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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Where the Wild Things Are

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Actor Max Records as Max looks at James Gandolfini in character as Carol in a scene from "Where the Wild Things Are."
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.

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 of youth.

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 from home.

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 Wild Things.

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 state.

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 necessary concentration.

"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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Dominic of Silos: It’s not the founder of the Dominicans we honor today, but there’s a poignant story that connects both Dominics. 
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