Based on the beloved Maurice Sendak story of the same name, Where The Wilds Things Are is an utterly stunning movie. The visuals, the story, the acting, all of it comes together in such a sublime and moving way. I know this is a film that divided so many when it first hit theatres last year, and I can see why. While the movie stays true to the book, as far as I’m concerned, it also expands and adds new angles to it. I can honestly see how that could take away from the movie, I really do, but, to me, it seems like a natural evolution and expansion of one of my favorites stories from my youth.
Innovative director Spike Jonze collaborates with celebrated author Maurice Sendak to bring one of the most beloved books of all time to the big screen in , Where The Wilds Things Are, a classic story about childhood and the places we go to figure out the world we live in. The film tells the story of Max, a rambunctious and sensitive boy who feels misunderstood at home and escapes to where the Wild Things are. Max lands on an island where he meets mysterious and strange creatures whose emotions are as wild and unpredictable as their actions. The Wild Things desperately long for a leader to guide them, just as Max longs for a kingdom to rule. When Max is crowned king, he promises to create a place where everyone will be happy. Max soon finds, though, that ruling his kingdom is not so easy and his relationships there prove to be more complicated than he originally thought.
I can honestly say I’m a bit at odds with Where the Wild Things Are. I adored this movie and thought it did the source material justice, but I can see why many people would have a hard time stomaching it. If you’re expecting a movie that you can just shut off your brain to, look elsewhere. Where The Wild Things Are is definitely something to invest yourself in, but it can be easily mistaken if just watched idly. The main character can be easily misconstrued as an unlikeable brat if you don’t understand where the boy is coming from. After that, the trip to the island is a considerably dark affair. It’s an artsy flick, in all honesty, and I have no idea how this would even hold up as a children’s movie. To me it just works as a movie, plain and simple. No labels or pre-conceived notions. Just…a movie. And a damn fine one. It’s no wonder Warner Bros. tried to market this film more toward the older crowd than the younger set. And it makes sense, since Where The Wild Things Are plays out like a farewell to one’s childhood.
I know I say Max could be considered an unlikeable character, and that’s true to some given the impression he gives off, but his character is one that’s all too familiar. Max, played by Max Reconrds, is an exceeding gifted, smart child who is frustrated at a world that can’t really keep up with him. He loves his childhood, but he cannot share that world with his family. He has all this creativity within him, yet no one to share it with. He tries, he stumbles, he gets upset, and that inevitably leads him to the island of the Wild Things.
As we meet these Wild Things and their island adventures start to unfurl, we easily see what each beast represents in Max. While Jonze makes it easy to understand how these beasts embody different aspects of Max and his complicated being, he allows it to unfold as a gradual pace. Sure, anyone who has read the original book knows this, but the way Jonze does it makes it seem fresh and original. He expands upon it in stunningly creative ways. We get a solid look at each beast, with Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) easily taking the spotlight above of all of them. Carol is the easiest to identify with Max, struggling to hold on to how things are, resulting in a rather moving moment toward the end of the picture where the only thing the two can do is stare at each other as they literally drift apart. The bond between Carol and Max feels so real and utterly heartbreaking at the same time. When one feels pain from the other, you feel it, as it is so convincingly relayed. And as bizarre as these Wild Things may look, you’ll quickly forget each one of them is a puppet/CGI hybrid and just see them simply as characters. Even utterly heartbreaking characters at times.
I have to admit, upon first watching this, I breathed a huge sigh of relief knowing they pulled off this adaptation. They pulled off Where The Wild Things Are. Now, my comments above only lightly touch upon what this film has to offer. I have to stress that this film may require an additional viewing just to take it all in. It’s a multi-layered movie, one that will likely be dissected for years to come, but one that’s easy to misunderstand as a grey, dreary mess if you don’t commit yourself to it. It’s a challenging and stunning movie, one that will get to you if you let it. There are a couple scenes that actually got to me and just caused me to sob just a little. That last scene between Max and Carol? Beautiful and crushing all in one blow. It seriously, seriously is.
Everything about this movie is given just the right amount of approach. Nothing is heavy-handed or overwrought. Even the final scene between Max and his mother is perfect. There’s no bothersome or eye-rolling monologue about morals and such, since all of that is taken care of through the actual story itself. It’s never overdone. It’s just…obvious, in a natural way.
