Fans of the classic Maurice Sendak picture book might have been a little put off at the notion of a live-action feature fleshing out a very short story into a parable of childhood angst and family decay. But I think the first trailer, which brought tears to many eyes, proved that director Spike Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers not only gave reverence to the childhood memory Where the Wild Things Are evokes...they created something unique and immersive.
The actual film is just as mesmerizing, if not quite as emotionally charged. Young Max (Max Records) is a boy who is feeling isolated from his sister and mother and acts out before running away into the night in his wolfish costume. After sailing across rough waters to a far away island, he meets a group of large creatures who crown him their king and include him in their bizarre play and activities.
All is not smooth and perfect in Max's new world (which is never assumed to be real, but is also never pointedly imagined either). Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) is gruff and occasionally violent, mostly due to the loss of KW (Lauren Ambrose) from their gang. She's found other friends that appeal to her independent sensibilities and Carol can't always cope. Max brings some sense of unity and sets everyone to building a massive fortress they can live in, but turmoil eventually causes more rifts. Max works very hard to keep his new family together, but in the end this unit is no less dysfunctional than what he's likely encountered in his childhood already.
Wild Things is the most symbolic and metaphoric "children's" film I've seen in some time, but it's also one of the most vivid and well-constructed, too. The wild things themselves are marvelous creations, just different enough to be fascinating but emotive enough to be relatable. It doesn't take long for the viewer to recognize a familiar archetype in each character or, perhaps, themselves.
What may linger the longest in my mind is the world Jonze creates...elaborate set pieces, frame filling landscapes and seamless special effects. It's a world that can shift as quickly as a child's imagination...one moment frolicking in the woods, the next tirelessly trudging an epic desert.
The film is quickly paced, appropriate to prevent the inherent messaging from becoming heavy-handed and Max's inevitable departure is not as stunningly sad as one might expect...only a touching reminder that home is where we make it and nowhere is perfect.