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DFI Film Review: Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Jul 04, 2012

Written by Reem Shaddad, Digital Department, DFI

Film: Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: Max Records, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Forest Whittaker
Genre: Adventure/ Drama/ Fantasy
Duration: 104 minutes

In May the legendary Maurice Sendak, one of the world’s most beloved authors and illustrators, passed away. ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, his fifth and most famous children’s book, was first published in 1963. It has since enjoyed decades of literary devotion (over 19 million copies have sold worldwide) and been repeatedly adapted for film and, in 1980, performed in an opera which travelled from Europe to America. In all senses, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is an example of living mythology.

The book and consequently the final major adaptation – a feature length film in 2009 – revolves around the story young Max (Max Records). He escapes the trials of childhood and enters a world run by monsters who eventually make him their king; Sendak’s interpretation of escapism and the desire to simply be big.

Similar to the original book, the film challenges the usual lightness of children’s stories. Max’s journey to adulthood and the growing pains that go with it are not washed over.

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Where the Wild Things Are - Trailer

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Over the years several directors approached Sendak to adapt his book for the big screen, with little success.

Then Sendak met director Spike Jonze. With a background covering the music industry, advertising, film and publishing Jonze was considered a visionary. His celebrity-heavy circle of friends also ensured his place in the spotlight. Icelandic starlet Bjork, rocker Beck, Fatboy Slim and the Beastie Boys are among his acquaintances.

Jonze, Sendak and other members of the “Where the Wild Things Are” team enjoyed a decade long relationship. Best-selling author and hipster sweetheart Dave Eggers developed the screenplay. Jonze shipped in 300 specialists and housed them in the world’s largest render farm in London.

Masterful acting, computer animation and puppetry contributed to the monsters’ organic texture, allowing the audience to relate to the emotions and nuance intended by Sendak. The overall effect and realness of the monsters added to the film’s whimsical feel, where Jonze played with light and shade in a manner supporting Max’s tumultuous experience.

Sendak, a sickly boy during his younger years, was plagued by life’s horrors; death and loss. By writing ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ a book initially deemed as controversial in its portrayal of fanged monsters as beloved characters, Sendak let his benign demons out.

Jonze’s adaptation stuck to the book’s message; it was honest, tender and got to the heart of the story. Becoming the king of your own fears is surely every child’s fantasy. Both Sendak (who probably suffered the desire intensely) and Jonze have made this a believable target.

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