Where the Wild Things Are 9/10/22 3:10
A boy named Max (played by newcomer Max Records) lives with his single mom and his teen sister in a nameless suburb, friendless and prone to the fantasy playacting typical of his age. When one of his sister's friends destroys his snow igloo, Max acts out his escalating frustration in an episode that ends with biting his mom and then running out of the house when she yells at him. The rest of the story is portrayed as if it were real, although we know that he has really become the troubled hero of his own fantasy adventure. He takes a little boat and heads out into the sea, getting caught in a wicked storm and landing on a strange island. Spotting what looks like a campfire in the distance, Max stumbles on a group of very odd-looking beasts, most of them big hairy monster-like creatures. It looks like they might eat the boy, but with some quick thinking he fools them into thinking he's a voyaging king. Bored and frustrated with their lives, the wild beasts adopt Max as their ruler.
The first thing you'll notice is the amazing costume design by Casey Storm. These animals look like just the illustrations in Sendak's book, yet at the same time they seem almost real with their shambling and often clumsy and impulsive movements, and strangely endearing facial expressions. The central figure in this wild family is Carol, voiced by James Gandolfini, well known as the star of The Sopranos. As it happens with well-known voices, this might seem jarring at first, but Gandolfini's mixture of childish petulance, neediness and anger really grew on me. Carol seems like the embodiment of the most difficult emotions a boy can experience, and Max takes to him immediately. Other beasts include a bird-like creature named Douglas, played by Chris Cooper, who is something like the voice of reason, and a gentle female monster named K.W., kind but disillusioned, played by Lauren Ambrose. The adventurous play that ensues, and the conflicts, have more of the character of a story a kid might think up on the spur of the moment rather than the well-made plot of an adult. And that's part of the brilliance of this film—it's thoroughly absorbed in the psyche of a young boy, dramatizing the full emotional range of a child, including, significantly, a lot of painful ones. Some are saying that this makes the film more for adults than kids, but I disagree. Jonze respects the ability of children to deal with serious as well as fun things.
There's nothing cutesy or condescending about Where the Wild Things Are. Its free-floating style approximates a child's real journey from a child's point of view. It's a fantasy film with a direct link to emotional truth.