Where The Wild Things Are – King for a day

where-the-wild-things-are-poster21963 saw the release of a controversial children’s picture book called Where The Wild Things Are. It was written and illustrated by American Maurice Sendak, and contained little more than ten sentences. It was, arguably, an allegorical piece, cleverly portraying the difficulties and strains on parent and child. It was a huge hit with children, and has gained legendary status as a groundbreaking piece of children’s literature.

It is hard to believe that something so short, aimed at kids, could metaphorically encompass the complexities of childhood, aggression, loneliness and love; but a picture paints a thousand words.

Almost 50 years later, quasi-loon and creative genius Spike Jonze has brought the story to the big screen with a lavish adaptation. You may remember him as the lead street dancer in the video for Praise You, by Fatboy Slim. He directed this video, as well as countless others including Weapon of Choice (Slim, again), Buddy Holly (Weezer) and surreal Kaufman movies Adaptation and Being John Malkovic.

Where The Wild Things Are would be a new challenge, but he certainly possesses the imagination to bring it to life.

Eight-year-old Max is a lonely boy with an active imagination, and once he becomes frustrated with his perceived lack of attention from his sister Claire and divorcee mother Connie, he decides to do a runner dressed as a wolf.

Max keeps running until he finds a small unattended boat at a nearby riverbank, and sets off into unknown territory. The seas take him to a strange land of sand and forest, and the home of 7 large surprises.

He meets the ‘Wild Things’; a collection of 7-foot creatures with a penchant for eating new arrivals. Max stares them down and tells them that he has great powers from another land – he can ‘explode heads’. He tells them that he is a great king, and will punish them if they try to devour him.

Utterly convinced by this tall tale, the creatures inaugurate young Max as their king, with the boy promising to make them all happy and take away their troubles.

One of the Wild Things, Carol, is the most impulsive of the creatures, and suffers greatly from a sense of loneliness. He warms to Max, believing that he is the key to harmony and happiness within the group. However, Max is not the person they think he is, and Carol’s sensitive nature could spell trouble for the newcomer if his secret is discovered.

Whilst being an apparent story for children, it is probably more accurate to call this film a story about childhood; equal in relevance to those young and old. It is a touching tale that truly exemplifies the deep, dark and ultimately adult undertones of the original piece.

Jonze elaborates and embellishes the story, but as a means to an end; it only serves to strengthen both the tale and its meaning. There is this wonderful parallel of Max’s relationship with his mother, and that of the Wild Things with their king.

The Wild Things themselves are astonishing – strong, sweet, sensitive and scary. The designs are brilliant courtesy of the Jim Henson Co. (responsible for The Muppets and Labyrinth to name but a few). The use of real puppets/costumes as opposed to CGI is a timely reminder of the effectiveness and wonderment that comes exclusively with practical effects (although it is worth noting that some CGI was used for facial expressions).

Max, played by Max Records, is quite simply a revelation. As a child actor it is easy to get it wrong, and be forgiven anyway. It is also easy for such an actor to retreat into a safe, cutesy, novelty act that actually lacks any gravitas (we are looking at you overrated Sixth Sense and actually very annoying Home Alone franchise).

Max Records is the embodiment of an imaginative child, learning on the go. He wants it all; a kingdom of creatures, a world of his own, complete control over everything, no stress, no need to grow up, no need to compromise. He has to learn that his connections with other people have ramifications and consequences. Records’ ability to portray a character that truly represents that struggle of childhood is astounding and a joy to watch; his performance alone brings a real air of authenticity to a very surreal story.

Spike Jonze’s direction is lush, well thought-out and delivered with aplomb; there are some beautiful images, both delightful and terrifying, and a wonderfully poignant ending is handled with the necessary care.

The music is excellent, composed by Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and ‘the Kids’ (various collaborators). Her unique voice can be heard resonating throughout the movie, and it is a perfect fit.

A brief contribution from Catherine Keener as Max’s mum is also spot-on, and it is a testament to her acting skills that she can take such a small role and make it her own; she is the essence of a caring mother dealing with a mammoth task that is fuelled simply by her love for her children.

Where The Wild Things Are is a beautiful piece; a work of art that will touch those open-minded enough to accept it. It is weird, and downright surreal in places, but does this not accurately reflect the energetic, excited and confused mind of a growing child?

The imagination is something that knows no bounds, and, as this film so succinctly exemplifies, it is a powerful tool that can be the key to realising the importance and effect of the actions we take and the relationships we experience throughout our lives.

Image: Screenrant

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