The Brag

Film Review: Where the Wild Things Are

In Arts, Brag 341 (December 7), Film Reviews on December 14, 2009 at 11:51 am

Where the Wild Things Are.

Where the Wild Things Are
Released December 3.

Where the Wild Things Are remakes Maurice Sendak’s beloved childhood picture book for a modern day single-parent generation: a young boy feeling alienated from his family and unloved, who journeys in his imagination to a place where he is allowed to physically express his emotions, a place where he belongs, a place where he is in control even – king of the Wild Things.

Spike Jonze has nailed the visuals and the spirit of the book; perhaps surprisingly (for a film that deals largely in puppets) it has also nailed the performances. The eight-or-so months spent making the costumes for the Wild Things result in detailed, lived-in concoctions of scales, feather and fur; the CGI facial expressions added in post production are perfectly synced with the pre-recorded voice work performed in ensemble by James Gandolfini, Forest Whittaker et al (which the costumed “performers” shaped their actions and interactions around). As a result, the Wild Things exude real personality, and their relationship with Max is both emotional and physical – none of this green screen business.

Newcomer Max Records is unselfconscious on screen, channelling the anger, frustration and inconsolable hurt of a six year old who just wants to be the centre of a tight family unit; who can’t understand why his mom is hanging out with a strange new man, or why his sister would rather hang out with her mates than play with him. In a moment of rage, Max finds himself transported to where the Wild Things are, where his new friends embody the emotions he finds so hard to repress – anger, apathy, mistrust, resentment, alienation.

Hand held camera work for the action sequences is counterbalanced by some quite stunning wide shots, and Jonze uses evocative landscapes – a forest of trees blackened from bushfires; a gravelly wasteland; desert dunes. The soundtrack is largely comprised of the irrepressible can-do pop of Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and “the kids”, with the occasional interlude by composer Carter Burwell, whose soundtracks for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are so distinctive.

Dee Jefferson


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