The power of simplicity can never be overstated. Questions have abounded as to how director Spike Jonze would be able to pull together a full-length feature film from the pages of the iconic children’s tale “Where the Wild Things Are.” The answer, quite simply, is simplicity.
Jonze bookends the tale of young Max (Max Records) among the beastlies with a small window into the daily life of a very lonely, confused young boy. His endless imagination is the source of amazing daily adventures, but the craving for attention and inclusion in the lives of overworked mom (Catherine Keener) and sis builds a wild resentment within the young lad. During a particularly outlandish outburst, young Max flees into the night. He races on into the night unaware of the adventure before him.
Keener and Mark Ruffalo appear in what amount to glorified cameos as Max’s mom and her boyfriend. Their understated roles enhance the impact of the very brief but extremely important glimpse of Max’s normal daily life. Also, the names lend weight to the overall project. You will probably never again see Ruffalo in a role that requires three lines and 16 seconds of camera time. But remember, this is Max’s tale.
Max stumbles through a dark, snowy, overgrown woodland that opens onto an immense body of water. A small boat bobs at the water’s edge, and the young, wolf-pajama-clad adventurer climbs aboard. A rough boat ride leads Max to a new land. Dawn is beginning to break as young Max climbs from the surf, a soaking child in a strange land. Firelight along a hillside ridge catches his attention, and the youngster climbs toward this beacon.
By this point, Jonze has used roughly 12 minutes to set the stage for the film’s stars. With the creation of the broken home and lonely existence, the writers gave depth to the film, thus raising it from a Disney G-rated adventure to a movie catering to the mid-teen to mid-20s crowd. This, of course, does not include the legions of adults that grew up with the book and were drawn as moths to a flame by the mere creation of such a memorable slice of their childhood.
Max creeps up to the edge of the firelight and can hardly believe the sight before him. Immense furry beasts are frolicking under the forest canopy. They seem completely wild yet strangely approachable. Max, still fueled by the warring emotions within, decides to become part of the fun. The leader, Carol (James Gandolfini), takes a quick liking to young Max, and the boy is proclaimed king of this world. Max leads the group into many adventures, but the weight of reality always creeps in to cause a problem that brings a halt to the fun. Everyone’s frustration grows, threatening to both break up the group and impose far more dire, and permanent, consequences on Max.
Jonze has created an endearing, and enduring, work. His visionary approach to Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s tale, coupled with an amazing mesh of famous voices and CGI/puppetry work, will undoubtedly thrill audiences for years to come. Simply put, it was simply wonderful.
Rating: W W W W