By Chauncey Telese
Do you remember being nine years old? Remember how fun it was to build forts that would have things like lasers to defend against people you didn’t like or other crazy additions? Do you remember telling stories that would make no sense but you didn’t care? Do you remember freaking out because you heard that the sun was going to die? Do you remember how fun it was to just run around and pretend to shoot each other and yet no one would die because you all had force fields?
Well, I do. I was lucky enough to be one of the last generation of kids that got to truly experience this because nowadays it seems like kids don’t really have recess and tag is outlawed at schools. I digress. My point is that seeing “Where the Wild Things Are” conjured up all of those forgotten feelings of being a nine year-old kid and how complicated that time really was. I’ve been waiting for a non-animated movie to not be afraid to go to some dark places, explore loneliness and the struggle to figure simple things out…movies like “The Goonies”, “The Sandlot”, and “The Never Ending Story”. I am happy to report that “Where the Wild Things” is that movie.
The movie tells the story of Max (played brilliantly by Max Records) , a nine year-old kid who is highly imaginative, smart, but not “Home Alone” smart, who has a lot going on that he can’t quite understand. His single mom, played by Catherine Keener, (“The 40-Year Old Virgin”, “Capote”) has to work all the time and while she loves Max, she can’t quite give him the attention he needs. His sister is at that age where she’d rather hang out with friends and he gets mad after one of her friends smashes his igloo and she doesn’t seem to care. This causes Max to mess up her room and otherwise act like an irrational monster. The same thing happens at dinner where he can’t handle the thought of his mom going on a date. After an argument he runs away from home.
Max then sails away on a boat to an island inhabited by ferocious beasts and there he meets Carol played with great emotion by Tony Soprano himself James Gandolfini. Carol is a whirling dervish of emotions who goes into irrational temper tantrums when he is upset. Max meets the destructive yet calm Ira (Forrest Whitaker), his cynical downer of a wife Judith (Catherine O Hara “Home Alone”, “Orange County”), the loner KW (Lauren Ambrose “Six Feet Under” “Can’t Hardly Wait”), the ignored Alexander (Paul Dano “There Will Be Blood”, “Little Miss Sunshine”) and the loyal Douglas (Chris Cooper “Adaptation” “Seabiscuit”). They almost eat Max until he claims that he is a king and promises to make everyone happy. But after his first decree of “LET THE WILD RUMPUS START!” He finds that to be an arduous task.
The main knock on the movie is that there is no plot and that it is too much of a downer. That’s what I liked about it. If you pay attention, you will realize why all of these wild things are screwed up and why they so desperately seek a king to lead them. That is not to say that it is not a fun movie, (there are dirt clod fights and fort building) but the true greatness of this film is watching Max try to deal with the sadness that exists with the Wild Things. His best interactions being with KW as she becomes like his older sister, and Carol because there is a lot of pain and confusion behind those big eyes of his.
This movie could’ve been done terribly, it could’ve had Max deal with a bully or something else and then the wild things would sing and dance and there would be a plethora of bad pop culture references. However, the man Warner Bros. picked to make this film (Spike Jonze) was too much of an artist to let it go down the “Cat in the Hat” road. Jonze has made over 200 music videos, co created MTV’s “Jackass” and made such off-the-wall movies as “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” so naturally he was the right person to do this movie. Also, the voice acting is top notch, Gandolfini is amazing as Carol and Lauren Ambrose is brilliant as KW. Max Records is asked to carry a lot of the films emotional weight on screen and knocks it out of the park like Ryan Howard against a Dodger pitcher (too soon?).
This is the best movie I’ve seen all year and I hope it makes the ten Best Picture nominees. Having seen some of the scenes at ComicCon I knew that this was going to be the first great kid movie (not animated) of the decade. Ironically though, I don’t think kids will appreciate it until they are older as this throws a lot of heavy things at them.
Thank you for reading… because the only thing to come out next week is Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” (it’s not fair to review a compilation of rehearsal footage), I have a Halloween treat in store for you.
Remember you can see these and other wonderful films at your local Edwards Cinemas. Click here for showtimes.