Max Records stars as Max - a troubled, angry young boy trying to find some sort of happiness in this cruel world. One day, he starts to misbehave and cause all sorts of problems around the house, so he runs away when he is on the verge of being punished by his mom ( Catherine Keener). As Max runs through town, he finds a boat which takes him across a massive ocean to a mysterious land where strange monsters live.
Will he ever want to go home?
Will they eat him when they find out he is not a king?
Writer/director Spike Jonze has gone to great lengths to make Where The Wild Things Are feel magical, mysterious, dangerous and enthralling, but doesn't have the story to make it happen. While he doesn't have much material to work with (the original illustrated book only has about 9 sentences), he and co-writer Dave Eggers (based on the book by Maurice Sendak) could have used this lack of source material (and the reported encouragement from Sendak) to create a story full of meaning, symbolism or just plain action. Any of that would have made us excited. Instead, the audience is left to look at the pretty pictures, which feel more like a dream than a movie. Artistry is an important ingredient in the recipe for a successful movie, but the other ingredients are missing in the mix of Where The Wild Things Are.
You can't deny Jonze has created a visually wondrous world, and the decision to use Jim Henson's company (the people who created The Muppets) to make the monsters' costumes, instead of placing Max in an animated world, was a brilliant way to make it all feel more real, but the movie lacks a point. Most scenes made me feel like we are watching little children playing, but it doesnt lead to anything. Other times, we get a weird dynamic where danger feels like it is just around the corner, but doesn't pay off in some big climax or memorable revelation.
Even though Where The Wild Things Are is not a good movie, it has so much good going for it. The musical score from Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) is full of childlike tunes complete with a kid's choir, which makes the movie feel playful and keeps us in the child's mindset. Plus, Records is fantastic as the scared, adventurous little boy. He has amazing talent to show fear and sadness in his soulful eyes, and it's amazing to remember he did all of this without much real interaction with the rest of the cast (all hidden in big costumes with the reactions added in later via CGI).
Where The Wild Things Are also might be too much for kids. Adults will appreciate its tone and look much more than little ones, who might become freaked out by all the talk of eating the boy or the anger shown by the monsters. Meanwhile, older kids and many adults are just going to be bored by the lack of story (even though we giggle every time James Gandolfini's character speaks because it sounds like that monster wants to put a Tony Soprano hit on some of the other monsters, or break their kneecaps).
Where The Wild Things Are could have been special, but missed it somewhere along the way.
1 and 1/2 Waffles (Out of 4)
Where The Wild Things Are is rated PG for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language.