Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

January 22, 2010

Animal house

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:20 am

January 22, 2010

Cast: Max Records, Catherine Keener, Voices of James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, Catherine O’Hara

Director: Spike Jonze

Maurice Sendak’s beloved picture book for children, Where The Wild Things Are translates into a complex but intriguing film by Spike Jonze. It’s the story of Max, a naughty 9-year-old who sails away to an exotic jungle and meets giant untamed creatures who adopt him as their like-minded king.

The source material was always going to be hard to adapt given that Sendak’s book consists of a mere 8 sentences. The challenge, hence, lay in fleshing out the tale, which Jonze does commendably. From the film’s opening credits that appear to be vandalized by a kid and his crayon, to the emotional outbursts that fuel the departure of the boy to the land of the Wild Things, the director knows exactly how to convey that childhood sense of having stronger emotions than you know how to deal with.

Still upset from being bullied by his sister’s friends, Max must now deal with his mother’s unwanted boyfriend. No wonder he puts on that wolf suit and acts out accordingly, before finally running away – into his own subconscious as you gather soon enough. He finds a boat and sails away, till he reaches an island where giant, rowdy, fuzzy beasts are having trouble getting along. In order to avoid being eaten by these creatures, he quickly comes up with one of those on-the-spot stories that kids like to tell, about his own superpowers and secret strengths. The Wild Things believe every word and make him their king. Not much later, Max realizes he’s been thrust into the parent role, and that out-of-control kids can be hard to manage.

Jonze’s film isn’t an easy watch because there’s little in terms of narrative. But you cannot deny that in terms of emotional truth he pretty much hits all the right notes. Children, especially those unfamiliar with the book, will find it hard to understand the subtext and will probably lose patience at the half-way mark. But discerning adults are likely to appreciate the layers.

The director brings the Wild Things alive by shooting the action live with puppeteers inside nine-foot creature costumes, and then using CGI to add facial expressions and tics. It helps that credible actors are cast to voice the various beasts – James Gandolfini as the gruff but vulnerable Carol, Catherine O’Hara and Paul Dano as the insecure Judith and Alexander, and Forest Whitaker and Chris Cooper as the more assured Ira and Douglas.

The film’s a remarkable visual achievement unarguably, but if you study it closely you’ll notice it captures the thrill and excitement of childhood without ever shying away from its very real complexities and pains.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are; it’s not so much a film for children as it is a film about childhood. Gather your patience and give it a chance.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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