There is no way on earth that Where the Wild Things Are will get the terrible reviews that it fully deserves. The Maurice Sendak children’s book on which it is based is too beloved. Director Spike Jonze has too much good will from his days with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Nobody is going to want to admit that this a Transformers 2-like disaster. But it nearly is. The look of the film, lensed by the often terrific Lance Acord, is far too dark, shot at questionable angles.
The pacing is nearly as muddy as the tone. And we’re not helped by Max Records, our child hero, who graces us with an entire Saturday morning of cereal box emotions (watching this performance and then young Cody Smit-McPhee’s in The Road two days later is jarring). Kaufman has finally set Spike Jonze afloat and instead he gets set adrift. For all the alleged creativity, the story is fairly conventional one about a little boy’s wonderland fantasy. Its claim to fame is that in it giant animals speak to each other in a modern lingo that occasionally seems like self-satire.
Of course, all we learn is that we love our family and it’s important to love our family (Catherine Keener plays the slightly … kooky mother. At least I thought she was a little kooky.) The big problem with Where the Wild Things Are is the most obvious. Even as critters of the imagination, the giant mascot-like animals–man-sized lions and goats and such–are not nearly as convincing as they probably seemed in Jonze’s head.
I hate to say it, but you can always see them acting–a thing I find very hard to say about giant felt (?) creatures with a straight face.
Nevertheless, they open and close their little mouths while the voiceover gives them something to say. You can see each part working in tandem. It just doesn’t work, and you sense that the weird middle ground shots are their way of covering up this fact.
Where the Wild Things Are tests the bounds of physics–can you make a movie with fewer minutes of film than are in the run time? Seriously, this thing feels like it was made in about twenty minutes. That’s the lasting impression of the film. And it just feels like a shame.