the resonating emptiness that follows. But the obvious parallels between Max and his creatures and Max’s world and his real life seem to mock the viewer. The depth and articulation can be attributed to only writers Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers. Ten sentences could have never implied all of the despair and anguish that the movie does.
In the end the stunning visuals and great performances are not enough to save the maudlin movie drenched in impeccable music musings and obvious plot lines.
* Did a song just pop into your head?