WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Spike Jonze, 2009)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Sunday, November 6, 9:00
Series runs November 3-8
The endlessly inventive Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation.) has done the seemingly impossible, expanding Maurice Sendak’s classic 1963 children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, into a fun and fantastical feature-length film. Written by Jonze and Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), the movie uses the ten sentences of the book and Sendak’s magical characters and transforms them into a world of wonder. Acting out after his sister’s friends crush his igloo and his divorced mother (Catherine Keener) ignores him in favor of a new boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo), nine-year-old Max (Max Records) runs away and sails across the ocean, landing on a faraway island where seven giant monsters live. In search of a leader, they name Max king, but he gets more than he bargained for as the ruler of the cynical Judith (voiced by Catherine O’Hara), the dumpy Ira (Forest Whitaker), the independent KW (Lauren Ambrose), the mysterious Bull (Michael Berry Jr.), the sad sack Alexander (Paul Dano), the dependable Douglas (Chris Cooper), and, most importantly, the manic-depressive Carol (James Gandolfini).
Each character represents a different part of Max, a developing emotion that he must learn to deal with as he grows up. He is immediately drawn to Carol, whom he first sees destroying the group’s small, makeshift homes, echoing Max’s feelings about his own family situation. Max’s relationship with Carol — himself in the midst of a breakup with KW — is the heart of the story, as Carol goes from one extreme to another, at one point bouncing around the forest with sheer glee, then snuggling up with everyone in a warming group sleep, and finally turning into a dangerous ogre. As Jonze has pointed out, Wild Things, which received the full blessing of Sendak, is not necessarily a movie for children but about childhood. It beautifully captures a child’s innate sense of adventure and imagination while also showing that choices come with consequences. Fans of the book will be amazed at how well Jonze depicts the Wild Things themselves, which come alive as if they just jumped right out of the pages of the book; actors (not the voice-over artists) are in the costumes, their faces digitally manipulated by CGI effects, but they feel as real as they did when your mother first read you the enchanting story while tucking you in your bed. Where the Wild Things Are is screening November 6 at 9:00 at the Walter Reade Theater as part of the inaugural Film Society of Lincoln Center series “My First Film Fest,” which consists of thirteen films that form a first film festival for young moviegoers, from Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind to Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou’s Microcosmos, in addition to Yared Zeleke’s Lamb, followed by a Q&A with Zeleke; the New York premiere of Émilie Deleuze’s Miss Impossible, followed by a Q&A with Deleuze; the North American premiere of Hubert Viel’s Girls in the Middle Ages; and a sneak preview of Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn’s Trolls. Although the intent is to have kids “remember their first film festival,” several of the screenings take place at six o’clock and later, which might not be appropriate for younger children, the intended audience for most of these tales.