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WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

SYNOPSIS:
Max (Max Records), a disobedient little boy sent to bed without his supper, creates his own world - a forest inhabited by ferocious wild creatures who crown Max as their king. But things don't go royally well.

Review by Louise Keller:
Just like he got into the head of John Malkovich, director Spike Jonze gets into the head of a nine year old in a fantasmogorical exploration of childhood. Jonze and Dave Eggers have adapted Maurice Sendak acclaimed children's book with great passion and the result is a wildly mixed bag. With its mix of live action, computer animation and puppetry, there is plenty that is wonderful about the film, yet there are some irritating aspects. Like the manic hand-held camera of the action fantasy sequences in which hairy monsters uproot trees, roar loudly and throw clumps of dirt at each other. The fantasy storyline is chaotic and overstays its welcome, but the heart of the film is sound as the little boy discovers all the foibles and strengths of the people in his life within his newfound friends as he tries to make sense of his life.

Max Records' Max is an angry child who uses his imagination to escape from his reality. He loves his mother (the ever-wonderful Catherine Keener) but is resentful that he has to share her with his sister (Pepita Emmerichs) and the new man in her life (Mark Ruffalo). Bad behaviour is not enough to capture his mother's attention: Feed me,' he screams, standing on the kitchen table dressed in a grey wolf suit with hood, curly whiskers and long tail. He is totally out of control and when he runs away and his imagination takes flight. The island world in which he finds himself is filled with giant hairy creatures that have as many problems as he does ('If you have a problem, eat it'). It is clear that the miniature globe from his bedroom with an inscription 'To Max Owner of This World, love Dad,' inspires his becoming King of his imagined realm.

One of the problems with the characterizations of the hairy monsters (voiced by James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry Jr and Chris Cooper) is that adult relationship issues are canvassed, which is at odds with the central theme. Max's mission (which he chooses to accept) is to keep out all the sadness. Soppy sentimentality follows. However, young Max Records' performance is sensational; he is mesmerizing to watch as he perfectly embodies the angst and coiled up frustrations of his emotionally exiled boy. The ambitions of Jonze's project have devoured what might have been a wildly magical experience.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The magic of a child's imagination has propelled many stories, ripe as this terrain is for cinematic treatment. Where The Wild Things Are combines the resonance of such imaginings with a fable-like message about human nature. In some respects, there are parallels with that truly classic fable of modern times, Animal Farm by Aldous Huxley, in which the animals rebel against their human masters, only to soon replicate all the human failings as the pigs become the masters, doing exactly what the humans did to stay in power.

In this case, all the wild things are human in every respect but their appearance, which ranges from hairy large to hairy not so large. They are wonderful creations technically speaking, and speaking with recognisably human voices and inflections, they seem more like modern Americans than anything else, complete with social attitudes and vernacular.

Indeed, the film's technical accomplishment of seamlessly fusing live action, state of the art puppetry and CGI is extraordinary. Production design is fabulous, but all of this is undermined by the incessant hand held camera work that deprives us of a chance to be drawn into this magical world. The frame is hardly ever still, denying us the means to enter wide eyed into the magic kingdom that Max has engineered for himself in all innocence - albeit driven by frustrations at home. Max Records is the film's trump card, a child actor who delivers a spectacularly effective characterisation as Max (what casting coincidence) and is the major point of emotional contact with the audience.

This film is not for me, but I do recognise its accomplishments and see how it appeals to the fan base, and how the young Max's journey connects with youngsters.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2


WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (PG)
(US, 2009)

CAST: Max Records, Pepita Emmerichs, Max Pfeifer, Madeleine Greaves, Joshua Jay, Ryan Corr, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo,

VOICES: James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry Jr, Chris Cooper

DIRECTOR: Spike Jonze

SCRIPT: Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers (novel by Maurice Sendak)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lance Acord

EDITOR: James Haygood, Eric Zumbrunnen

MUSIC: Carter Burwell, Karen O

PRODUCTION DESIGN: K. K. Barrett

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 3, 2009







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