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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
PG
Cast
Catherine Keener
Tom Noonan
Catherine O'Hara
Forest Whitaker
Michelle Williams
Paul Dano
Michael Berry Jr..
Directors
Spike Jonze.
Screenwriters
Spike Jonze
Dave Eggers
Maurice Sendak.
Running Time
101 minutes

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Where The Wild Things Are
You'll eat it up you'll love it so.


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Plot
The story follows Max, a young boy who wears his wolf suit, behaves badly and is sent to bed without any supper. Once there, he escapes to a forest where he is joined by the monstrous-yet-cuddly wild things for their wild rumpus.


Review
Where The Wild Things Are
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Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are is a classic among bedtime-story books. With its minimal plot, lush, cross-hatched illustrations, menagerie of monsters and the odd, compelling cadence of its poetry (“... and he sailed off through night and day/and in and out of weeks/and almost over a year...”), it not only absorbs adult reader and child listener, but also leaves plenty of elbow room for the imagination. It’s a cliché and an error to describe a book, even one so beloved, as being ‘unfilmable’, but any filmmaker approaching this material was in serious danger of either treading with such care as to render their adaptation flimsy and irrelevant, or impose elaborations with such rigour they’d have been in danger of alienating the millions who grew up with — or are currently growing up with — Sendak’s original.

The fact that the eventual movie, and boy did it take its sweet time, earned respectable (if not thrilling) box office in the States, despite reports of studio tussles and bawling kids at test-screenings, confirms that Spike Jonze trod with sufficient tact between the two extremes. And it’s to his (and co-writer Dave Eggers’) credit that it’s easier to bemoan what he left out than criticise what he added in.

So don’t be too disheartened when you realise you’re not going to see a forest grow in Max’s room, even if the trompe-l’oeil dissolution of his bedposts into tree-trunks is the book’s most outstanding image. And don’t bristle too much when an aggravated sea monster fails to rear up beneath Max’s little yacht as he approaches the island. Such moments would have made great sequences, but in all probability they’d have stuck out like sore paws in Jonze’s movie.

Because it’s not an actioner. Nor, in the conventional sense, an adventure picture. In fact, it’s not really even a children’s film. And, while there’s astounding VFX in most scenes, you won’t even notice they’re there. The film’s entirely lacking in chase scenes, winky pop-culture references or, most thankfully, any physical manifestation of external jeopardy (baddie monsters, a watered-down Dr. Moreau figure, greedy humans drilling for oil on Wild Thing Island...). This may put some off, but Where The Wild Things Are is, instead, a plotless, bittersweet mood-piece that laments the inevitable passing of childhood.

But honestly, what did you expect from a director whose last book adaptation was Adaptation, and whose debut saw a ponytailed John Cusack climb inside John Malkovich’s brain? Monsters and show tunes? Jonze has managed to embrace Sendak’s story so tightly he’s absorbed it entirely, then reproduced it as a personalised chamber-piece, his own genetic material indistinguishable from that of Sendak’s Max. Thus the boy, played with uncanny naturalism by new discovery Max Records, becomes the product of a broken marriage, standing on the verge of adolescence but afraid to jump, as if childhood itself is protecting him from a world where the love of his parents for each other has decayed, where his once- loving elder sister is now cold and distant, and in which, as one of his teachers puts it, everything eventually dies — including the sun. Except, instead of hooking up with the Jackass crew and falling off skateboards as Jonze did to preserve his juvenilism, Max conjures up the Wild Things.

As conjured by Jonze and Eggers, Sendak’s iconic creatures are reconceptualised as a gang of kids (albeit kids undergoing a midlife crisis) consumed by child politics — meaning they’re fiercely conservative, to the extent that one of their number, KW (voiced by Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose), has threatened the very fabric of their world by going off and making new friends.

