Every so often, a film comes along that is absolutely wonderful, marking a real achievement in filmmaking. It’s a film that delightfully taps into the imagination of a child, but allows even the adults to marvel at its grandeur. It becomes something more than what is shown on the surface and delves into real emotions and themes that reach out and touch our hearts. Where the Wild Things Are is one of those films, adeptly exploring the dynamics of life and the paths many children take to learn and grow to be born again into mature, young adults.
Based on the beloved book by Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are begins with Max, played by Max Records, facing a number of troubles. His father has long since left, his mother is too focused on other things to give him much attention and his sister is neglectful, allowing her friends to bully him without intervening. Max is lonely and friendless, his only reliable companion being his imagination. One night, his bottled up frustration explodes into aggression and he runs away only to find a sailboat which drifts him out to sea, eventually landing him on a strange island where he meets the Wild Things.
The beauty in this opening is that you cannot pinpoint the exact moment that reality turns imaginary because his imagination is his only absolute truth. His troubles carry over into his fantasies and the strong correlation between the fantasy world and real life makes his transition indistinguishable. The Wild Things and their world feel just as real to Max as his life back home, if not more so.
The parallelisms between Max and the Wild Things offer up the overarching themes that dominate the film, with the closest comparison being the crude effigy to Carol, voiced by James Gandolfini. They are both troubled souls and take no trust in anybody. They both anger quickly and decimate the things around them. They both have created works of art for the ones they love only to destroy them later when they feel emotionally betrayed.
However, each Wild Thing, outside of just Carol, represents a piece of Max or a person in his life. A quarrel that exists between two of the creatures corresponds with Max and his sister, with each drifting further apart from one another. Another creature named Alexander, voiced by Paul Dano, is hurt at one point in the movie from the bullying received by the other Wild Things, much like Max is by his sister’s friends. Whereas Carol portrays Max’s angry side, Alexander shows the timidity and fear that he lives with on a day to day basis. There are too many parallels to mention, including Max’s self proclamation as king that acts as a way for him to mask his pain from adult disregard, but their importance is not forgotten and each play a significant role in the reshaping of this young child.
With themes of death, rage, pain and loneliness, Where the Wild Things Are is very much an adult fairy tale, despite the PG rating, but age matters not in this story because its message is timeless and its artistry extraordinary. All ages will find themselves lost in this absorbing tale.
Where the Wild Things Are is magical, a tour de force of imagination and spirit. It is a true masterpiece that will be cherished for generations to come and it is one of the best movies of the year.
Where the Wild Things Are receives 5/5