Movie review: Where the Wild Things Are

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Children's author Maurice Sendak once described the driving force in his work as, "My great curiosity about childhood as a state of being, and how all children manage to get through childhood from one day to the next, how they defeat boredom, fear, pain and anxiety, and find joy."

Spike Jonze's film adaptation of Sendak's beloved 1963 picture book, Where the Wild Things Are, evokes that state of being, of creative and destructive feelings undiluted and sometimes unchecked.

Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers craft their expansion of the story mostly with the kind of logic a kid would use to make something up, and assert with drawings over the introductory studio logos that the movie belongs to Max (perfectly cast Max Records). Here his anger is given motivation in loneliness, an overworked single mom (Catherine Keener) and the boyfriend Max doesn't want around (Mark Ruffalo).

Sent to bed without supper, Max flees in his wolf suit instead, and sails away to the equally tumultuous, geographically quirky home of the Wild Things. The large beasties are a divided, worrisome lot, slightly more full of hope than distrust.

Max dupes them into crowning him their king to keep from being eaten, but with being in charge he discovers new perspective, and a soul brother in sweet, creative, easily hurt Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini).

On its release, Sendak's book was considered too dark, strange and scary for kids, and Jonze's version will encounter a similar response. A melancholic sense that happy moments don't ensure a happy ending is almost as omnipresent as beautifully realized visual design and Karen O's singsong-y score.

The transition between the two isn't without bumps, either; fleshed out on screen, the Wild Things lose some of their magic from the page. But the film eventually develops its own complex and moving form of enchantment.

"Where the Wild Things Are"

Opens Friday

Grade: B+