I seriously hope you can pull something from the above paragraphs. Where The Wild things Are is a hard movie to describe, but an easy one to fall in love with. And it’ll stir up emotions. Where The Wild Things Are is a moving portrait of childhood, from the perspective of a child no-less, and the realities that come with slowly leaving that part of life. Coming Highly Recommended, Where The Wild Things Are touches on so many different themes and offer hope and reassurance to each. An excellent all-ages movie, this is one you may want to watch first before introducing it to a younger audience. But, that being said, it’s a movie that I’m sure any child would find incredibly reassuring. Daring, arty, and so natural, Jonze has crafted a loving film that, while dividing the critic base, will no doubt bring so many together. It’s an unforgettable movie that will stay with you.
In what should be no surprise, Warner Home Video has given Where The Wild Things Are an absolutely great home video release, both inside and out. Not perfect, mind you, but an excellent one nonetheless. Whether it’s the nice touches added to the movie’s packaging (just look at the cool scribbling found all over the cardboard slipcase), or the absolutely great audio/video quality, Warner Home Video has given this great movie an excellent showing on the home video market.
Assessing the audio and video quality, Warner Home Video has served up stunning quality on both accounts. Given the sometimes tricky color palette of the movie, considering the movie jumps from day to night and suburban kitchen to a magical island, I found the quality to be consistent throughout. The VC-1 encoded transfer is stunning at times, with the detail absolutely staggering. The detail on the Wild Things puppet/CGI creations is amazing, they look so utterly convincing, and the surroundings are just as impressive. I actually found myself getting lost in the detail once or twice in the movie, whether it’s just looking at how amazing the Wild Things look or the amount of detail on the fort built later in the movie by Max and his beastly friends. I found the audio transfer to be really impressive as well, though lacking in one or two aspects. It’s a really great DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, don’t get me wrong, but I found some of the dialogue was lost from time to time. The characters tend to mumble or whisper at times, and I found them difficult to understand on occasion. Nothing too detrimental, but be prepared to hit the volume button on your remote. On the other hand, the more action-intensive sequences, like the dirt ball fight, are loud and boisterous. I find all the speakers get a solid workout during the movie.
Moving on to the bonus features, we get a nice collection of extras, though I wish there was much more. This film had a pretty interesting and complicated history while in production, and it would have been great if there was a documentary or two on it. Or at least an audio commentary with Director Spike Jonze perhaps. Still, what we get it pretty good, admittedly.
The major extra is the new short film “Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or There Must Be More To Life,” a cute little tale based on 1967 book by Maurice Sendak. Running roughly 24 minutes, it’s a nice little short that drips with the same creative juices of the main feature. Hats off to Meryl Streep and Forest Whitaker for their voice work in the short. It’s a little dark at times, but the moral is excellent and the execution is pretty much perfect.
An “HBO First Look” featurette is next, running over 13 minutes and giving us a quick look at the film’s production. It’s a great watch, but it’s only a taste of the lengthy issues the film experienced during its long production. The remaining extras are a series short featurettes, usually running no more than six or seven minutes, giving short behind-the-scene glimpses at the film. They’re less fluffy, thankfully, and seem more intimate. The featurettes – “Maurice and Spike,” “Max and Spike,” “The Records Family,” “Carter Burwell,” “The Absurd Difficulty of Filming a Dog Running and Barking at the Same Time,” “Crew Pranks Spike,” “Vampire Attack: The Max Records Short” and “The Kids take Over the Picture” – seem to provide a more honest, sometimes humorous, look at the film’s production, though it will leave you yearning for more.
It’s a nice package, though the Blu-ray release for Where The Wild Things Are will leave you wanting more. The extras are good yes, especially the short film and the brief featurettes, but I feel as though we only touch the surface on what is likely an incredibly interesting production. Personally, I can’t help but give Where The Wild Things Are a stamp of Highly Recommended, though that is with a couple reservations. This film is incredibly divisive, there are those who adore it and those very disappointed, but this film is worth watching at least once. It’s an incredibly bold movie, especially for one considered an ‘all-ages’ flick, and really should be experienced.
Where The Wild Things Are is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.