Where the Wild Things Are | Spike Jonze, 2009
Making a good family movie that doesn’t talk down to kids, but also doesn’t insult the intelligence of the adults in the audience is hard to do. It is so hard that studios often just settle to make movies that they know the kids will eat up and the adults, no matter how horrible it looks, will take them to see it. However, every once in a while a filmmaker comes along that does the right thing and creates something worth watching that challenges the thoughts of everyone in the audience, from little kids to adults, and that makes them feel things and not just laugh when some CGI creation does something silly. Spike Jonze is such a filmmaker, and his take on family movies did not disappoint.
The movie is based on the children’s book of the same name by Maurice Sendak. The story is about Max (Max Records), a kid who’s having problems in his life for many reasons. One day, after having a breakdown with his mom, he runs away, and finds a boat that takes him to an island, where the wild things live. The wild things are Carol (James Gandolfini), KW (Lauren Ambrose), Judith (Catherine O’Hara), Ira (Forest Whitaker), Alexander (Paul Dano), Dougles (Chris Cooper), and The Bull. Each wild thing has a different personality, and they all take a liking to Max right away, so they make him their king. And so, the wild rumpus stars.
I’m going to start of by praising Spike Jonze for making such a dark, yet heart warming movie that everyone can enjoy, and for not giving up when faced by the studio about making it more family friendly. Also, props to the producers for sticking by him. His work here was so unique and great, that it would not have been the same without him (just think about this, Eddie Murphy could have voiced one of the wild things under a lesser director). Yes, the movie is flawed, mostly because of the script, but he pretty much makes these problems unnoticeable thanks to hiring a great production team that give it their best, and it show with the beautiful cinematography, the great music (the soundtrack is amazing), the great costumes, and just great things all around.
One of the greatest thing about the movie are the performances. Max Records exceeds my expectations (after early reports said he was awful), as he plays the character as any other kid. He doesn’t over do stuff and plays it straight. Definitely one of the best child performances this decade. The voices of the wild things are also excellent. They play the parts seriously. The actors, I suppose, were not thinking “oh, how fun, we’re playing the wild things” and didn’t make their voices sound goofy just to please the kids. Finally, Catherine Keener, one of my favorite working actresses, does so much with so little screen time. The entire cast is great.
Again, none of this would have been possible without the guiding light of Spike Jonze. Yes, everyone did their part, but had it not been for him and his vision, this just would have been another run-of-the-mill family film. If it were up to me, come Oscar time, he would be the front runner to win Best Director. Hopefully he, and the film, will be remembered around that time.