It doesn’t take Freud to spot that, to some extent, they each represent aspects of Max’s personality at a time when he’s starting to realise the universe does not revolve around him. Lead Thing Carol (James Gandolfini) is Max’s creative passion, the unintentional fuel for his violent, pre-adolescent tantrums. As such, he’s closest to Max, but during the film’s darker turns, also the monster who presents the greatest physical hazard: the rage that threatens to consume him. KW, of course, is Max’s love for his mother and sister, the people who, given his absent father, make his world, and who he fears will abandon him. Judith (Catherine O’Hara) is his spitefulness, Ira (Forest Whitaker) his calm side, Alexander (Paul Dano) his insecurity, Douglas (Chris Cooper) his reason, and the unnamed bull his sadness. Paradoxically, the Wild Things are deeply human — right down to their mundane names.

The symbolism never swamps the emotion, thanks firstly to great work on the part of the voice cast, the cream of Indiewood character-actor talent, and to a knockout combo of Jim Henson Creature Shop costuming and digital face-work so subtle you barely notice it, but so effective you never question the creatures’ physical reality (one great touch is the way that Carol’s nose is perpetually snotty, something inspired by the fact that Gandolfini is a man who always sounds like he has a cold). Yet it’s a different kind of physical reality, the Wild Things being large but light, and nimble despite their burly physiques, like oversized cuddly toys. Or, indeed, children.

Small children, though, would do well to avoid going Where The Wild Things Are. This is a ten-years-and-up deal, too emotionally intense for rugrats. An opening sequence in which Max has his igloo stomped by his teen sister’s friends and then crumples into tears is keenly upsetting, while the increasing sense that Max could end up among the skeletal human remains lying among the ashes of the Wild Things’ camp engenders a throb of disquiet better absorbed by more seasoned souls.

Don’t think, however, that Jonze’s movie is all gloom. It’s also an out-and-out celebration of childhood. And, as filtered through Jonze’s nostalgia, that doesn’t mean lurid candy-cane-festooned twiddly-deeness. Rather, proper, dirty, rough outdoor play, where you get grit under your fingernails, and filthy great scabs on your scraped elbows. Where you build forts out of branches, play bundle and chuck dirt-clods at each other’s heads, running, screeching, howling, without a care in the world.

Appropriately, Jonze keeps the colour palette and lighting natural, with most of the shoot location-based. Nothing feels manufactured, and even though the seasons on Wild Thing island, not to mention its strange geography, are lyrically nonsensical (blossom drifts by one moment, snow falls another), the mood remains vividly autumnal. The wonderfully overwhelming sense you get is that the Wild Things’ world exists at the end of a summer holiday, where every second of play is desperately, sweetly savoured.


Verdict
A film for anyone who’s ever climbed trees, grazed knees or basked in the comfort of a parent’s sympathy as they’ve pulled you off the ground crying. It’ll make your inner child run wild.


Reviewed by Dan Jolin


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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Where The Wild Things Are
Empire Star Rating

Sad Sack

Hugely disappointing adaptation of the celebrated book. Where the Wild Things like Charlie Kauffman's Synedoche New York is a mostly dull, self indulgent and one tone affair (depressing as hell). Mixed bag. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by atom_band at 11:11, 05 November 2012 | Report This Post


WILD THINGS FOUND

It's difficult to raise a generation of childeren on singing chipmunks or rapping penguins, and even drumming rabbits, so it's a relief that Spike Jonze, despite being a producer of the Jackass movies, rebrought the spirit that not only lives up to the expectations of 80's films, but even sets the standard for family films of now. Moody but beautful, this film was undeniably a classic from start to finish. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by YouWillBeUnprepared at 06:48, 04 April 2012 | Report This Post


Where the Wild Things Are Review

Some may find its dark tone and slender narrative off-putting but I am not one of them. Spike Jonze's heartfelt adaptation of the classic children's book is as beautiful as it is uncompromising. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 23:26, 04 March 2012 | Report This Post


Where the Wild Things Are Review

Some may find its dark tone and slender narrative off-putting but I am not one of them. Spike Jonze's heartfelt adaptation of the classic children's book is as beautiful as it is uncompromising. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 23:26, 04 March 2012 | Report This Post


'I'm a tiny child and I have emotions', blah, et cetera, meh.

