where_the_wild_things_are_2ADMISSION: I have never read Where the Wild Things Are. I really hate to criticize the works of visionary directors because they are a precious few in Hollywood and I welcome every opportunity they get to bring their unique visions to the screen. Spike Jonze is one such filmmaker who has impressed audiences and critics with Being John MalkovichAdaptation, and his music videos. When it was announced that he would be taking over directing reins on Where the Wild Things Are, I was excited to see how he would adapt the story to his sensibilities. After seeing it, however, I came away from this film feeling frustrated at how uneven the film ended up being. There are many beautiful things about this movie, but unfortunately the bad outweigh the good and we are left with something that, at best, is almost there.

Lets start with what works in this movie. The child, Max (Max Records), is a frustrated little boy living with his sister and his single mom. He has a wild imagination (no pun intended) that serves as a sort of escape from the lack of a normal family structure. The character is very well cast here. Max Record delivers a natural performance that makes you forget he’s really acting. This is a nice change of pace from the typically obnoxious and loud child characters we see too often in kids movies.

The music is also worth complementing. The film score was by Carter Burwell and Karen O. of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. The music is not your typical film music, which I found to be a welcome change to what we usually get in most films. Given Karen O.’s involvement, the music’s alternative sound isn’t surprising to hear and its an album I’ll be sure to download.

Finally, the production design and look of the film deserve a tip of the hat. From the handwritten scrawls on the WB logo at the very beginning, you know not to expect your typical family film. Especially in the beginning, Jonze uses the handheld style to convey a realistic and natural mood. We see the story mostly through Max’s perspective. As for the creatures’ island, Jonze decided to stick with a natural and realistic look. Other than the fantastical creatures, everything else on the island is natural and the creatures live and interact in every way with the island’s natural resources. This gives the film not only a very realistic style and tone, but I felt like I was watching an indie children’s movie. From the few illustrations I have seen from the book, the illustrator used many colors in his story. Not so with this film. The colors are neutral and muted, giving the film a warm and monochromatic look.

Now for the bad, starting with the minor issues. For as much as I liked the look and feel of the film, I also had issues with it. The film is supposed to be a fantasy and the boy’s discovery of the creatures and their island should have looked fantastical. Sure, there are a few moments where Jonze captures this, such as when we see the finished fort/castle the creatures create for themselves. However, there is not enough of this and overall, the look conveyed a feeling of bleakness. I wasn’t expecting a Disney film, but I was expecting a much sharper contrast from the real world Max was escaping from to the island Max ended up at.

A bigger concern for me was the story. The filmmakers do a wonderful job setting up Max’s world in the beginning. You get a good sense of the contrast between Max’s imaginative world and the reality he is living in and the story moves along at a good pace. Although I didn’t feel the kind of sympathy for Max that I think Jonze intended for me to feel, I felt invested enough in his situation to want to see how he would deal with it. Unfortunately, however, when we are finally introduced to the creatures, the film takes a turn for the worse. It took me awhile to figure out who these creatures were and what they were about. The film should have gone into overdrive at this point, but instead it screeches to a halt and we’re treated to a bunch of monsters who engage in this strange philosophical/conversational banter that at times makes no sense. Worse, I didn’t connect with any of the creatures nor felt any sympathy for them. I felt that the filmmakers were unsure of how to portray these creatures. At times, they are childlike and innocent. During other moments, however, they express themselves as adults. The film is meant to establish a bond between one of the creatures and Max, which sets up a what-is-meant-to-be-moving ending. However, I was perplexed as to how and why the creature attached himself so quickly to the boy. Finally, the scenes in the film felt disjointed as we move from one sequence to another. You quickly realize that there isn’t much going on storywise.

As I alluded to before, the film feels less like a typical children’s tale and more like a New Age, philosophical indie kid’s movie that kids will probably be bored to tears by. I really wanted to like this film, but it felt too uneven to enjoy and recommend. There is much to like about Where the Wild Things Are, but its problems overshadow its qualities. I had read the film had gone through a lot of production headaches and, unfortunately, the problems remain. I still hope the film makes a lot of money just so the studios continue to hire Spike Jonze to make movies.