Where the Wild Things Are

Rating – ****

What a difference a year makes. I first saw Where the Wild Things Are under slightly surreal circumstances towards the end of 2008. Dozens of animators and vfx artists squashed themselves into a basement in the heart of soho. Fortunately this was Framestore’s screening room. As a precursor to months of painstaking image manipulation, Spike Jonze did something pretty cool, he showed us the whole film. Of course it lacked any animated faces, most of the furry costumes had wires hanging from the back, there were a few dodgy green screen comps, and the sound was rough. My favourite scenes from the book are missing, and there is no plot to speak of. But against all the odds the heart of the film was already there, it works. That’s the key point, this is a film about emotions – fear, frustration, jealously, anger but also love. The masterstroke was realising that the wild things embody different parts of Max’s psyche. He becomes their king but they are needy, they’re irrational, and they get jealous. They also have sharp teeth and claws and frequently threaten to eat him! When they have play fights and wrestle there’s an uncomfortable feeling that Max might be crushed at any moment. The voice work is spectacular, providing unprecedented emotional resonance and melancholy. Forest Whitaker, James Gandolfini, and Paul Dano are especially great, not forgetting Max Records (is that the coolest name ever?) as Max himself. The soundtrack fits perfectly too. 

By it’s nature this is not a film for everybody. The very elements which make it great will baffle and repel as many people as they appeal to. It’s a miracle it ever slipped by the studio executive robots and moneymen in the first place. We all expected and feared a bland Disney-fied romp with street-wise Wild Things talking like Will Smith and playing air guitars. When I asked Spike Jonze why he left out the iconic transformation from Max’s room to a moonlit forest, he didn’t really have a clear answer. He mumbled something like “I wasn’t… it didn’t really… I couldn’t make it work” Initially I was baffled, but he made the right choice. It would have been eye candy for sure. But his alternative has an urgency which totally sums up the irrational actions of an angry ten year old. Be thankful for this unique emotionally complex offering. It’s somehow everything the book was, yet nothing like it at the same time.

It was cool to see a film maker being so hands on, down to earth, and accessible throughout the post production process. Remember to stick around for the credits too.

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~ by thewholebuffalo on December 16, 2009.

6 Responses to “Where the Wild Things Are”

  1. Were you one of the chosen few who got a named credit? I know I’ll be sticking around to see if my name is up there…

  2. Some lucky few got skate boards as well

  3. No skateboard for me. I plan to steal Maggies!

    Still, I have my signed crew t-shirt and very randomly a signed restaurant business card….. don’t ask. Then there’s the credits, crew photo + doing some filming for behind the scenes footage and interviews. So I had a pretty good time, gruelling paintwork notwithstanding.

  4. Is this a review of the film or the film maker?

    • I think most of my reviews are a bit of both, at least when the director in question has a strong style. For example, you can’t review Transformers without mentioning that Michael Bay is a retard. In this case, the movie has Spike Jonze written all over it.

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