Who is Carter Burwell? Oh yes, he's the brilliant score composer who did the likes of The Alamo, Rob Roy, No Country For Old Men. And, who is 'Karen O'? I have no idea. Though I suspect she's the the type of all-riff-and-no-chorus jangly guitar indie student, beloved by small, bearded record shop owers and hated by everyone else, if they've even heard of her in a thousand years. 'Here's one that the adults will like as much as the kids'. You hear that a lot, don't you? But it never works the oth... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Then again who does? at 08:03, 02 April 2011 | Report This Post


'I'm a tiny child and I have emotions', blah, et cetera, meh.

Who is Carter Burwell? Oh yes, he's the brilliant score composer who did the likes of The Alamo, Rob Roy, No Country For Old Men. And, who is 'Karen O'? I have no idea. Though I suspect she's the the type of all-riff-and-no-chorus jangly guitar indie student, beloved by small, bearded record shop owers and hated by everyone else, if they've even heard of her in a thousand years. 'Here's one that the adults will like as much as the kids'. You hear that a lot, don't you? But it never works the oth... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Then again who does? at 08:03, 02 April 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Where The Wild Things Are

good concept and i love it. ... More

Posted by undisputed3 at 11:12, 02 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Where The Wild Things Are

After the good reviews finally watching this film was a great disappointment. It could not hold my attention after the first 30 minutes as I realised it is just the fantasies of a little kid with hardly any baseline to attach it to. Poor. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by simply at 22:06, 29 January 2011 | Report This Post


One Word: Awwwwww

A great big, stomping, christmas-eve-glow type AWWWWWWW, Sure it took a while to get into, slow as a snail but who cares when you got 'Everything here is yours...except that hole, that's Ira's" - Nonsencially sweet. Max is a boy clearly of the ADHD variety but imaginative and bright but a very lonely boy, family problems are not fully disclosed but you know they're there so he runs awayon that infamous boat, to that infamous island where a bunch of monsters aren't getting along. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Sphinx at 20:36, 15 October 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Good, but not much action.

As the viewer can see from the beginning of the film, where the logos have been crudely vandalised, Where the Wild Things Are is a movie about childhood and creativity. Like all children, the protagonist of he Wild Things AreMax Records), is prone to temper tantrums and attention-seeking, and like most artists, he has to face frustration when his work – a hobbit-hole-esque igloo made of snow – goes unnoticed and is subsequently destroyed, and bases later work on his personal problems. It is thi... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by McGeesJabberwock at 18:04, 26 September 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Good, but not much action.

L: ElephantBoy Well said for once we agree!ill be getting this soon on DVD and showing it to all my friends,  Jonze is a flipping geuis! Firstly I don't agree that Keener is wasted because those early moody exchanges between her and the boy are vital to setting up the story.  Keener gets so much across in such short time, like just how conflicted her character is.  Like when she gets him to make her feel better about her work she actually sees that as helping him, but really it is... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 23:41, 07 September 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Good, but not much action.

Well said for once we agree!p; Will be getting this soon on DVD and showing it to all my friends,  Jonze is a flipping geuis!   Firstly I don't agree that Keener is wasted because those early moody exchanges between her and the boy are vital to setting up the story.  Keener gets so much across in such short time, like just how conflicted her character is.  Like when she gets him to make her feel better about her work she actually sees that as helping him, but really it... More

Posted by ElephantBoy at 15:13, 07 September 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Good, but not much action.

L: velpix Good book and film. You get to know the characters well and it is quite emotional towards the end. I'm not going to lie, there was one part where I could feel a tear appearing. owever, I agree that it is maybe not the most entertaining film. There is not much action, and a large part of it is just observation, but I didn't mind it. I'm not sure young children would enjoy it. t isn't Toy Story,but it has its own quality though. There is a fair bit of this film that is l... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 22:53, 06 September 2010 | Report This Post


Good, but not much action.

