Kids' Movies V

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Where the Wild Things Are

Film Review by Dean Duncan Mar 26, 2015

The first impressive thing is the photography, which shifts and probes, frequently utilizes a narrow depth of field, establishes a dialogue between characters and objects in the story, and lines and surfaces within the frame. If we wanted to stretch we could see a correlation between that strategy and Max’s unsettled family situation, or Max’s unsettled, unsettling passage from one developmental stage to another.  

There’s some wisdom in the prologue, a sense of family dynamic and a child’s place within it. The snow fort episode really sums up these qualities. Photographically, it glistens. Dramatically it’s exemplary; they don’t push or make too much of it, and it ends up being very much indeed. Pain! This protagonist is very beautiful.

At one point Max’s teacher makes a speech about the meaninglessness of the universe. It’s nail-on-the-head gratuitous to the point of being funny. In a film that takes very few missteps as it pursues kid truth, this sticks out like a sore something. 

Other than that, there’s a lot of substance beneath these photographic surfaces. Freud or Jung? Nicely, it’s probably both, with a bit of Jean Piaget thrown in. The details of the figurative, wild-thing space are superb, as are the creatures, their articulation, the exploration and presentation of it all. It has been suggested that this film meanders overly. Those charges are correct, as is the decision to meander  In that respect Where the Wild Things Are is actually pretty profound. This is the sharp and tender way in which it replicates the patterns of childish play. Starting with elation, even excess, careening off with hopeful anticipation, eventually or even immediately being waylaid by confusion or discouragement, pique or even the fact that no one thought how the play narrative was going to end. 

There’s also a profundity in how Spike Jonze and his collaborators establish and develop these Wild Things. They are, after all, a projection, or a set of projections. A little unpacking, a little dream work reveals not only that this is how Max’s associates are, but how we all are. (Special praise for these excellent voice performances, and of course by the creature manipulation.) Wonderful things and worrisome flaws are always intermingled. We bear with one another.  

The departure from the imaginary or psychoanalytic space, and the return to and reunion with the real, are very touching.