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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Catherine Keener, Max Records, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker
DIRECTED BY
Spike Jonze
SCREENPLAY
Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers (based upon book by Maurice Sendak)
MPAA RATING
Rated PG
RUNNING TIME
101 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Warner Brothers
 "Where the Wild Things Are" Review 
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Spike Jonze is a child.

No, I don't mean that Spike Jonze is childlike. I am also not insulting the director, whose directorial works have ranged from the masterful "Adaptation" and "Being John Malkovich" to music videos for the likes of Beastie Boys, Bjork, Tenacious D and Weezer.

I mean, quite simply, that Spike Jonze IS a child in the absolute best sense of the word.

Jonze's latest creation, an adaptation of Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" captures magnificently a childlike sense of wonder, awe and innocence rarely, if ever, captured onscreen in this day of CGI wizardly and techno-infused emotions.

Choosing Jim Henson's muppet wizardry over the markedly inhumane CGI, co-writer and director Spike Jonze has created a master stroke of family cinema, a film painted with such intelligence and love and faith and wonder that it's nearly unimaginable that it actually comes to us from a major studio.

Thank you, Warner Brothers.

"Where the Wild Things Are" opens with 20 minutes of breathtaking cinema, surpassing even the opening of "Up" in its silent beauty and awesomeness as Max (Max Records) explodes into his childlike world where emotions and experiences come to life through the eyes of a child whose family seems to have forgotten that he even exists. Thus, he escapes to the island where the wild things are and, indeed, where he may exist and live and breathe and be special once again.

"Where the Wild Things Are" transcends such simple cinematic devices as plot, structure and logic in favor of the childlike wonder of life where adventure is found in the moment, logic is irrelevant and structure is abandoned in favor of adventure. There is no denying that, out of necessity, Jonze has expanded upon Sendak's original work as the cinematic version of "Where the Wild Things Are" is as much about how Spike Jonze, the child, experiences and embraces and loves and lives out Sendak's sparse writings.

Imagine, if you will, being able to bring vividly to life your own interpretation of your favorite book or music or play or life experience. In essence, this is exactly what Spike Jonze has done and has done faithfully and with much love and care.

Noticeably lacking in Hollywood style sentimentality, "Where the Wild Things Are" is rather stunningly loyal to Sendak's 10-sentence children's literature masterpiece, a social essay on the psyche' of children in remarkably few words. The same is true for "Where the Wild Things Are," where everything is constructed in such a way that it feels and appears as if it could be coming from Max's head. From the masterful hand-held camera work of Lance Acord to the remarkable vocal work of the ensemble cast and the puppeteers who brought the wild things to physical life, "Where the Wild Things Are" may very well be the closest any filmmaker has come to blending fantasy and reality into a family friendly cinema experience.

While Jonze does remain faithful to Sendak's source material, it should be noted that his pacing and intelligent construction are likely to fall a touch flat for young children, most of whom have grown up on special effects-laden cinema filled to the brim with sensory distractions of the highest order. "Where the Wild Things Are" isn't designed to distract children, but rather to celebrate them.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
    The Official Rating Guideline
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    • C: 2 Stars
    • C- to D+: 1.5 Stars
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