Good book and film. You get to know the characters well and it is quite emotional towards the end. I'm not going to lie, there was one part where I could feel a tear appearing. owever, I agree that it is maybe not the most entertaining film. There is not much action, and a large part of it is just observation, but I didn't mind it. I'm not sure young children would enjoy it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by velpix at 23:49, 05 September 2010 | Report This Post


RE: not too sure

L: Invader_Ace I don't know why that was the time for Max to go home, it didn't sem like he'd come to any realisation or anything for me. e did learn how hard it is to be a parent to some rather troublesome creatures, so maybe he finally understood how hard it is for his mother to raise him, hence him going back. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 22:21, 05 September 2010 | Report This Post


RE: not too sure

To be fair,it is a kids film,not really for adults. You need to find the child inside to really enjoy this-i am am not trying to be smart saying that. My 5 year old loved it when we seen it,and made me feel like i really missed the whole child perception of films-we are too cynical perhaps with our analysis of films like this. Excellent in my book! ... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 22:10, 05 September 2010 | Report This Post


not too sure

Hmmm just saw this.  I'm going to be honest, I didn't totally get it. I loved the cinematography and the creatures and the kid were great. It was moving in several places, but I didn't get the resolution. I don't know why that was the time for Max to go home, it didn't sem like he'd come to any realisation or anything for me. And it's not that I'm dead inside, because I watched The Road last night and cried! ... More

Posted by Invader_Ace at 20:58, 05 September 2010 | Report This Post


GOOD LORD REALLY??!!

Just finished watching this literally 2 mins ago and I can't believe how unengaging it is. The mrs. went to start cooking tea within about 15 mins and I was so bored I was in and out of the room doing other things. Completely did not hold my attention let alone my 5 and 8 year olds, who started their own rumpus! Don't get me wrong the creatures are amazingly realised, but, as with Avatar fx do not a film make. The kid was really annoying too, had trouble identifying with him as a kid or a charac... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by boostergold at 18:06, 10 July 2010 | Report This Post


Not Good.

This is a terrible film, hardly funny or heart-warming. I haven't even read the book but it shouldn't really matter before seeing the film. It's not something I would show to my kids, those wild things look like something out a nightmare of their lack of expressions and Max was a really annoying character to really bond with. Way too overlong and werid, it's not something I would recommend. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 14:02, 22 June 2010 | Report This Post


Not Good.

This is a terrible film, hardly funny or heart-warming. I haven't even read the book but it shouldn't really matter before seeing the film. It's not something I would show to my kids, those wild things look like something out a nightmare of their lack of expressions and Max was a really annoying character to really bond with. Way too overlong and werid, it's not something I would recommend. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 14:02, 22 June 2010 | Report This Post


Where The Wild Things Are: Loved It!

What a film! I thought it would just be another crap adaptation but it was far from. The characters were adorable, the story was great and the costumes were amazing. I loved the way that the story was based around such a common issue but it felt like it was a dream. I loved how convincing Max Records was as the main character. This is defiantly one for the family! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by LUCASLITTLEWOOD at 09:20, 26 May 2010 | Report This Post


How I wasted 97 minutes of my life...!

Okay....I've never gone so far as to write a film review online before...or offline for that matter. But I was so disappointed by this film having just gone by the brief applause it was given on the DVD case by "Total Film" and UK film reviewer Jonathon Ross. Myself and my two boys (12 and 6 years of age) sat down last night in anticipation of an entertaining 90 minutes or so of action / adventure / drama. Admitedly I'd never read the book; I had no idea it was a children's clas... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Paul Knights at 19:08, 16 May 2010 | Report This Post


Tame where the wild things

I honestly expected more. Too by the book for me, formulaic, and just an odd film. Great effects, good performances, but not much build up on the family, just off to an adventure. Catherine Keener and Mark Ruffalo are wasted. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 22:33, 29 March 2010 | Report This Post


I'll adore this forever

Very profound film. More about people who are looking back at childhood as opposed to people who are in it Not for little kids, but when they grow up it'll mean alot to them And all that puppetry gave me a nostalgiac punch to my heart.! Gorgeous Cinema People! There's no plot getting in the way of it as well! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by monkeyhumour at 03:43, 15 March 2010 | Report This Post


tp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0386117/]Where The Wild Things Areot quite what I expected from it. After great films like Being John Malkovich I thought Jonze would give us a film that would go a bit deeper than this one did. It didn`t affect me one way or the other, it didn`t grab me at all. The monsters are wonderfully crafted but other than that it landed between a rock and a hard place and with that the ending came really unexpected. A true disspointment. /b] ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 22:29, 01 March 2010 | Report This Post


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