Where the Wild Things Are
By John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service
Though it's based on a children's book, and though
objectionable elements are minimal, the intriguing fantasy Where the
Wild Things Are (Warner Bros.), which combines live action, puppetry
and computer-generated animation, is hardly a film for kids.
Actor Max Records as Max looks at James Gandolfini in character as Carol in a scene from "Where the Wild Things Are."
Instead, director and co-writer (with Dave Eggers) Spike
Jonze's subtle adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic tale—winner of
the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1964, the year after its first
publication—is a wistful adult meditation on the interior struggles
Those battles are fought out within the mind and heart of Max
(newcomer Max Records in a compelling performance), a rambunctious but
lonely suburban 9-year-old whose excess energy is devoted to scaring
his dog, pelting his older sister's friends with snowballs and
generally driving his divorced mother (Catherine Keener) up the wall.
Yet Max is also vulnerable, as he shows when Mom seemingly
neglects him in favor of some quiet time with her boyfriend (Mark
Ruffalo). Volatile Max's gentle pleas for attention quickly give way to
a tantrum, and the resulting confrontation ends with him running away
At this point, mundane reality is overtaken by the logic of
dreams as Max—dressed in his favorite outfit, a fuzzy wolf costume,
and seemingly undaunted by the fact that it's nighttime—enters a
nearby wood, discovers an empty sailboat and promptly sets off across a
vast body of water. After an arduous journey, he arrives at a
mysterious island where bright bonfires mark the abode of the titular
This close-knit but emotionally unstable community of giants
features a variety of personalities, each of whom reflects either some
aspect of Max's real circumstances or of his unsettled psychological
Affectionate but easily offended Carol (voice of James
Gandolfini), for instance, mirrors Max's yearning for love and
security, while loner K.W. (voice of Lauren Ambrose)—who wavers
between belonging to the group and spending time outside it, much to
Carol's sorrow, since he secretly pines for her—represents both
Max's adolescent sister, who seems to be abandoning their once-close
relationship as she matures, and his own aspirations for independence.
There's a melancholy tone to the proceedings as we witness Max
symbolically working through his Freudian conflicts via the constant
squabbling and alternatively creative and destructive behavior of the
Wild Things. Early on, Max is crowned their king on the strength of
some fibs about his prowess. But his ready assurance that his rule will
make everyone happy looks increasingly rash, since his every action
manages to alienate one or another of his new subjects.
Though youngsters addicted to gadgets and demanding distraction
will likely be bored, this delicate portrait of the fears and joys of
growing up is calculated to charm viewers willing to invest the
"Where the Wild Things Are" will be shown on both Imax and conventional screens.
The film contains occasional menace and a few mild oaths. The
USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America
rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be
suitable for children.
Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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