Where the Wild Things Are (2009) (PG)

Did you ever go to a baseball game when you were a kid? If not, don't worry...what usually ends up happening is you sitting on a bench and complaining because you're thirsty and complaining that you're hungry and being completely bored because baseball isn't that exciting to a six-year old. That is, if you're exactly like I was as a child, and if so, I am already empathetic towards your parents. The point is, whether by baseball game or Disney land or some other coincidence, you might have happened to see a mascot up close when you were young. There are a few brave children who find sweaty adults encased in a giant fur costume that looks like it was designed in Satan's closet actually friendly and adorable—but I remember not being that child...but alas, I digress.
I must confess that I have never read Maurice Sendak's children's classic. Yes, some part of my childhood is still missing because of that. I had nothing to compare the movie to when I saw it, maybe this swayed my opinion one way or the other, we'll never know.
"Where the Wild Things Are" focuses on Max (Max Records) who probably is diagnosed with ADHD. The movie opens as he, clad in animal costume, tears through the house after the dog. Outdoorsy, he builds a fort in the snow, and asks his sister to come see it. She declines, talking with a friend on the phone is much more important than spending time with her hyper younger brother. A group of friends come to get the sister and Max ambushes them with snowballs. There is a brief, friendly chase, and Max recedes into his (not so) impregnable fort. One of the friends jumps on top of the igloo-like structure and crushes it while Max is inside. Tears come immediately. Before waiting to see if the small boy that this young man almost killed is alright, he runs away from the responsibility and all the friends pile into the car and drive off....thanks, big sis.
So Max, rightfully so, is a little miffed; and in a rage of adult proportions, he wrecks his sister's room and then lays on his bed until his mother comes home.
So begins "Where the Wild Things Are" and right from the start, the film is developing too quickly. It doesn't allow for natural emotions to permeate the screen before the throwing the viewer into another scene.
Max's mother (Catherine Keener) is a loving type, and not deserving at all of the bad behavior she gets from Max when a boyfriend comes over.
Max really goes nuts, standing on the table and demanding food, and even biting his mother. Then he runs away, escapes his mother in the night and finds a boat on a lake and takes off in it.
This boat takes him to a mountainous island which he starts exploring and there he meets the wild things.
Great beasts with horns and beaks and lovable voices, who are just so darn huggable inhabit the island.
One beast, Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), is wrecking his neighbors's homes. He's mad and he's exactly like a furry Max— a little hyper and childish. Max joins in on the wreckage and almost gets eaten by the beasts until he convinces them that he's a king.
What I want to know is how many kids, when faced with carnivorous huge beastly animals, such as the ones in this film, would just say "Be still!". I think the more likely reaction would be to cry like my brother when confronted with a Mickey Mouse mascot for the first time...yes, all that blathering about baseball did have a point.
Max could just be a heroic boy...but I think not.
The beasts are so well done that it's hard to believe that they're not real. The voice acting is great and features some well-known names: Paul Dano, Chris Cooper, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, and Lauren Ambrose.
Things that happened to Max before on the island of misfit beasts still affect him, like a lecture by a surprisingly creepy teacher about how the sun will eventually burn up.
Once on the island, the film gains tons of momentum and actually becomes effective.
The pounding moral behind the movie seems to simply be: "get along with everyone". It would have be nice to see a deeper meaning to the movie.
Spike Jonze is no stranger to odd projects, just look at "Adaptation" and "Being John Malkovich". Adapting the book to the screen, Jonze takes a lot of leeway; but I feel that it paid off.
The end of the movie is moving, but what I couldn't shake was the knowledge of what would have happened to me if I had pulled the stunts that Max did. There would be no chocolate cake and milk, just a sore bottom and no video games for a week.

Score: 3 stars out of 4

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