It’s a children’s story so it shouldn’t work for adults. It doesn’t have a plot so it shouldn’t work for anyone. Very little even appears in it, other than some imaginary monsters, one of them voiced by James Gandolfini who essentially just plays Tony Soprano again – it shouldn’t work for film buffs. But director Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s children’s bedtime story is sublimely wonderful – it’s an ideas factory the likes of which you only see once a generation, with enormous heart and intelligence, and Jonze (with co-screenwriter Dave Eggers) delivers it with the gentlest of touches. ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ manages to get away with filming the unfilmable by allowing the audience’s imaginations to run riot. It’s never clear exactly what’s going on (remember ‘Being John Malkovich’?) – are the monsters aspects of Max’s own personality? Has he travelled into another dimension? Is it all just a dream? Is Jonze trying to tell us something about growing up? The director allows us, to access the film as we please, refusing to spoon feed his audience, but still takes us on an utterly convincing emotional journey. Max plays and confronts some harsh truths about growing up – nothing else happens, and you’re free to read in any subtext that suits in this enchanting story.
The superb acting (particularly by the remarkable Max Records) and CGI so good you rarely know you’re looking at it, add a surprising, extra level of accessibility to such a rich, almost abstract fantasy. You aren’t spoon fed who the monsters are, what (presumably of Max) they represent, but you know that they and the world they inhabit are vitally important to him and this is where the attention to detail becomes so important. Max gets to play out choices which are closing down for him in the real world, living a child’s experience one last time, and Jonze puts his inner world on display, managing to add an adult subtext to a threadbare children’s bedtime story, in a triumph of his own imagination. Who wouldn’t after all at any age want to run away and lord it over monsters, getting them to shape the world for us as we see fit? It may be quite often a very sad film, but it offers hope for us all to be accepted just as we are. Truly a story for our disillusioned times.
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