Where The Wild Things Are is an honest, heartfelt film adaptation of Maurice Sendak's 1963 childrens book by legendary director, Spike Jonze. The film has been in production since the 1980s, when it was originally envisaged as an animated feature. After several stop-starts, it eventually ended up in the hands of Spike Jonze as a live-action adaptation, a director who Sendak described as young and interesting. Instead of bowing down to his Hollywood parents, Jonze throws a tantrum of his own... creating a dark, abstract yet beautiful film of his own. However, it's strengths are also its weaknesses... as the film bodes inappropriate for children, insubstantial for adults and overly long in its interpretation.
The story follows troubled young Max (Records), a 10-year-old who is sent to bed without supper when his self-centred performance in a wolf-suit embarrasses his mother (Keener) in front of her boyfriend. Max's dreams take him to an island on a small boat, where he convinces several "things" that he is more powerful than them. His adventure turns from cheeky fun to danger as some of the wilder "things" begin to realise he's just a boy.
The adults that have been exposed to the book, whether as parents or children themselves are Where The Wild Things Are's prime audience. For some, it's a nostalgic return to childhood's ambivalent freedoms in an imaginative retelling, loosely based on the book. For others, it's an abstract interpretation of the book with a flimsy narrative, which should have been presented as an animated feature or a short film at best. This reviewer is more inclined to agree with the latter.
As creative and heartfelt as Where The Wilds Things Are is, it's a film that overstays its welcome. The mixture of costumes, animatronics and CGI gives life to the imaginative creatures, keeping a strong bond between their off-the-page 2D and on-screen 3D forms. The voice cast do an excellent job, young Max Records is totally convincing as "King" Max... but the ten sentence short story doesn't have enough content to survive its feature run time. It's fascinating to see Max dealing with the creatures as he would with people in his own life, but the whole exercise becomes too simplistic for adults and too nightmarish for children.
The film can be commended for being so ambitious, fresh and original, but despite Jonze's best efforts to integrate his own childhood experiences and emotions, it requires a steadier tone. The child-like actions and reactions in response to dealing with anger are true to form and the film starts with a furious energy as we're introduced to Max, something they probably could have dwelled on longer or more intermittently in retrospect. However, these realities are diluted by the imaginative expedition to the Where The Wild Things Are.
Despite all its shortcomings, it's difficult to imagine a better live-action take on this adaptation, so we're forced to return to the original ten sentence story, which was never meant to be transformed into a live-action film. The visual effects become monotonous after a while, the characters are too wild to connect with and the space between no supper and a hot supper is just too long to keep one's undivided attention. Picture book - yes, music video - yes... full-length live-action feature film - sadly, no.
The bottom line: Stretched.