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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak

(Discounted Hardcover from Amazon)
. "Where the Wild Things Are"

In the book from which this is adapted, the first line goes: "The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him "WILD THING!" and Max said "I'LL EAT YOU UP!" And, so, he was sent to bed without dinner. Though the movie starts with a prologue that gives clues about Max's (Max Record) feisty nature and vivid imagination, he dons a wolf suit and is sent to bed without supper, as well.

The delicious part of this adventure into the phantasmagoria of a boy's mind is how director Spike Jonze ("Jackass" TV series) collaborated with screenwriter Dave Eggers to take the excellent illustrations of author Maurice Sendak and turn them into the three-dimensional, mostly huge, gravity-defying creatures from a disparate animal kingdom who live on a remote island.

Never quite a nightmare, yet the dream does include Max having to be game and clever enough to avoid being eaten. Nothing like a challenge to make a story complete. Yet, what with the distinctiveness of the individual animal characters, it's clearly the political mind of an adult that's guiding the storytelling here.

In the sort of simplicity of the child's mind framework, Max picks up on hints of what may keep him alive from the discussion over what the animals should do to him. He quickly and, somewhat desperately, staves off becoming their meal by claiming to be a king. Just what these island dwellers have needed and are ready to accept. Besides, are they not the surreal projections of his own fertile mind?

Counteracting the child's world concept are the complexities that follow, such as the very adult and nuanced situation of betrayal and hurt between apparent leader Carol (James Gandolfini) and KW (Lauren Ambrose) that sent her into self-imposed exile from the group before the event of Max's arrival. Her return is tentative and, as she becomes Max's closest friend and confidant, he winds up playing go-between in an attempt to cement stability in his "subject group."

Much more sinister is Judith (Catherine O'Hara), the witchy villain of the piece who poses the greatest threat to Max with her distrust of his claims supporting his royal blood. In the threat that she conveys rather stimulatingly, and in her edgy departure from the crowd-think, she brings us back to the community breakdown in "Lord of the Flies."

All of this is apparently in conformity with Sendak's approval, who is credited as one of five producers on the production. Another is Tom Hanks, who played no role.

Mom (the real one who sent Max to bed) is played by an especially well cast Catherine Keener who can express empathy and painful love like few others. Her little-seen boyfriend is Mark Ruffalo. The voice cast includes Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker and Chris Cooper.

The grown-up concepts that mix up the demographic makeup of the intended audience suffer from the amalgamation of the child-adult content in which neither is fully satisfied. In the superbly achieved live action-puppetry approach, the lesson that you can't have your cake and eat it, too, takes its toll by not providing satisfaction at either side of the two dimensions. It gets repetitive and never quite leaves its rather tight range of possibility. The climax feels forced and inorganic.

One would have relished a conceptual breakout at some point to more fully realize the stunning effect the massive puppets make. The closest they come is when KC hides the boy from the raging Carol--in a most unusual place. What might be pondered is whether the magic of a book like this one can find a comparable treatment in the movie medium, no matter how expressive the critters are, and visually rendered. One asks for different things from a book and a film.

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Records is an interesting and quite charming young actor. While his bratty side might fight the impulse for the viewer to be sympathetic toward his character, his inherent charm and handsome features are engaging. His screen presence is enough for a prediction of much work to come.

The worst part is that the emotionality that is aspired to--which would have pulled this fantasy visualization into serious contention for respectful attention--doesn't rise to the occasion and leaves you as deprived of dramatic nourishment as the poor boy who went to bed without his supper.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Comments from readers:
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I've seen the movie and agree with the review
Site rating: 10

I really like this movie, because I like the designs of where the movie takes place, and the designs of the characters, also Spike Jonze, Maurice Sendak, Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose and many more did wonderful jobs on this movie.

                                                           ~~ Rochelle Norlund 



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KC (voiced by Lauren Ambrose) and Max (Max Records)
Natural friends where Wild Things bicker.

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