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Rob Fishman

Rob Fishman

Posted: October 16, 2009 11:54 AM

Here We Wild Things Are

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Before he ever took off, Falcon Heene was grounded. Now that the boy is (still) safe at home, what are the parents to do? They've already said a go-upstairs-to-your-room grounding is out of the question. So why not indulge in some old-fashioned fun, some mainstream parenting, and take the brood to the movies.

The obvious choice is Where the Wild Things Are, which came out last night in theaters. Director Spike Jonze has not so much adapted, or been inspired by, Maurice Sendak's 1963 classic, as he has extrapolated from it. We realize early on that Wild Things is testament both to Jonze's expansive vision and to Sendak's concise genius. In newcomer Max Records, we have Sendak's impudent antihero of the same name, whose pouts and maniacal yelps strike just the right note. And in the likes of James Gandolfini and Catherine O'Hara, the alternately ferocious and docile beasts find a voice. What we felt intuitively in two dimensions is masterfully rendered in three.

It's the titular wild things, of course, who delight in the film. As characters, they're plainly more substantial than the Hobbits, ewoks and vampires of cinematic late. Oz, where the farmhands are charmingly ensorcelled into Dorothy's reverie, is not far. But Jonze's creatures are more than figurative stand-ins: they are ideational, drawn from the frightened and frightening subconscious of a troubled little boy. KW, a wild thing voiced by Lauren Ambrose, looks and sounds like Max's sister (invented for the film), but she's also, at various points, his friend, crush, sibling and mother.

As Jackson Pollock said of his work, "I'm very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time." Jonze works from behind the camera as Pollock worked above the canvas: "When you're painting out of your unconscious," Pollock said, "figures are bound to emerge." We see those haunting gibbous eyes through Max's own wide eyes, their grotesque and mismatched features in Max's brat-in-wolf costume, and their impetuous tantrums in Max's own insolence. The wild things are emotions, conflicted and complex, strewn about the film like whips and drips of paint, the plumbed depths of full fathom five.

On a slow news day, Falcon Heene's father yelled at him. So the boy hid in a box in his attic. He played with his toys and took a nap. What did he dream of? Not a boat waiting under the moonlight, but a space ship hovering in his backyard. Not a primeval island populated by magical beasts, but the open sky. Not just a frantic mother, but the whole world hot on his contrail. And when Falcon awoke, what more was there to say? There's no place like home, there's no place like home...

It must have been nice inside that box, away from the twittering, frittering flock who for two hours followed a jerky cameraman in a wild goose chase over the Rockies. Away from a rumpus that, between storm-chasing and spouse-swapping, was by all accounts wild. So take in the audience this weekend. They'll devote the same two hours to Max that they gave to Falcon, anointing one boy king as they did the other. In the bleary- or teary-eyed faces around you, well, that's where the wild things are.

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