Where The Wild Things Are (2009) – Film Review
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, Mark Ruffalo
by Matt Callard
The enduring appeal of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book lies in the many layers packed into its slim, concise package: Freudian dream analysis, broken home allegory, Blake-ian Innocence and Experience exploration, rollicking good romp with massive furry creatures. So it’s to Spike Jonze’s eternal credit that he captures much of that special Sendak feeling in this poignant adaptation.
Where The Wild Things Are tackles the perils of childhood head on. The film uses Sendak’s book as a jumping-off point to examine it in all its ferocious complexities. Indeed, co-writer Dave Eggers (the novel A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) insisted the children should not be depicted as ‘de-fanged’ but shown as the boiling stews of anger, pain and joy that they really are.
Jonze eschews grand cinematic sweeps and adopts an intimate hand-held style. This lends the film a rampaging, primitive quality that also amplifies the story’s gentle wit.
“Flits between aching melancholy and unbridled joy”
The ten foot monsters are never less than compelling and you’ll do well to suppress a tear when they indulge in the group hug to end all group hugs. Although Paul Dano, rapidly emerging as one of the most interesting character actors of his generation, almost steals the show as a comically sad goat. He feels like no-one ever listens to him without ever providing a single reason why anybody ever should!
Verbally sparse – you’ll find no voice overs, no explanations, no monologues here – and flitting between aching melancholy and unbridled joy on a whim, it’s hard to say whether the kids will take this as a Christmas treat or a coruscating journey into their psyche. Whatever, Where The Wild Things Are is a triumph from first frame to last.