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"Where the Wild Things Are," based on the children's book by Maurice Sendak, is a strange film. The director, Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation") has stated that the film is more of a movie about childhood than it is a children's movie. I completely agree with that statement, though that doesn't mean children won't like it. The story of an unruly, "wild" if you will, child, Max, who visits a fantasy world filled with strange, talking beasts after a fight with his mother is something that can appeal to both children and adults.
What makes this more about childhood than for children are the deeper ideas behind it. Sure, watching the wild things get into a dirt war or jump into a huge pile might be fun, but when you think about what they represent you get into levels that most children watching wouldn't pick up on. The most prominent wild thing, Carol (voiced perfectly by James Gandolfini), truly acts like an angry child, who throws violent tantrums when he finds out that everything isn't going to be perfect.
The fact that Carol's actions mirror Max's to a certain degree leads to the possibility that each wild thing represents a part of Max or at least someone in his family. I don't want to get into that, but since it's even possible to make connections like that it shows that this film is not just for kids. But it does deal with the emotions of a child.
The film really delves into the loneliness a child can feel at times. It seems that Max is not understood by his single mother or older sister. He feels the need to run away to a new world of his own creation; a world where everyone will be happy. But things don't work out perfectly even in a fantasy land and Max is forced to deal with his loneliness and fear even in his imagination.
Does this sound a bit more complicated than the book? It certainly is, but I think this movie is more than just an adaptation. It's a statement about childhood memories. If you go back and read the Sendak book you'll find a fairly simple story about an imaginative and rambunctious boy. Much like how you might respond to a picture of yourself as a child. You'll see yourself with a smile and remember how simple childhood was and how you wish things could be more like that in the grown up world.
But things weren't really as simple as that picture.
Childhood was not a constant happy state for anyone, though some people tend to remember it that way. "Where the Wild Things Are" takes those memories and shows you the darker times. It might make you remember there were times when you wanted to run with the wild things when you were younger. It might remind you being a child means being lonely sometimes.
So this film is a bit more depressing than one might imagine, but there is still fun to be had. For one thing, the wild things look amazing. Jonze went with a mix of practical and CG effects and they meld together to make some very realistic creatures. The visuals of this film alone make it entertaining at times and you can't help but feel a little attached to the beasts by the end of the film.
I found the wild things to be more amusing than touching, though. If you don't feel anything at all toward the creatures then this movie probably won't work for you. If you buy into the world that Max creates, you're most likely going to come away from the film with something, be it a deeper meaning, a choked up feeling, or just a smile. But the movie might not pull you in like that. It pulled me in and I had a fun time with it. I'm not going to lie; at times, it made me feel like a kid again.
A Cannelton resident, Harris is a movie buff and blogger who posts film reviews at www.canneltoncritic.com.