by contributing writer Eric Edwards

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are is a dark, engaging movie that is beautifully shot and composed. This is by no means a kid’s movie, however, and parents wishing to attend with children under the age of 11 will want to think twice because nightmares are sure to follow.

The opening minutes, shot with a handheld camera, has Max (newcomer Max Records) tearing through the house after a dog. Max is dressed in a homemade beast-like costume and alternately growls and howls at the terrified dog. At first, this scene had me laughing, but then I became increasingly aware of the disturbingly feral behavior the boy was exhibiting. This isn’t good-natured, rambunctious fun on Max’s part; he really looks like he might eat the dog when he catches it and throws it to the ground. The moment is so intense I expected the next scene to have Max in bed restraints at a hospital.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Instead, we next see Max playing alone outside, putting the finishing touches on a snow fort/igloo. His older sister, Claire (Pepita Emmerichs), refuses to come out and play with him and soon a snowball fight ensues, resulting in Max’s fort being destroyed and the boy left crying. Later, an argument with his mom (Catherine Keener) triggers a tantrum that makes him run away from home.

When Max finally reaches the faraway land of alter-ego monsters like Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), the levity provided by the beast and his cohorts is very welcome. Once Max is elected King, the long-awaited Wild Rumpus begins. They run, jump, howl and throw dirt balls at each other. Then the realities of their fears and emotional hurts get the best of them and Max realizes that maybe his home life isn’t as bad as it seemed.

In a featurette on IMDb (click here to view), Jonze said he “wanted to make [the movie] dangerous…something that doesn’t talk down to kids or it wasn’t worth doing.” He is to be commended for accomplishing his goals, perhaps a little too well. There are many moments I found disturbing; I imagine they would terrify a small child.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Records is extremely photogenic, but not enough of an actor to sustain the film on his own. Thankfully, the supporting cast is strong enough to keep the film afloat, with Gandolfini being the standout. His voice is perfect for the growly beast, Carol, having a nasal quality that sounds like it could’ve come from the monster’s snout.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Shot in a burnt forest in Australia, cinematographer Lance Acord adds depth and shading to gnarled trees and acres of sand dunes to create an otherworldly playground for the imagination. The creatures of Maurice Sendak’s book are brought to the screen with a gentle deftness by art director Sonny Gerasimowicz, who got the job by submitting drawings of big, sleepy bears to Jonze (as revealed in a Q & A after the screening with Jonze, Gerasimowicz, Acord and several others from the creative team). Jonze made a wise selection because Gerasimowicz imbued the faces of the beasts with really strong emotional depth. In fact, they steal scene after scene from the photogenic Records. Then again, it’s all about the Wild Things.

(For two children’s perspectives on the movie, read these reviews from my junior reporters, Aline and Mena Dolinh, ages 11 and 8.)



  • Reply
    October 5, 2009 at 3:21 am

    I’ve wanted to see this movie since I heard they were making it. Maybe I should watch it before I bring my 8-year-old. Thanks for the great review and head’s up!

  • Reply
    Jen Forbus
    October 5, 2009 at 6:16 am

    Good to know about age appropriateness. There are probably many parents who weren’t/aren’t aware of that. Sounds like a great film, though!

    • Reply
      Eric Edwards
      October 5, 2009 at 9:31 am

      I agree. I think a great deal of parents intend to take their small ones to this film, but it is rated PG, so buyer beware, right?

      During the Q&A after the screening I attended, the collaborators (who are childlike themselves in many ways) dropped the F bomb more than once. It was almost as though they weren’t aware of how many young kids were in the audience.

  • Reply
    October 5, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Sounds good. I remember the book as pretty edgy which is what makes it stand out after all these years. Dying to enter Spike’s version of this world.

  • Reply
    October 5, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Great review! Looks like the classic tale made it to the big screen, but had the 21st century makeover as many do now-a-days. In the end, sounds like it came out fine, but the warning for younger viewers is definitely a good thing which is sure to come in handy for watchful parents.

  • Reply
    October 5, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Wondering how they were going to adapt it so the even I could enjoy. Thankfully, I don’t have any kids to worry about. Hell, I might even go wearing my own homemade monster outfit.

  • Reply
    October 5, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Eric, wonderfully written review (for which this parent is very grateful – especially for that warning). Thanks for this.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    October 5, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Thanks for the heads up, Eric ~ I’ll pass your caution on to my sister for the sake of my niece and nephew. And I’ll be prepared myself, since I’m such a wuss! I’m really looking forward to the scenery and watching Sonny Gerasimowicz’s creative work.

  • Reply
    October 7, 2009 at 1:05 am

    OK, another review I am too scared to read. Sorry!!

    But I have been dying to see this movie and don’t want to go into it with any preconceived notions. But am so jealous of you for seeing it before we did. Man, having a baby really put a dent in our award screenings schedule! Hope we get lots of DVDs this year! 🙂

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      October 7, 2009 at 11:32 am

      If it makes you feel better, I couldn’t make the screening. My writer Eric did. You’re not missing out on much; the award screenings schedule has been lackluster so far. Not a lot of high-profile movies yet. Hey, if you get any good DVDs, let me know!

  • Reply
    Where The Wild Things Are
    October 12, 2009 at 8:02 am

    this is like my all time favourite book, glad that its made into a movie now. i even have a fanpage for it: +D

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