Directed by: Spike Jonze
Written by:Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers
Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker, Catherine O’Hara
Released: December 3, 2009
Grade: A-

I’ve often spoken about the difficulty of adapting a beloved novel for the big screen.  It’s hard to condense the material and the character development into a mere two hours.  That wasn’t the case with Where The Wild Things Are.  The picture book, written by Maurice Sendak and first published in 1963, contains just 10 sentences.  Screenwriters Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers found themselves in the odd position where they needed to build on the original story.

And what a great job they’ve done.  Jonze didn’t want to make a children’s film.  Instead, he “set out to make a movie about a childhood”.  The story’s protagonist is a 9-year-old boy named Max (played by Max Records in his first movie role).  Max is a typical kid at that age – fun-loving and adventurous yet immature and naive.  He’s also got a lot of strange feelings building up inside of him.

Max always wants to be the centre of attention and he gets frustrated when his mum and older sister don’t reciprocate.  One night, he runs away from home and finds himself in a strange fantasy world inhabited by large monsters.  They initially threaten to eat Max but he convinces them otherwise by telling them that he’s a king who has come to rule them.  The monsters have been looking for a leader for some time and they anoint Max by providing him a gold crown.

At first, everything is great.  Max receives all the attention he demands and he makes a bunch of new friends.  All the decisions he makes are fruitful.  He even helps the monsters establish a new home – a giant fort with a series of underground tunnels.

Ah, but it’s not always easy being the king.  These monsters are battling their own strange feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.  A division develops between some of them and Max doesn’t know how to make things right.  He’ll need to quickly learn from this fast-paced lesson in maturity or else he could end up as the monster’s next meal.  Max’s old life is taking on a much greater appreciation.

Spike Jonze is one of the world’s most gifted filmmakers and his credits include Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.  He gave himself a big challenge in taking Where The Wild Things Are to the big screen but Jonze was up to the task.  It’s a dazzling film to watch on the big screen – from the close ups of Max’s face (whose emotions are always showing) to the panoramic shots of this fantasy world.

 Let’s not forget the “wild things”.  If they all look very real to you… then that’s because they are.  They weren’t created with digitally.  The creature crew spent 8 months designing and building actual monster suits for actors to inhabit.  The only special effects are the monster’s faces – which were later altered to match up against the dubbed voices.  You won’t notice it at all.

The film could be quite scary in places for young children – a fact I have no problem with.  It’s nice to see a family-orientated movie that contains “fear” as part of its repertoire.  It’s a feeling that we all deal with and too often it is overlooked in films of a similar vein.

Shot on the southern coast of Australia just outside Melbourne, Where The Wild Things Are is a terrific movie for people of any age to enjoy.