A walk on the wild side

But not much hap­pens in ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - CHRISTY LEMIRE

Where the Wild Things Are, the book, is just 339 words long. But in turn­ing it into Where

the Wild Things Are, the movie, the di­rec­tor Spike Jonze has ex­panded the ba­sic story with a breath­tak­ing vis­ual scheme and stir­ring emo­tional im­pact.

It’s a gor­geous film. This may sound con­tra­dic­tory, but it’s in­tri­cate and rough-hewn at the same time, dream­like and earthy.

What keeps it from reach­ing com­plete ex­cel­lence is the thin­ness of the script, which Jonze cowrote with Dave Eg­gers.

The beloved and award-winning chil­dren’s book, which Mau­rice Sen­dak wrote and il­lus­trated 45 years ago, still holds up beau­ti­fully to­day be­cause it shows keen in­sight into the con­flicted na­ture of kids – the de­light and the frus­tra­tion that can of­ten co-ex­ist si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

Jonze gets that, too.

There’s al­ways been an in­ven­tive­ness to his films, a child­like play­ful­ness even amid some of the darker ma­te­rial within Be­ing John Malkovich and Adap­ta­tion.

With its warm lighting and detailed pro­duc­tion de­sign, Where the Wild Things Are re­mains lov­ingly faith­ful to the look and spirit of the book but func­tions as­suredly as its own en­tity.

But Jonze ob­vi­ously un­der­stands the feel­ings of fear and in­se­cu­rity – and the in­abil­ity to ar­tic­u­late them – that the wild things of Wild Things rep­re­sent, and he’s taken the bold step of show­ing the crea­tures not through an­i­ma­tion but rather by us­ing ac­tual peo­ple in gi­ant, furry cos­tumes. The mon­sters were voiced by an all-star cast and en­hanced through dig­i­tal ef­fects to make the fa­cial fea­tures seem more life­like.

And be­cause tal­ented char­ac­ter ac­tors like James Gan­dolfini, For­est Whi­taker, Cather­ine O’Hara and Paul Dano had the ben­e­fit of voic­ing their roles on the same stage at the same time – rather than record­ing their parts in­de­pen­dently of each other, which is stan­dard prac­tice – their in­ter­play feels more or­ganic.

At their cen­tre is Max, played by 12-year-old Max Records, a lonely, mis­un­der­stood kid who runs off one day to the mag­i­cal land where the wild things are and be­comes their king.

Records is no self-con­scious, pre­co­cious child ac­tor. He makes Max feel real and re­lat­able, full of joy and rage like any lit­tle boy. (Cather­ine Keener has some lovely, sub­tle mo­ments at the film’s start as Max’s strug­gling sin­gle mom, who in­ad­ver­tently ne­glects him when he needs at­ten­tion the most.) Be­cause so much is right about the look and feel

of Where the Wild Things Are, you wish there were more to the screen­play.

De­spite many in­di­vid­ual mo­ments of great en­ergy, the over­all nar­ra­tive mo­men­tum is se­ri­ously lack­ing, and you walk out of the film re­al­is­ing that not a whole lot hap­pens.

There’s the wild rum­pus, of course – lots of run­ning and jump­ing through the for­est, leap­ing and wrestling and col­laps­ing in a giddy, ex­hausted heap. (The in­die-rock score from Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Carter Burwell adds to the film’s sense of me­lan­choly.)

Mainly, though, the wild things (who have names like Carol, Ju­dith, Dou­glas and Ira) bicker among them­selves about whether to make Max their king, and the best way to build a fort.

Many amus­ing lines do emerge, though – and per­haps a po­ten­tially fright­en­ing mo­ment or two for lit­tle kids.

Where the Wild Things Are is cer­tainly as suit­able for chil­dren as the book that in­spired it, but it’ll prob­a­bly roar even more loudly to adults in the au­di­ence who aren’t ashamed to get a lit­tle nos­tal­gic about their own child­hoods. – Sapa-AP

LIT­TLE LOST BOY: The cen­tral char­ac­ter, Max, is played with great sen­si­tiv­ity.

MISS­ING LINK: So much is right about the look and feel of

Where the Wild Things Are,

you wish there was more to the screen­play.

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