Where The Wild Things Are

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Maurice Sendak’s beautifully eery stories and illustrations became a force in the world of children’s literature in the early 1960s. His career spanned multiple decades and his works continue to influence the imagination of young readers as well as those that simply appreciate the pictures he drew. Sendak’s most popular work, by far, was his book Where The Wild Things Are, a story whose images and plot is perhaps the most famous in the history of his medium. The story of a little boy who, after being sent to bed with no supper, creates a world in his room. This world is filled with wild undergrowth, massive trees and, of course, huge monsters who had to obey his every whim. It was a simple story with huge illustrations and an even bigger heart, a piece of work that drew you in, regardless of your age.

 

Sendak’s crowning achievement has dawned the walls of countless children’s sections of countless city libraries for decades. It was only a matter of time before someone took a crack at turning this beloved jewel into a feature length film. So, in 2009 Spike Jones gave it a shot. Where The Wild Things brought the awe inspiring power of a child’s imagination to the big screen, and It did it in live action, foregoing the easier road that would have been paved by computer animation. What could have easily been a standard formula kid flick turned out to be something much more interesting. That imagination that becomes our lens into the mind of a troubled little boy shows us wonder and excitement, but it also shows us fear and anger at exaggerated and often frightening levels. Jones shows us these things primarily with his use of cinematography, the entire movie shows this massive world, effectively making the viewer remember how big the backyard used to be when they were six.

 

From the get-go, it’s obvious that Jones had high ambitions for this film. We see what a somewhat unstable home life is like for Max, the hero of our story, from his perspective. He’s angsty, angry, energetic and quite often selfish. He is, however, just a young boy dealing with a grown up world. When he runs away from home and finds a ship that takes him to an island filled with monsters, we’re really just watching how difficult the emotions of a child can be to deal with. What were originally just monsters romping around the forest with Max in the children’s book turns into a dysfunctional family that Max has to deal with and try not to let down. There are parts of this movie that make absolutely no sense if you can’t allow yourself to see the situation from the eyes of Max; which is really all Spike Jones is trying to get you to do.

 

Where The Wild Things Are was nothing what I expected it would be. It’s a dark and dramatic movie that deals with some pretty heavy issues surrounding family and the dysfunctionality that goes along with having one. It’s relatable, in that these struggles are almost universal and the heightened emotions are certainly familiar to anyone that remembers their childhood. The film as a whole struggles with some pacing issues that no amount of beautiful costuming and cinematography can cover up. However it’s a film the likes of which you rarely see. Jones took a big chance with one of the most famous books of all time, and it pays off in that he refused to submit this to a formula, instead he gave us a visually breathtaking film about children but not exclusively for them. It’s a whimsical world that’s easy to get lost in, especially with a perfectly paired soundtrack and some very impressive visuals.