"Wild Things": A Real Dream

Max Records as Max with Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) in "Where the Wild Things Are." Maurice Sendak children book Matt Netteim/Warner Bros.

I hold in my hand a rare thing, a perfect work: "Where the Wild Things Are." My copy!

I've read it to my daughters so many times, acted it out, too! It's about a boy's tantrum and his fed-up mother's rejection - bed without supper - and the dream that transports him in his wolf pajamas to a land of monsters that crown him king and help him act out all his rowdy, infantile impulses.

The Wild Things are on the border between cuddly and mythically grotesque.

In Sendak's work, fantasies can set you free . . . but if you're not careful, they'll eat you up!

Now there's a film, directed by Spike Jonze. He embellished the book, and with a work so compact, to expand is in some ways to diminish. Still, what a fabulous voyage!

The setting is real - the coast of Australia, a burned forest, a desert; the creatures are unreal, giant puppets, furry, feathered. Most animated movies bombard you with computer illusions. Here you bring your imagination to the party.

Max is played by a kid with an apt name: Max Records. A sweet face, but edgy. He doesn't ingratiate himself, which is why, I think, you end up loving him.

Same with the Wild Things. They're now personalities. They quarrel, they smash things, they wait for someone - even a boy in wolf pajamas - to tell them what to do.

"Let the wild rumpus start!"

The voices of the Wild Things are sublime. James Gandolfini is Carol, a needy lummox with no trace of New Jersey gangster.

Carol and Max bond over kids' fears like few kids in movies.

Some critics have griped there isn't much plot - I think there's enough exactly, (Sometimes, kids just sit around and break things.)

Others worry the monsters are too scary. I agree with Sendak, who told a press conference, "Let 'em wet their pants!" He knows kids like to be scared, especially when the story ends happily, when they emerge laughing (or even crying but safe) from that rumpus room that's every kid's fantasy life.

Most modern kids' movies are synthetic, processed. "Where the Wild Things Are" is the real dream.


David Edelstein Also Endorses:
  • "A Serious Man" by Joel and Ethan Coen: "Is it a comedy? A tragedy? It's right on the border, a broad Jewish joke that morphs into a jeremiad, a tale of woe - that keeps you wondering if the punch line, when it comes, will make you laugh or want to kill yourself, or both."
  • The micro-budget horror picture "Paranormal Activity": "I've never seen a movie that so cunningly exploits our anticipation."
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