03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

I don't want to know how Spike Jonze made Where the Wild Things Are. I'd rather simply simmer in the joy of having watched it unfold before my eyes.

Where the Wild Things Are is a startling achievement from a director with a clear vision and the strength to see it through. Working from -- but not slavishly adapting -- Maurice Sendak's beloved children's classic, Jonze has made a movie that can't help but create controversy because of its utter simplicity, which masks layers of complexity.

Some will see it as a movie about nothing, when in fact it is a movie about everything.

In the simplest story terms, the film doesn't stray that far from the source material. Max (Max Records), who looks about 10 and favors his "wolf" suit -- a shaggy one-sy with a tail and a hood with ears -- first tangles with his mother (Catherine Keener), then flees the house and the block, hiding in a vacant lot where he finds -- what?

A sailboat and an ocean. Simple as that. He boards the boat, sails for a night and a day, and winds up on an island, where he meets the Wild Things. They're large, furry or feathered monsters, comparable to the creatures called monsters on "Sesame Street" (though perhaps a shade more ferocious). They have names like Carol, Judith, Ira and Douglas -- and they're a melancholy bunch until Max makes his appearance.

Max crowns himself king of the Wild Things, then announces, "Let the wild rumpus start!" signaling a round of unfettered play. They romp, they quarrel, they reconcile -- and then Max decides it's time to go home. So he does. The end.

Yet within that uncluttered framework lies the entire interior life of a 10-year-old and who he will become. The Wild Things may be several times Max's size, but they are at his level socially and psychologically, with the same fears and quirks of Max's age group. Which makes sense: They are creatures of his imagination -- and in creating a group of imaginary friends, he would want them to all have something in common.

Jonze and his cowriter, Dave Eggers, essentially create a huge, unsupervised playdate between the new kid and a group of his peers, who he quickly wins over. Inevitably, his insertion into this gathering creates certain jealousies and insecurities among the old group, who have issues of their own. Gradually, those problems come to the fore -- and the group eventually sorts them out.


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