When I say the name Spike Jonze, the first thing that comes to the minds of most moviegoers is Being John Malkovich, his elaborate music video career, or Adaptation. What doesn't pop up are childhood works of fiction, especially not Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are.
Where the Wild Things Are is not a lengthy book by any means, 48 pages long, so the question was how Spike Jonze would manage to string together enough material for a film to be worthwhile. Yet succeed Jonze did and provided cinemas this week with probably the best film about childhood that isn't for children.
Max Records stars as the boisterous Max, left understandably angry after his parents divorce and at odds with the world. His mother (Catherine Keener) has been paying a little too much attention to her new boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) instead of him, and it is driving him mad. Max throws a temper tantrum and storms out of the house and out into the night. As the trees blur behind him, Max takes a small sailboat and crosses the stormy sea and eventually lands on an island filled with beasts.
Nearly being eaten, Max manages to convince the furry beasts that he is a King where he came from and seeks to create a kingdom of happiness away from the stresses, pains, and disappointments of real life. The Beasts are swept by his offerings and make him King. Max sets about construction of this fortress away from being scared and sad. Max soon learns that being King has its drawbacks and this island of escape becomes much too like the conflicts at home.
Voiced by an ace cast (James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Paul Dano, Chris Cooper, and Forest Whitaker) the Beasts are as relatable as their human counterparts. The Beasts themselves are expertly constructed; they look and feel like living, breathing organisms. Many thanks to the filmmakers for deciding to forego CGI and make the creatures tangible.
Jonze really creates a surreal world within the film and the environment manages to convey the emotional realities of the scene. In creating a world where the sudden and uncontrolled emotions of youth are not explained, but rather a raw feeling pushed to the surface of the interactions of Max and the Beasts, Jonze allows the story to unfold instead of telling it to the audience.
A truly beautiful film and a chance to relive your childhood again, if only for an hour and a half.